How Millennials are Changing the English Language

millennials change english

By Hannah Baker, Junior Copywriter

Every older generation loves to look down on the way the newer ones speak. The phrase “kids these days…”could come from the mouth of parents from 1915 or 2015 and mean the same thing: Kids are speaking differently, therefore they’re speaking incorrectly. What they don’t realize is that English isn’t being ruined — it’s just changing, and that’s a good thing. If our language never evolved, we would still be speaking as Shakespeare did. Or English may not have been created at all, since plenty of other languages came before it.

How are Millennials Involved?

Millennials are at the forefront of this change, which is to be expected. For decades, the youngest generations have always been the ones to establish language shifts. They may do it as a way to create a generational identity, or as a way to gain power in a situation where they don’t typically have it. In a world where your parents make the rules, it feels better to make your own language. 

How are They Changing English?

Basically, they’re shortening it. Phrases are often abbreviated into one or two syllable words, such as YOLO (“you only live once”), FOMO (“fear of missing out”), and BAE (“before anyone else”). Words themselves are shortened to just one syllable by cutting off the rest of the word, as in totes (“totally”) or perf (“perfect”).

However, not only are these abbreviations not ruining English, they’re actually following some very strict rules. Do you notice that every acronym they make can be pronounced easily? That’s because they aren’t randomly combining letters, they’re choosing ones in easy consonant-vowel combinations. Millennials aren’t choosing letter combinations that are hard to say, like “gf” or “kt.” They even apply English grammar rules to their new creations. For example, the millennial slang word jelly (“jealous”) came from shortening “jealous” to “jeal” and then applying the –y suffix to make a new adverb. This has also happened with the word feels (“feelings”).

What Does this Mean for Marketing?

Since millennials value authenticity, social media marketers who want to get their attention should value millennials’ style of speech. Listen to what they’re saying, and how they’re saying it. This doesn’t mean your brand voice should mimics theirs — no one likes a copycat — but you should be aware of the changes happening in the linguistic space because they may likely stick around for good. And definitely don’t mock them.

What new words have you come across with when marketing to millennials? Share your thoughts with the Likeable Media team below.