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MARCH 13, 2014

I like my surroundings to be clean. When my apartment is neat and organized, an angel bakes a $100  bill into an orphan’s birthday cake. When it’s filthy, the angel gives an inner-city social worker HPV.

Tidiness, for me (and orphans and social workers), is therefore quite important.

But of course, not everyone is the same. Some people do manage to feel at home in disorganization, putrescence and filth. They’re fine shoveling through a field of newspapers, apple cores and cat skeletons to get from their bedroom to the family room, and that’s their prerogative.

The world needs difference and variety. That’s what makes life so interesting and what constitutes our identities as people, individually and as a society.

There are 7 billion people in the world, each with their own dreams, their own hairstyle, their own secrets and their own Netflix accounts. (Actually, on that subject, whoever has been using my account to watch “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” should know that once you’re old enough to phone-order a ShamWow, you are no longer allowed to watch any non-Shia LaBeouf Disney programming.)

A world of individuals is, ultimately, the best world.

So if we as a society and as a generation so highly prize our own eccentricities, differences and aberrations, why are we finding it so difficult to find a unique way to express ourselves?

Words are the singular and most powerful method for self-expression. More potent than any One Direction binder or patterned Urban Outfitters scarf, language is what allows us to truly create our identities and communicate with the world in a meaningful way. But the millennial generation, for all our academic advantages (try and search history for a more literate generation) and for all the platforms of communication we enjoy, has sunken into a void of trite, recycled, uninteresting and completely anonymous language that is made even more tragic by the reality that, in fact, more people hear and read our words than ever before.

This is not a secret. LOL. OMG. STFU. GTFO. BRB. Shorthand, in short. It’s the most obvious and most egregious example of what our language has become and what separates this generation’s language limitations from those of the past. We aren’t even creating sentences anymore. We’re collapsing our thoughts and ideas into acronyms, rooting out the beauty and creativity of the English language, all, it seems, to save a second or two of time.

Not that I don’t understand the importance of those seconds you’re saving. Every second counts. YOLO, am I right? But if I were to conduct an audit  of your time allocation for the day, “dialogue exchanged” is not the category for which I’d be ordering budget cuts. You could, for one, stop watching “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” on my Netflix account.

Language is just too important. George Orwell said if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought, and like the novel from whence those words came, (“1984” for the uncultured troglodytes out there. JK, I’m so pretentious. JK, I shouldn’t be saying “JK” in this article — god, I’m such a hypocrite. BRB) his words are alarmingly prophetic.

“I can’t even … ” “I’m dying.” “I’m literally going to kill myself.” “OMG, best thing ever.” “So awkward” (or for advanced players, “awk”). “Ratchet.” “Sketch.” And the list goes on. A combination of the tendency to abbreviate and a small selection of superlatives and phrases to express the narrow but passionate spectrum of adolescent emotion has stifled the creativity of the millennial vocabulary.

If Orwell’s words are true — and I genuinely believe they are — then this kind of language monotony is rendering us as unoriginal, creativity-sapped and trite as the verbal expressions upon which we’ve become so dependent. And that’s a devastating reality to face, given how much we have to say. “That awkward moment” we’re sharing on Facebook or the totes hilar story from class aren’t our thoughts and ideas and most definitely don’t speak to our identities. Remember those original, special unique things that I talked about earlier. What makes us who we are is not captured by the shorthand to which we’ve inadvertently become addicted.

And none of this is to shame or in any way diminish the intelligence and originality and expressive ability of those who interact this way. I use millennial slang (I’ve just in this moment decided to call it this. Spread the word). We all do — some more gratuitously than others, granted, but it takes a special kind of person to not throw out a “LOL” or two on occasion, and who can even keep track of how many times he or she says it digitally. That’s where LOL belongs anyway. Along with its backup singers, JK and ROFL.

But words — like cleanliness, individuality and Shia LaBeouf — are important, especially when they are molded into coherent and interesting sentences that convey original and illuminating thoughts. So, fellow millennials, let’s be the generation that talks like it thinks: better than anyone else. Showing the door to the belabored and doltish language conventions we’ve come to know and love can open the door to some variety in our correspondences and breathe new life into the millennial phrasebook. (I’ll be selling millennial phrase books on Sproul Plaza if you’re interested.)

Or, of course, we can just tell JK and LOL to GTFO.

Contact Jacob Leonard at 


APRIL 23, 2014