"We were on our way to Aunt Abby's,” Evien said, "when Mom asked what words and phrases teenagers are using these days."
"What did you tell her?" I asked.
"Well, I told her we do the 'dab,’” Evien said as she struck a quick pose that made her look like a hood ornament.
"What does that mean?"
"Being crabby,” Evien said. “I also told her that 'lit' and 'dope' both mean cool. 'Yeet' and 'yolo' mean the same thing. It's when you do something dangerous or impulsive that you may never do again. Yolo is an acronym for 'You only live once.’”
"Is there more?"
"Oh, yeah. When someone says something stupid, you say 'boy.’ But you don't say it like 'boy' — you say it like 'boy-ee.’ And 'roasted' means you were insulted or put down."
"Kind of like, 'Oh, snap!'" I said, snapping my fingers.
"Yeah, kind of — but nobody uses that anymore."
"Oh", I thought. "I guess I was just roasted. Boy-ee."
Evien's voice rose an octave and she spoke rapidly. "That's not the best part." she said. "When Mom and I were talking, I looked out the window and saw a tractor. I told her that when kids see something they like, they get excited and say, 'Tractor!'"
"She fell for that?"
Evien stood there with an alligator grin, a “Muttley” laugh and nodding her head.
"That's classic." I said. Evien kept grinning, hissing and nodding.
Now, at our house, every time we see something we like, we shout, "Tractor!" The other day, I saw a car I liked and said, "That car is really tractor."
Every generation of teenagers invent their own teen-speak filled with gestures, catch phrases and slang words. When I was a kid, I remember watching reruns of “Leave It To Beaver” and thinking how corny their conversations were. Dialogue went something like this:
"Hey Beav! How do you like my new scooter?"
"Gee whiz, Wally, it looks swell."
"Would you like to take it for a spin?"
"Golly, would I ever."
Some teen slang gets hung out to dry like an overused pair of bellbottom jeans. Some get parked in Webster's Salvage Yard like a rusty Ford Pinto. Others get repurposed like a forgotten old chest, with perfect patina, hauled from the attic and used as a coffee table.
For example, the word “square” was once used to describe a socially awkward individual. That faded out to make way for the term “geek.” “Geek” stepped aside for the word “nerd,” and now that the nerdy look is in style, the word for nerd has become, well, cool, which I think is just tractor.
The word “hip” was once used to describe something new or in style. The next generation coined the word “mod.” That gave rise to the term “groovy.” Now that antiques are in style, the word to describe something new or modern is, ironically, “retro.”
In years past, it wouldn't have been odd to hear a conversation similar to this:
"Hey, man, did you go to the concert last night, man?"
"Oh, man, it was the bomb, man."
After the word “man” had been way overused, the next generation would have the exact conversation, but it would sound different:
"Yo, did you go to the concert last night, yo?"
“Yo, it was jammin', yo."
Today, that same conversation would sound like this:
"Dude, did you go to the concert last night, dude?"
"Oh, dude, it was rockin’, dude."
Maybe the next generation will do something original and unique like calling people by their names.
In the past, bad things were referred to as “bogue” or “bogus,” as in: "Man-yo-dude, that movie was bogus." Later, it was “lame,” and now it just sucks.
If something was good, it was said to be “cool,” as in: "Man-yo-dude, that movie was cool." Cool became “rad” or “radical,” which still conjures up images of skater boys performing aerial summersaults on the half-pipe. "Radical” was replaced with “awesome,” thanks to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."
“Awesome” has been around for decades and needs to be replaced. Hollywood should remake "Fast Times,” and when Spicoli witnesses the explosion of the science lab, instead of shouting, "Awesome!" this time he should yell, "Tractor!"
Now that Evien has let me in on this generation's teen-speak, I realize the words are merely retreads of words that others have used before. For instance, a “dab” was something you put in your hair. “Salty” was the rim of a margarita glass, and “lit” meant you had a few too many of those fruity concoctions.
“Dope” was something you smoked and it made you say things that made other people say “boy-ee.” “Yolo” is just a version of LOL and BFF, and “roasted” is a variation of toasted or burned; they have the same meaning.
In a few short weeks, the summer will end and Evien will be in her first year of high school roasting, dabbing and yeeting. Amy will be back in the classroom ready to teach. So, do me a favor — when you see Mrs. Berry for the first time this fall and she asks you how your summer was, quickly respond, "It was tractor."
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist