Do you speak 2016?

Tech, teens and language trends


It is impossible to know what new words will become fashionable in the year ahead: some of the buzzwords of 2016 have not yet been coined. But a few of the trends likely to shape the year are apparent, and they provide hints about the vocabulary that may be in vogue.

Technology is a reliable source of new words. Many of them jump from noun to verb, as “fax”, “e-mail”, “Google” and “Face­book” did. Whichever social network, say Slack (office-workers) or This (long-form journalism aficionados), becomes a breakout darling can expect its name to become an ordinary verb (“Slack me later”). One to watch is Venmo, which lets people send each other small payments (“Just venmo me”).

Some companies fight the “genericide” of their trademarks. Adobe, for example, campaigned to replace “to photoshop” with “to enhance using Adobe® Photoshop® software”. But they are powerless to stop it

Punkt, a Swiss gadget-maker, is soon to release a high-style phone that makes calls and sends texts, nothing more; should such phones catch on, might their users ironically flaunt their “dumbphones”? Google has pushed back the release of a phone with modular, upgradable parts (camera, processor, screen) into 2016. Google calls this “Project Ara”, but should the phone catch on, “modphone” could be a handy portmanteau.

Word of mouth

Office workers will keep mangling the language with words that shouldn’t exist: “millennialisation” might join “ideation” and “learnings” in corporate-speak in 2016. Those in jobs with high legal stakes have learned that e-mail can wind up in court, so some have taken to using “LDL” (let’s discuss live) to avoid writing anything potentially damning. Will it spread? Perhaps, but investigators are keen followers of such phrases, too, and can use them to search for suspicious activity.

Forecasting youth slang is especially hard. In a wired world, words move from cant to cool-kid code to even-your-grandmother-uses-it faster than you can say “wicked”. Facebook has confirmed that “LOL” is already in decline.

“Netflix and chill” became known in 2015 for a sexual hookup, but when such things become too widely known, they lose their frisson. These fads often start in subcultures like black-American or gay groups, before making their way to the mainstream: “throwing shade” for a put-down, for example, ­or “ratchet” for a trashy but arrogant type. So pay attention to those communities for the next big thing—maybe “throwing pillows”, for a weak punch—though by the ­time you’ve heard of it they may have moved on.

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