Dynamic expression: twisting tongues and tongue twisters

If you are the parent of a teenager or preteen, you have probably gone past them singing to songs that you find hard to decipher. That’s part of growing up and living in dynamic societies. Lots of things are done by the young that challenge their elders. We can be a bunch of reactionary fogeys and come out with guff like “This is terrible…”, forgetting the strain that The Beatles or Rolling Stones or Bob Marley put on older ears and senses. But, this and other dynamic developments are occurring, in part as a result of migration and other social movement. Speech is changing. That’s evident in music but also if you are on the street or listen to certain radio stations. I just want to touch on a few examples. My daughter, who’s 10, has been making videos with her friends. One she did was a cover of ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea, which sounded close to the real thing.

Iggy is white, originally from Australia, but moving to the US South in her mid-teens, and immersing herself in hip-hop culture. She raps in an American accent, and uses the expressions and style of black urban areas. Why? Well, it’s cooler and more likely to be hard to understand, so lends itself to being sort of counter cultural. It could be another form of code switching, though an unusual one.

This is but one form of cross over that’s becoming common. In Jamaica, we’ve had similar experiences, where the fringe culture of Rastafarianism, including some of its speech patterns, has captured much mainstream space and attention. Look how readily people recognize Jamaica as an ‘Irie’ place. The notion of progressing and never regressing, as in ‘Forward ever, backward never’, is another instance. So, we accentuate positive verbs and adjectives. We do not under-stand anything, we over-stand. Get it? It’s broader and more complex, though, including the replacing of many common prefixes with ‘I’. Remember Bob Marley saying “I-tinually”?

I heard this weekend how in Jamaica homophobia is capturing expressions. Best example: people go to do number 1 (urinate), but because number 2 refers to the anus, which is becoming a taboo part of the body, people talk about ‘number 3’. Weird. I spent a weekend with some friends and their teens recently and heard the children repeatedly telling their parents to ‘hold a medz‘. I know now that this means ‘chill out’.

All quite fascinating.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)