January 13, 2004

New middle school euphemisms?

Prentiss Riddle writes in with a story about new vocabulary creation in a Texas middle school:

I have no current data to offer you on cliquonymics, but I have an urban legend with a linguistic hook to pitch you.

His note continues:

A friend's 12-year-old daughter just finished two semesters of middle school here in Austin. Her peers are thoroughly immersed in the net and put a lot of time and energy into chat and e-mail.

They are under the impression that there is a full-time staff member at their school whose job it is to intercept messages containing profanity. Sounds like an awfully busy person! My guess is that their school really uses NetNanny or some equivalent, and in the kids' minds a piece of software has become an omniscient superhuman. Do you suppose this belief is held at other schools as well?

Here's the lingusitic hook: According to my friend's daughter, the kids have responded by creating their own synonyms for the standard obscene lexicon so their messages can slip past the censors.

I'd *love* to have a glossary of that jargon! But of course I was too responsible an adult to quiz a 12-year-old on the subject of dirty words. And perhaps I'd have been disappointed anyway -- maybe it's just l33tsp33k.

Still, I love the idea of a junior-high guerrilla linguistic movement eluding the forces of parental control. :-)

Good luck with your clique collection.

Thanks, Prentiss. But maybe it's less like guerillas eluding authoritarian control, and more like the ancient Slavs tiptoeing around the dangerous Bear Spirit by calling him the honey-eater? Magical thinking is suprisingly widespread in the linguistic culture of elementary-school kids these days -- maybe middle schoolers are not immune either.

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 13, 2004 06:29 AM