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Smiley’s people

“Lol,” said the teenage daughter at the dinner table last week when the twenty-something cracked a joke.

india Updated: Aug 03, 2010 00:14 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

“Lol,” said the teenage daughter at the dinner table last week when the twenty-something cracked a joke.

“Umm, you can actually laugh, you know — there’s no ban on it,” I said. “You know… laugh? As in those spontaneous sounds and movements of the face and body that are the instinctive expressions of lively amusement and sometimes also of contempt and derision?”

“Yeah, whatever,” the teenager replied, keen to move on.

Is it just me or is the English language tumbling all around? Lol — laugh out loud for the uninitiated — is perfectly complemented by haha and hehe, the latter being a snigger. There’s even a slang for lol — lulz.

Being, I like to think (this is contentious), a reasonably with-it dad I find myself forever swimming against a tide of new words in a bid to ingratiate myself with the teenager.

I once took a well-trodden path, and dug out an internet dictionary with hundreds of Instant Messaging terms — from aa (as above) to zzzz (snoring, or bored) — before realising the pointlessness of the trawl. A treasure trove of sorts it may be, but as a means of ‘getting in’ with the teenager (aa)? Perhaps not…

The way the English language is used and spoken is undergoing a massive and possibly irreversible change in Britain. Queen’s English — as heard on parts of BBC radio and now known as Received Pronunciation — is still the preferred accent of well heeled. But an increasing number of young people in southeast England speak in what is known as the Estuary English, named after the region around the river Thames.

Many features mark out this accent, the best known being a dropped ‘T’: as in ‘Wha-abou Gee-aa? Will you mee-a? (What about Geeta? Will you meet her?). There are elements of the East London cockney accent that Estuary English borrows from but it is not restricted by class.

Celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver speak it, and it is perfectly normal for a young MP or business executive these days to drop the T. No one bats an eyelid.

However, according to a 2008 study by academics at the University of Toronto, the use of lol declines “systematically” with age, with older people preferring haha. “It seems that adolescents quickly outgrow at least some of the Instant Messaging forms,” the authors conclude.

Come to think of it, must tell the teenager that. She’s soooo not with it. Gtg. :)