Gen z slang in YA books

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Tromboli

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It's been a while since I've been on these forums and since then it's really shifted from millennials being the target YA audience to gen z and well, now I'm old, apparently. lol

Gen z is a whole different beast with a whole new languauge. Do you pay much attention to gen z slang? I don't intend to pile on tons of hype phrases in to my book but I am going to try to avoid some of the VERY millennial phrases that are considered lame to teens. Specifically: cool.

Cool is no longer cool, just so you know lol. I don't know what to replace it with though. Cool is like a staple to me! Example:

"What's your name?"
"Candice."
"Cool. So..."

What word do I use for general/casual recognition? I dunno. I'm old.

Do you pay any attention to this or no?
 
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neandermagnon

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I have two kids. I just asked my 15 year old and a friend if they still use the word cool. Apparently they do. Granted there'll be a lot of regional variation. You will need to match it to the location too. Young people in London don't speak like my generation of Londoners do, and they also don't speak like kids from other parts of the UK.

I would be careful not to use the very latest slang and memes (memes are a big thing as well as slang) because they date very quickly. Like my kid occasionally comes out with stuff like "oh that's so 2016!"
 

Woollybear

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Um.

Right. So...
Gotcha. So...
Sounds good. So...
Okay. So...

... I think some 'slang' is beneath the radar enough that it'll be safe almost all the time. I'd imagine 'cool' is safer in this way than 'groovy' or 'peachy' or 'far out.' 'Cool' is sort of mid-list slang. When I was a kid, Fonzi said cool. Then cool went the way of all things in the eighties, and stuff was wild, it was, oh my god, gag me with a spoon, things were totally tubular for a while.

Then cool came back. So now it's out again? Or maybe not? If it is, it'll come back around, I'd put money on that, and faster than 'word,' 'awesome,' or 'grody.'

Sometimes some authors hang a lantern on this sort of thing (opting for one of the more colorful choices) and make the character purposefully anachronistic ... the other characters notice. Can be a nice note of quirkiness.
 
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ChaseJxyz

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ngl the "Candice" example you used is pretty cringe, since it's a meme that hinges on the fact that there is no punchline, the post/tiktok ends before it's delivered. So using it in a book won't work because there's more book, right? How're you gonna pull that off? lol Memes/slang have their own "grammar"/standard "style" and anything that goes outside that either is used intentionally in a dadaist style (i.e. dank memes) or it's a "how do you do, fellow kids?" signal that you are An Old Person trying to connect with The Kids and don't actually know what you're talking about.

This also kinda segways into: what even IS "gen z slang" ? Because SNL had that one skit that was pretty "yikes!" because they conflated gen z slang with AAVE which....oops! Tho tbf a lot of slang is lifted from AAVE, many times not actually aware that AAVE is an Actual Thing with its own grammar/rules, it's not just random stuff smashed together or being too dumb/uneducated to use Proper English.

To me, gen z is the liberal use of emojis (no, emojis are not "modern hieroglyphs" I wanna strangle anyone who says that lol) and the body of cultural knowledge needed to understand just what the heck is going on in any given post. Like this one, for example, do you know the 2 memes that are the source of this? Or the additional meme that is OP's own reply? I def wanna see a book that uses emojis in a non-cringe way.
 

Nether

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I heard two late teens / early twenty-somethings say "lame" yesterday. I guess "lame" might still be cool... so to speak.

Something like "cool" I don't think ever goes away.

I try not to focus much on slang. My issue is just changing social media platforms where I can't even remember the name of this new one kids are apparently leaving IG for.
 

TulipMama

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My stance is to avoid as much slang as is feasible. Because slang is such a rapidly evolving portion of the language, especially now, putting slang in your book can very quickly date it. If you want your book to be relatable and easily understandable in a decade, in five? Less slang is more better.

But that's just my opinion. YOLO, peace fam!
 
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Fuchsia Groan

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I try to avoid recent slang (and memes and emojis) as much as possible while keeping things informal and vaguely contemporary. I’m sure I’ve had some dialogue that made teens cringe, but it was the same in the YA books I read as a kid. I didn’t assume the author had to be my age and have the exact same vocabulary I did. (This may have changed, of course. I sometimes see folks on Twitter asking for YA written by teens, which is probably a sign I need to start selling adult books.)

I remember a time/place when kids didn’t use “cool” because we associated it with hippies, much like “groovy.” Instead, we said “neat,” I’m afraid. Not one I’d use in a book unless it was set in the ‘70s.
 

neandermagnon

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Then cool came back. So now it's out again? Or maybe not? If it is, it'll come back around, I'd put money on that, and faster than 'word,' 'awesome,' or 'grody.'

I think cool has simply become part of mainstream language. It's almost made it into standard English - maybe not quite, I think it would still be considered somewhat informal.

