My younger colleagues at work have been educating me in the use of slang. One even gave me a box of flashcards as a Christmas gift, each one imprinted with one word or phrase and its hipster meaning.
The cards have provided a source of amusement over the past few days as I’ve practiced letting words like steez and guap, hot mess and hyphy roll off my tongue. I don’t expect I’ll be using any of them soon – somehow I’ve outgrown the inclination to be hip.
But I like learning them for one simple reason: I like words. No, let me correct that: I love words.
This will come as no surprise to readers of this column, who have been faithfully reading 700 to 800 words stitched together by me weekly for more than a decade. Sometimes words come easily to me, spilling out across the page like eager children released for school recess. At other times, my words sputter and stumble, and I keep having to retrace my steps until I find the best way forward.
But I never tire from the exercise. I can’t imagine I ever will.
The written word has been my primary means of communication for most of my life. I made the decision to make my living from the printed word when I was a Grade 9 student trying to figure out what to do with my life.
My passion for reading and an easy ability to write added up, in my head at least, to the possibility of a career in newspapers. I have been at this for 30 years, writing and editing copy, reporting the news, telling stories and casting my opinion about through this column.
I feel incredibly privileged to be the purveyor of words. It’s a currency that never loses its value; regardless of whether one is dealing in the King’s English or hip-hop slang.
Which brings me back to my little pack of flash cards and my current education. It all began when my colleagues realized I did not know the most recently invented meaning of ‘word’.
I will not even attempt to be hip as I explain this, but apparently, those who are use it to mean things like ‘that’s the truth’, or ‘what’s up’ or ‘I agree’ or, sometimes, nothing in particular at all other than a quick affirmation that you are indeed paying attention to the person who is talking to you.
To be truthful saying ‘word’ seems a bit weird to me, but then, as I said, I’m not hip and so there’s no expectation that I ought to ever say it to convey any of the meanings I’ve outlined above.
That’s such a relief.
But I also find it curiously interesting the these four letters have emerged in yet another incarnation, and one that is not so far from what they have meant for millennia. Just as the modern Urban Dictionary allows for ‘word’ to be spoken of as a bond, so the historic Oxford defines it as an account of the truth.
While there are many meanings in between – word can be defined as simply as a unit of speech – I think it is this meaning, word as truth or surety, that most resonates with me.
There are several reasons for this. As a follower of Jesus, I am intrigued that he was actually named ‘Word’ by the Gospel writer, John. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ is how John sets in down in writing.
It’s a powerful image, not only of God becoming human, but also of God inhabiting words, God expressed through language.
This theological treatise of ‘word’ helps me understand why words have so much energy, so much power. Elegant or ugly, words have the ability to change the course of life, for one person, for a family, for a village or a city, indeed, for a whole nation.
Were we humans a mute race, I wonder if we would be so complex, so interesting, so communal.
That’s a question for another day, perhaps even another 700-word column, but not one that will come from me. This edition of People, Places and Things is my last.
I have never been one for long good-byes. I’m the sort that’s happy to be dropped off at the airport curb. I prefer ‘see you again’ to the finality of farewell (although I like the ancient sentiment of fare thee well).
And so, as 2012 comes to a conclusion, I conclude a long stint as a newspaper columnist. It’s been a great chapter in my life. If you agree, feel free to release your inner hipster by saying ‘word’.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.