Teen Slang And Writing: Don’t Date Yourself, Dawg

Yo, want to mark where you fall on the generation timeline? Address folks with “Yo.” Or ask your teenager, “Did you hook-up with your friends today?” (This innocent question gets quite a reaction around here, let me tell you!) Slang evolves. What means one thing in one generation can mean something completely different in another. An insult in your generation could be a compliment in the next, or a sick slang expression could be like speaking Hungarian.


Tips for using slang in teen novels:

1. Use slang sparingly. Eavesdrop on a conversation between teenagers (for research purposes, of course). How often do they use slang? Not often, I’d venture.

When writing, toss in a slang word, here and there, for authenticity and color. Take care not to overdo it, or risk obliterating your characters. Dialogue heavily laden with slang can come across forced and unnatural. Slang choices should enrich your characters, not make them laughable. Be wise; be conservative.

2. Know your slang. We’re doing “research” again. What slang words do you hear teens using in conversation? Ask them what unfamiliar terms means, or jot expressions down and search their meaning on:

Urban Dictionary: http://www.urbandictionary.com/


The Online Slang Dictionary: http://onlineslangdictionary.com/

But beware! Don’t assume a slang word or phrase is current because it appears on these websites. When in doubt, ask an expert: members of your target audience. If you receive a blank stare or an “Ewwwwww,” best to avoid using that expression.

You can consult teachers or other professionals who interact with teenagers, as well. Social networks are also a great source. Read through conversation threads on your teenage Facebook friends’ posts and take notes on language usage.

3. Stick with timeless and universal expressions. You can’t go wrong with “awesome” or “cool,” in my humble opinion. At least, they don’t make my teens wince, and they’re widely known, unlike other expressions I’ve used. I once wrote that I was “pissed” about something on Facebook. A British friend told me he did a double take when he saw my comment coming through his feed. Apparently, pissed means drunk as a skunk in England.

Don’t date your book, or yourself. Educate yourself on current teen slang, use it sparingly and wisely in your writing, and opt for a timeless classic over trendy. And when you spot a sign in Old Navy that says flip-flops are on sale, don’t shout across the store to your teenage daughters, “Girls! Thongs are on sale!” Yeah, that went over well.


Elise-2.Stokes.crop5x7.0045Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise’s understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate young teens to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence.

The stories in the Cassidy Jones Adventures series are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds.


About Michelle Isenhoff

MICHELLE ISENHOFF has been reader-nominated for a Cybils Award, the Great Michigan Read, and the Maine Student Book Award. She's also placed as a semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review Book Awards and been named a finalist in the kid-judged Wishing Shelf Book Awards. A former teacher and current homeschooler, Michelle has been lauded by the education community for the literary quality of her work, which is regularly purchased for classroom use.

13 thoughts on “Teen Slang And Writing: Don’t Date Yourself, Dawg

  1. This is a subject not often thought about but so important in writing for this age group. I am going to take special notice when reading them from now on……

  2. Had to laugh at your Old Navy gaffe 🙂 I can see the cringes on your kids’ faces now! Great post and very true. Technology is another thing that date our work that’s hard to avoid. Things change so fast.

    1. Hahahaha, Alan. I figured if anyone made it through the entire post that I might as well reward them with an example showing how uncool I really am. 😉 Great point about technology. I have my characters texting, Skyping, etc., but at some point that tech will be obsolete. Considering how quickly tech advances, though, we shouldn’t get overly hung up on it. Look at Kinsey Millhone. She has to be nearing the end of the alphabet by now, and has likely never experienced the convenience of a cell phone, and probably still wears shoulder pads!

  3. I would like to say that I’m an expert, but I’m not. I find it awkward to write “lol” in conversations (I practically forced myself to use it in an email to a friend). Great point about the use of expressions. 😉 Great post!

    1. Thanks, Erik, and you may be uncomfortable writing LOL, because you’re ahead of the game. My kids told me it was out well over a year ago— actually, around the time I started using it. Hmmmmmmm… There does appear to be a correlation. Could be that’s how they determine if a slang term is passe? If Mom uses it… 🙂

  4. I tend to fall back on “cool” too – good to know it’s still considered timely. And, boy have I had a real-life problem with flip-flops and thongs! Thanks for a great reminder.

  5. Yup, we can certainly ‘date’ ourselves, Elise. And the expressions on some of the kids’ faces is totally priceless! I use Urban Dictionary, but have never heard of the Slang Dictionary, I’ll have to check that out. Cheers for a fab, OMG,, bees knees post.

  6. I think the slang should match the time frame but agree about using it sparingly. What about the New Adult novels being written by younger authors in the present time? Would current slang make their books more popular to their audience?

  7. Yep! I had to gently interrupt a relative from explaining that she hooked up with a guy she met at a conference…. Expressions can change meaning, language is fluid!

    I’m lucky in that the majority of what I write is either historical or second-world, so slang is documented and fixed or free for me to invent! But I did recently delve into modern culture and NA, and yes, I agree that a little dab’ll do ya (!) and that one or two slang instances are enough to color the whole chapter or more. Thanks for the post!

  8. Onisha, Laura, and Jennifer, I’m sorry these three comments didn’t get approved for two weeks! I dropped the ball. 🙁

Comments are closed.