Earlier this year I rediscovered the wonderful Natalie Tran of CommunityChannel on YouTube. Back in the day when I had lots of free time (actually I can never remember a time when my life was like that, but you get my drift), I started watching her short but hilarious takes on life. Then life got busier, time passed and next thing you know it’s five years later.
What I love about Natalie Tran is that her humour is observational: her subjects are people and their everyday quirks and behaviours. Exactly the kind of thing I’m interested in.
In one of her recent videos, she makes the observation that she no longer understands young people who say things like “yolo” and “hashtag: hilarious”, acknowledging that back in her day the “cool cats” said different things. For example, she points out, back then it was cool to say “…not” at the end of everything.
My immediate reaction to this was to feel slightly uncomfortable. “Oh” I thought, “Aren’t people saying that anymore?”
I distinctly remember when I first heard that particular expression. It was on a beach in Sydney in the early 1990s. My friend Mez had a baseball cap on back to front with the word “NOT” on the front of it. When I asked her what it signified, she explained it to me and I felt just a little bit behind the cool kids for having had to ask.
I can’t say I was taken with it when I first heard it, and in fact, it was probably half a year before I started using the expression myself. But once I got hold of it, I didn’t let it go. And now it’s been nearly 20 years, and I’m still saying it.
This doesn’t just happen to me. In a clip shown during Graham Norton’s interview with Madonna last year, her teenager daughter Lourdes coolly ridiculed her for still using the expression “whatevs” which, Lourdes claimed, was out of favour with the cool set. I did take some comfort in the fact that even Madonna can be left behind the times, though admittedly saying “whatevs” is at least more recent than using “…not”.
There was a time when I was the one ahead of the expression curve. When the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out in 1990, everyone started using the expression “dude” but I had been saying it for about a decade, thanks to my brother. I’m not sure where he picked it up from but I know “dude” has ridden the wave of cultural popularity a few times over the last 100 plus years.
Along with “dude”, “cool” is another staple in my popular expression diet. I’ve been saying it at least since my teens… and yes, I still say it. A lot. (Sometimes I turn it into “coolio” which is an expression I heard a few years ago and thought was … well, I guess cool so I added it to my repertoire.) “Cool” is another word with a fascinating etymology, coming into popular Western culture through the beatniks in the 1940s who picked it up from the African American jazz scene.
Mind you, not all expressions from popular cultural movements are timeless. You don’t hear “groovy” or “square” much (unless you’re watching an Austin Powers film). Those expressions from the 1960s counter-culture have definitely had their day. But then apparently, that’s what other people think of “ace” and “pox”, terms far more popular in the 1970s when I was growing up than they are now, but I still use them. Not often, and more often than not I’ll use them ironically (in the same way my brother sometimes uses “fully sick”), sure, but not always. Sometimes I genuinely think something is ace.
If I think about the popular phrases I have picked up over the years, they’re the ones I heard being used by people I admired.
There are also a lot of popular phrases I have never adopted, maybe because I never heard anyone I admire use them, or at least use them convincingly. I’ve never gotten the hang of the mostly American tradition of turning negatives into positives. I never jumped on the Michael Jackson “bad” bandwagon, for example, and when I watch popular talent shows and the judges say things like, “You murdered it! You killed it! You destroyed it!” I’m always a little confused. Was it a good performance or not? To me it sounds like negative criticism. Like they’ve ruined the song they’re singing, for example, where “to ruin something” is actually a bad thing. And I don’t mean bad as in good, I mean, bad as in awful. Bad as in terrible. Bad as in pox.
Increasingly I feel ridiculous using the expressions of the youth of the day. I think I’ve come to realise that talking like a teenager when you’re in your 40s only makes you sound like a fool. On the other hand, I’m obviously quite comfortable still talking like I did when I was in my youth.
So I’m sticking with “…not”. Even if that makes me sound daggy. Or aren’t people saying daggy anymore?