From 'Groovy' To 'Slacks,' The Words That Date You

By NPR Staff

October 22, 2012

When Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich used the word "slacks" in a recent column, a reader commented: "Slacks? How old are you?"

"I was describing a young man, a college guy," Schmich tells NPR's Neal Conan. "I was trying to point out that he wasn't wearing jeans, that he wasn't sloppy, that he wasn't inordinately well-dressed for a guy in college," she says. "And so I used the word 'slacks.' "

But the reader's comment got Schmich thinking about the words we choose and how much those choices can reveal about our age. "I got a couple of hundred emails on this," she says, from readers who had found themselves similarly critiqued. For example, one woman wrote that her daughter mocked her for using the word "blouse," saying no one uses that word anymore — it's a "top."

Sometimes, says Schmich, she knows a word she's using has fallen out of fashion and chooses it deliberately, for irony. "I say 'groovy,' and I'm saying it with a wink, but [the readers] don't know I'm saying it with a wink."

There's one standout adjective, however, that Schmich says has stood the test of time. " 'Cool' is really the only word," she says, "that has endured through generations."

Tell us: What's the word you use that dates you?

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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