Dictionary of Youth Slang: Do you know what “smash” means?

Chattering teenagers: Many teenagers use words and phrases that adults don’t initially understand. (Source: DGLimages/getty-images-bilder)

“Smash”, “sheesh” and the like – youth words sometimes sound more like cold noises than words. Do you know the meanings of the expressions?

When young people talk, adults often stand aside and can only shrug their shoulders. What are they talking about?

Young people have a particularly strong influence on everyday language. They create new words and phrases or use old ones in new contexts. But youth language is much more than just individual expressions. The term youth language encompasses all forms of youth-specific communication methods.

This is what it says on the website of the Society for the German Language. The functions of young people’s language styles are therefore very different:

  • Distancing yourself from your parents’ generation and other youth groups, even leading to protests
  • own identity formation and self-presentation
  • Aspect of playfulness, innovation
  • affective relief
  • Credibility effect: communication of credibility and authenticity
  • Language economy (language’s tendency towards economy and simplification)

Youth language is constantly evolving. What was just described as “cool” or “horny” is suddenly more “porno” and then “tight” or “lit” again. So every generation has its own youth language. There is no one youth language, strictly speaking there are youth languages, which of course differ not only from generation to generation, but also from region to region or even from peer group to peer group. In order to understand expressions in youth language, specific cultural knowledge is required.

These are characteristics of youth language

One of the characteristics of youth language is a certain vocabulary. Stylistic devices such as irony and provocation are also part of it. In recent years, many abbreviations have also been used (for example Yolo for “You only live once”). Characteristics of adolescent speech can also be, for example, the following:

  • using advertising slogans or quotes from films, series, song lyrics, etc.
  • creative and playful defamiliarization of words, statements or phrases (“Let me be a doctor, I’m through”, “Smombie”)
  • ethnolectal speaking, i.e. speaking in grammatically incorrect German (“Isch geh Bahnhof”)
  • Shift in meaning (“porn” used to be just the short form of pornography, in youth language “porno” is used as a synonym for “interesting” or “fat”)
  • Use of intensifying expressions (“bold”, “de luxe”, “hamma”)
  • swear words and vulgarisms (“kahba” means something like “bitch”)
  • Anglicisms, but also borrowings from other languages ​​(“hustlen”, “Habibi”)
  • Mixed language of German and English
  • New words (“Merkules”, “Gönnjamin”)
  • Scene language words (including influences from the music scene, “being fly,” for example, comes from the hip-hop scene)
  • Stretching phrases (“something”, “or something”)
  • Sentence breaks
  • metaphorical, often hyperbolic ways of speaking (“Obermacker” = director)

Media plays a part in the dissemination of such words and expressions. However, portrayals of youth language in the media are often exaggerated. The Society for the German Language contrasts youth language with media youth language, “in which individual ‘exotic’ words are listed or treated.” It can be found not only in media reports, but also in populist dictionaries and fictional texts.


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