Sinking into a comfortable conversation with old friends over FaceTime, I can’t help but think about how different some of our language is compared to the last time we spoke just a few months ago. Our slang is drawn from social media platforms and internet culture, and evolves at an unprecedented rate. It helps us feel connected and bonded with one another — even when miles apart.
But when I speak with my parents and grandparents, my speech completely shifts. I adapt an entirely new vocabulary to communicate with the older generation. It's no wonder old and young people can't understand each other ideologically when we can’t even understand each other's speech... right?
The process of creating and speaking in a generationally distinct language is an element of generational social differentiation. By using unique linguistic rules, creating new phrases and redefining old ones, we identify who is in, and not in, our generational group. Having been raised online, Gen Z is inevitably crafting our own linguistic code with heavy influence from social media trends and digital culture.
Language shapes our understanding of who we are and where we belong in society. It has the capacity to separate or build personal connections. The formation of a linguistic code, slang phrases and all, helps us to feel connected, which adds real value to our lives. However, history also reveals the generational similarities within languages outweigh their differences.
A month ago, being called a “Heather” wouldn’t have meant anything to me. But when my friends endearingly use the term to describe me during our FaceTime, I know exactly what they mean. Popularized initially by the 1989 movie "Heathers," the term has reemerged with a slightly new meaning in the digital age. In response to musical artist Conan Gray’s song "Heather" and a viral TikTok trend, the term has come to describe a popular or beautiful “it-girl."