Old before our time

Perhaps it’s just me – ever since I did a module on sociolinguistics while an undergraduate, I’ve been paying too much attention to the way people speak and why they speak the way they do. But I wonder if anyone else has noticed this strange linguistic trend / phenomenon that is gripping the younger generations, often sweepingly referred to as ‘millennials’ and now even ‘post-millennials’. They seem to speak in a bizarre sort of pensioner patois, far removed from the spiky argot used by the delinquents in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.

Instead of innovating new words, they are choosing to resurrect a sort of ‘roll out the barrel’ Blitz-spirit, quaintly cliché-ridden parlance. It’s best summed up in the sudden ubiquity of this phrase ‘Oh my days!’ as an exclamation, instead of variations such as ‘for fuck’s sake’ or ‘oh my god’. I mean if you want to use dated genteelisms, why not just go all the way back to Shakespeare and say ‘Zounds!’

I am not talking here about ‘elderspeak’ – the means by which younger generations communicate with much older generations. In the past we have shockingly infantilised the old by talking to them in a ridiculous sort of motherese, but now the reverse seems to be happening – the young want to talk like the old amongst themselves and project a ‘mature’ image.

It might have something to do with the intense pressure modern living puts on its young to appear successful, grow up immediately and fit in at all costs. Have you listened to them being interviewed? They come out with things like ‘oh that was before my time’ (meaning ‘I am a solipsist – nothing of any importance happened before my birth’) and ‘I’m 24 today, how did I get so old, I remember when I was young…back in the day’).

They aren’t helped by chart music which is all 25 year olds singing about when they were young too – listen to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’, he sounds like an old duffer at the end of his life looking back over it all. I understand that when you are younger you want to appear grown up – maybe passing as an adult when you are 17 and want a pint in the pub. But drinking is no longer PC and the younger generations are the first to let you know.

Maybe it all goes hand in hand with the increasing religiosity, prudery and puritanism of society, frowning on smokers, drinkers, drug-takers, swearers etc etc. It seems like a symptom of Tory Britain’s grand decades-long scheme to make everyone homogenously aspirationally middle-class as part of their vendetta campaign against the underclass. Come with us or die, seems to be their unofficial motto.

But then, maybe it’s just me who thinks the young are beginning to ape the behaviour and speech of the old?

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