Uncool Beans

I thought my neighbor’s tree looked really neat in this light, with the storm advancing behind it.

I’d like to offer a shout-out this morning to Abby Mumford, who is a sometime commenter and frequent pimper of this blog. She passed along the Stylish Blogger Award. It’s a lovely thing, to have someone recommend your work to others. I don’t much like to play the blog badge game, because it reminds me uncomfortably of chain letters. And I’m old enough to remember when chain letters actually came in the mail. Which arrived on exhausted ponies. In ten-foot deep snow.

At any rate, I won’t post you a list of my secrets, because I pretty much spill everything here anyway. But thank you, Abby – I greatly appreciate the nod!

Last night David commented that the waitress in the movie we watched didn’t look old enough to serve drinks, and that it was the second time we’d seen that in a movie lately. I said, either that, or we’re just getting old enough that they look really young to us now. It’s an interesting thing about age-perspective. The people around your own age look “right” and everyone else is lumped into older or younger.

The other day I saw conversation between two twenty-something agents on Twitter. A lot of publishing professionals – especially the ones really using social media – are twenty-somethings. They’re fresh out of college, interning and starting at the bottom level. They make terrific agents because they don’t have extensive client lists yet and they’re full of energy and enthusiasm. Both of these gals rep Young Adult books, so their own perspective is arguably much closer to that of the readers than an older person’s would be.

One said that she feels awkward correcting outdated slang in manuscripts.

The other said, Oh, I know, right? I just took out “cool beans” from a manuscript.

And all I heard was Mom! You’re embarrassing me!

Okay, sure – we all retain an unnatural attachment to the slang of our youth. It dates us, as surely as mentions of paper chain-mail letters and stories where the girl actually had to stay at home when she waited for a phone call from a boy. The words and phrases that make us superbad as teens render us hopelessly square twenty years later.

(I’d like to insert here, however, that “cool beans” was never a serious slang term. Hint: if the Urban Dictionary’s main citation for a term is Cheech & Chong, it was never more than tongue in cheek. We didn’t really smoke Labrador, either. Erm, most of us, anyway. The fact that it was picked up and used as a running joke in Full House, well, I can’t help that.)

These gals are doing their jobs, updating the language for today’s savvy youth. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that what’s hip today is lining bird cages tomorrow.

(How many old slang terms can I trot out in one post? This is more fun than a barrel full of monkeys!)

It’s kind of like fashion: beware the fads. Go for the classics. That black jersey knit skirt can last decades with proper care and always looks in style. Those black rubber Madonna-wannabe bracelets? The hot pink half-shirt that says RELAX in neon green? Not so much.

I suspect the answer is to avoid slang as much as possible. I don’t write YA, so I don’t labor with trying to sound nifty keen to the youth of today. The classic curse words though? They’ve been around, doing their dirty work for centuries now. Serious staying power there.

Besides, you don’t want to embarrass your agent.

Chain letters? Weren’t those invented with email?

9 Replies to “Uncool Beans”

  1. This is something to think about. I wonder if the current text language will be considered outdated in a few years? Will kids in 2040 look back at OMG and WHT and think it's lame?

  2. What's interesting is how the old slang words keep making a comeback. Things like groovy, for example. And – my 15 year old has been saying cool beans lately. So maybe it's not so uncool after all, and even the young agents are having a hard time keeping up. Thus your point about just leaving it out of the book makes sense.

  3. "Nifty keen" made me snort.

    It's not just a YA problem though. My MC is in her late 20s, but I'm, well, considerably older. I have to watch the references she makes and strike stuff that's from the '80s. So, even slang and references in adult novels have to be watched closely for anachronisms of speech.

    – Rachel

  4. Kerry, that is interesting! And now other people on twitter are citing "cool beans" usage.

    Very funny, KAK. I wondered if anyone would come back with some juicy ones.

    I hear you, Rachel, I have to go back through some of my characters and weed out references that aren't part of their frame. Not always easy.

  5. I like the made up words too! Awesomesauce. I think its inventive and hip–then I see it on my fave local chinese restaurant. They have an awesomesauce for some of their sushi. The word lost a little bit of its luster. 😀
    Fun post, Jeffe.

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