“Woah, why are you being so salty?” I asked my sister across the dinner table after she made a particularly unflattering remark about my new haircut. Uncalled for, if you ask me. “This is payback for when you and my friends roasted me yesterday” she replied crossing her arms smugly.“Roasting? Salty? What on earth are you kids talking about?!” my poor, confused mother almost yelled from next to me, my father nodded sagely as if he knew what we were talking about when he clearly did not. “They’re clearly talking about some strange cooking technique” he smirked, it only seemed like he was half-joking. That’s when it hit me, our parents don’t even know half the words we use, or at least the context of them. They don’t understand why we use the words that we do. Hell, even I don’t understand why we use the words we do. So let’s take a look at this meme-dominated world and try to understand why 2017 slang is the way it is.
We’ve turned everything into a meme; politics, protests, random things lying on the street — they’re all memes now. The great thing about memes though, is that they’re not just pictures with words that amuse us but they’re culturally and socially relevant tools to analyse any current world situation. There exists a meme for any event, any happening and any significant change in the world. Memes are what allow us to study the world as it is right now, better. For example, it is entirely possible to analyse the 2016 Presidential elections in the U.S solely through the use of memes. Pictures of Obama, Biden, Hilary Clinton, and of course, Donald Trump, simply existing were taken, in and out of context, and used to talk about current events or just made the general butt of a joke. These memes, more than papers by political experts are what help outsiders understand what was even going on in the elections. Memes offered an every man’s perspective as they told one what the people were really thinking. Another example is the types of memes that always show up on all college student’s news feeds around midterms and finals weeks. We all feel the same way, so we make memes to deal with the pressure of probably failing college due to an essay on the optimum sailing technique or whatever.
The word “meme” originally comes from the Greek word Mimesis which means “to imitate”, which is interesting because of the fact that every single meme, everything that we find funny, feels so specific and tailored to us. Whenever I see a meme on Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram it feels as if that meme has been tailor made to suit me and what my struggles are at the moment. Obviously, whenever I see these memes my first instinct is to tag a few friends or pass my phone around the room and write or say “same”.
We started using the word “same” to show that we related to something, but now it has become cultural slang of its very own and is used in the strangest of circumstances. The other day I dropped an ice-cream wrapper in the dustbin and my friend sighed, looked at it and said “same”. Another time we were walking around college and upon seeing a plastic bag stuck on a tree my friends and I broke into a chorus of “sames”. I think it speaks mountains about our generation if we have reached the point where we can relate to ice cream wrappers and plastic bags. But I don’t think it’s about relating so much as feeling the need to express our pathetic condition (for it is pathetic, I’m worried about all of us) in some way or the other. We’re not all talented enough to write poetry or music, and since no one really understands complex math equations that’s not the best way of telling the world how we feel either. So we tag each other in memes and say “same” to the trash. “Same” is no longer just a word for us anymore, it’s a lifestyle, it’s an answer, it’s how we make sense of an increasingly crazy world around us, by trying to relate to everything we can to at least stay a little connected.
The word “salty” has an even more interesting origin. I always thought we used salty to mean snarky or annoyed because salt was very annoying? Not the smartest, I know. Turns out salty originally meant “angry, irritated or tough” as it was used in relation to U.S sailors who were all those things as well as covered in salt because… well, you know. The word slowly adapted to covering things like bitter and annoyance rather than anger, probably as we became more passive aggressive to hide our true emotions. Now whenever anyone is being extra mean or snarky we just use the word “salty”; it covers everything.
One of my favourite slang phrasings is “roasting”. We are literally taking a word that means “to cook on a flame” and adapting it to basically mean “teasing a friend who did something stupid and deserves no slack for that”. Roasting is basically what we do when we want to uncover a friend’s deep secrets and stupid mistakes but also want to be very discrete and seemingly nice about it, sneaky. Roasting is also probably where the word “heat” in its modern context has emerged as well. “Putting the heat on” is basically just making a friend’s life more miserable. Or “Where’s that heat coming from?” is that confused friend asking why he is being targeted so unfairly (probably because of his last girlfriend, to be honest, that was a bad decision).
One of my favourite tasks as an English major is to compare authors now to authors like Shakespeare and Jane Austen and talk about how much things have changed since they’ve been writing. Not only do I compare their work to the authors of 2017, I also compare them to authors in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I did this because in my head the language of 20 years ago and today wasn’t much different, but recently I realised how strange that assumption was because they are different, very much so. Not only have words like “groovy” and phrases like “off the hook” been gotten rid of but a whole new slew of words have been added in their place. The best part about these new words is that these are words which have already existed for years, we’ve just misappropriated, or rather, re-appropriated them to suit our own needs for the moment. I was under the impression that English had reached a point of stagnation, that even if culture changed, the language wouldn’t. The existence of these words clearly defies my expectations, and I’m glad they do. A language which doesn’t constantly evolve is no fun, so let’s hope we have more strange words in the future that make no sense but fit right in wherever they’re being used.
[Words by: Anjali Krishnakumar]