Language evolves: words start out as niche slang, used just within one particular group. From there, they either fall out of common usage and sound dated, like groovy, or they become mainstream slang - used much more widely by many people outside the original group - and from there they can become mainstream informal and might eventually make it into formal English. Cool's gone down that route. Groovy's fallen out of common usage.
 

Nether

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How does everybody get around issues like referencing social media platforms without sounding obvious or uncool about it? If it's something like sharing a video, I imagine people will fill in the blank with whatever is popular (although I think YT will be big for a long time, which is a shame given their questionable business practices), but a lot of other things tend to be trendier.

(This may have changed, of course. I sometimes see folks on Twitter asking for YA written by teens, which is probably a sign I need to start selling adult books.)

Even if it was written by teens at the time, it could still be outdated by release and the teen would probably be an adult :p

I remember a time/place when kids didn’t use “cool” because we associated it with hippies, much like “groovy.” Instead, we said “neat,” I’m afraid. Not one I’d use in a book unless it was set in the ‘70s.

I was probably never hip enough to notice... or I didn't have much interaction with teens when it happened. Or maybe it fell out of style in a region.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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Referencing social media is tricky, for sure. My agent and editors have always suggested making it as generic as possible. I’m drafting a book where I talk a lot about people posting videos on true crime subjects, and it’s obviously YouTube or TikTok where that happens, but I don’t name the platform.

In my last book I had two teens meeting and one saying to the other, “I’ll friend you,” and they had me change it to “I’ll follow you” so it wouldn’t sound like the kids were using Facebook. :D Though, in my defense, my MC actually was using Facebook because she’d been kept off the Internet since she was a small child and needed to research her own early online footprint.
 
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DonVodka

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I like to stay fresh and write the way I speak. I guess you have to know your audience and if you're old trying to talk young, it might show. That's why I always put a little of me in all my characters.
 

Nether

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I like to stay fresh and write the way I speak.

I did that once, which is why I have a thousand f-bombs in about 70k words... which is still a lower f-bomb ratio than in my normal conversations. AW, work, and a few others get the somewhat censored Nether. They don't get the unfiltered and unleaded Nether. And I've got a lot of lead -- I'm very bad for the environment or something.
 
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DonVodka

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You only did it once? Haha. And 1,000 isn't an f-bomb, it's already an effing nuke.

What were the other 69,000 words like, one wonders?
 
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DonVodka

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69,000 family-friendly words out of a total of 70,000 means 98% of your words passed the granny test. It took me ten minutes to figure that out. With a calculator.

And to put that in context, if I had gotten 98% in school I might have graduated from junior high and not have to try writing for a living. Facts!
 

Nether

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You only did it once?

I mean, for context, the manuscript I'm editing right now only has 66 f-bombs. I think only my younger-audience ones go completely without. My first horror manuscript only had 69. At some point I'll have to go through all of them to check stuff like that out of curiosity.

However, the supervillain manuscript was the closest I came to approximating my personal usage because I go overboard with stuff like that. And cursing in general is one of those things that won't ever go out of fashion... although certain words sometimes become taboo.

Haha. And 1,000 isn't an f-bomb, it's already an effing nuke.

What were the other 69,000 words like, one wonders?

Well, I mean, I had other profanity in there. 169 uses of the word "ass" (41 are "asshole), 280 uses of "shit," 36 uses of "bitch", 26 uses of "bastard", 11 uses of "dick", any number of drug references, etc -- you know, just nice, wholesome stuff. Of course, that's more than I use most of those -- except for "shit" which I use more often.

At first, I was like, "Do I really want to have this much?", but I was telling a supervillain story and I remembered the comic Kick-Ass where they went pointlessly overboard half the time and thought, "Yeah, I'm doing this!" And I was just making a whole gimmick out of it.

69,000 family-friendly words out of a total of 70,000 means 98% of your words passed the granny test.

It'd be difficult to write anything more than 10% profanity just due to logistics since you need certain sentence components (and even approaching 10% is hard). Not that the "family-friendly" words were necessarily used in a family friendly order. As for the "granny test," one of my grannies could make sailors blush.

And outside of dialogue the usage goes down a bit.
 

DonVodka

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I hardly ever use profanity in my books, except when the characters are swearing. But that's on them.
 

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69,000 family-friendly words out of a total of 70,000 means 98% of your words passed the granny test. It took me ten minutes to figure that out. With a calculator.

And to put that in context, if I had gotten 98% in school I might have graduated from junior high and not have to try writing for a living. Facts!
I'm unsure what you mean by that. Would you be willing to unpack that? How does proportional profanity word count, whether in dialogue or narrative, impact publication? I'm dead curious.
 

DonVodka

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Lol Grannies swear like troopers.

(My role models)
 

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