Slinging new slang

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For all of you who think you know everything about Bay Area slang, here’s a test for you: What does “sadboiz” mean?

Stumped? Never heard of the word? Well, that’s probably because you didn’t go to high school with me.

Fifty miles across the Bay from Oakland — the established birthplace of all good Bay Area slang — my high school had its own slanguage. In our 200-person school, new slang words from all kinds of sources frequently dispersed through the whole student body in a matter of days without anyone noticing.

From the perspective of a linguist, it would probably be pretty interesting — even the highly regional Bay Area vernacular has its own local variations. For me, though, it was impossible to tell whether a word was common slang (such as “highkey” or “rough”) or solely specific to my community (such as the practice of adding the suffix “-boiz” to emphasize an adjective, most commonly “sad”). I’ve even had serious arguments about the spelling of “fasho” vs. “fosho.”

This all happens because of how malleable language is and how easy it is to make up new words. I’ve seen my friends convert the word “rough” (referring to something that is troublesome) into “ruf,” which then became “woof,” with the logical conclusion being a simple dog emoji.

My senior year, a friend and I even decided to create our own piece of slang. The word was “waxy,” which meant something along the lines of “mean” or “douchey” (as in, “He’s being rude because he’s just a waxy person”). Unfortunately, it never made it to the same level as “hella” or “lit” — probably because we completely forgot about using it within a matter of days.

This could easily turn into a plea to turn away from slang and regionalisms and stick to formal English, a language where “lit” could refer to a lightbulb but probably not to a party and definitely not to a person. It could be a reason to standardize the language so that these confusions never happen. But if that ever happened, I’d be highkey sadboiz.

Contact Ketki Samel at [email protected].