I place a cup of tea in front of my son, who is sitting at the breakfast table, phone in hand. That’s okay, we only ban phones at dinner time. Without looking up, he says: ‘Thank you, my G.’
What is this fresh hell? My name begins with a C, not a G. Did I mishear him?
‘We got any biscuits, my G?’
‘No we haven’t got any biscuits. And what’s this ‘G’ business? Is it short for ‘grandpa’, because if it is you’ll spend the rest of the day picking up your stumps with bits of broken teeth.’ (I’m rubbish at threats… always getting them wrong)
‘Nah, G, it’s short for ‘gangsta’.’
I suppose I should be grateful he said ‘thank you’ at all. He’s thanked me via WhatsApp on occasion, and it’s usually ‘Th’, which I think he intends as ‘thank you’, unless it’s a prelude to a discussion about Thorium (which is, as you know, a radioactive chemical element of the actinoid series of the periodic table, with the atomic number 90). But my son is to chemistry what aardvarks are to the latter pages of a dictionary, so I’m guessing ‘Th’ means ‘thank you’.
‘In what sense am I a gangster?’ I ask, not unreasonably.
Google is my friend. I turn to the Urban Dictionary, that profane bastion of youthspeak, and… holy mackerel… what the hell is a ‘flaming amazon’?
THINK OF YOUR HAPPY PLACE! THINK OF KITTENS IN ELF HATS!
After a restorative lie down, I type in ‘my G’, fully expecting a definition including the words ‘asshole’, ‘epic’ and ‘proportions’, but I am touched to see that it translates to a ‘best friend’. This does not ameliorate the horror of being referred to as an abbreviation, but it led me to think about how we’ve come to this era of contraction. Is it down to social media and the peculiar RSI-inducing habits of typing on a phone keyboard?
Abbreviations have always been with us, of course. I remember as a kid (Gen X, if you’re wondering) admiring Radio 2 disc jockey Jimmy Young’s sign off: TTFN (ta-ta for now), and later receiving letters from girlfriends marked SWALK, NORWICH and RETURN TO SENDER. But I’m pretty sure we never stooped to the level of today’s ‘bantosaurs’, with their ‘facepalm’, their ‘fam’ and their ‘FOMO’, their ‘I can’t even’, and their (I’m cringing as I type this) ‘chillaxing’. Actually, don’t get me started on portmanteau words… I’m not a fan, as you might have guessed by now. You can keep your ‘hangry’ and your ‘frenemy’. And ‘brunch’. It’s not brunch, it’s a late breakfast.
Another son walks in (I can’t look at my teenage boys without thinking of Justin Moorhouse’s perfect encapsulation: a ‘yawn in a hood’) and, without looking up from his phone, says: ‘S’up bro?’
‘I’m very well, thank you. How are you today?’
‘Great to have this in-depth discussion with you. Looking forward to continuing it later when you plough through dinner in 2.6 nanoseconds.’
‘Watch it, sunshine. I’m a lawnmower and your arse is too long.’
I guess there’s always been this eagerness to contract, though I’m loathe to admit it. I want to be able to trace all of our problems today to the recalcitrant fingers of our children, and their glib disposal of apostrophes and commas. I wonder if I asked my sons what a semi-colon was they’d suggest a large intestine after surgery.
Perhaps, all along, it’s just my sons railing against a wordy dad.
A form of rebellion. Maybe they’re taking their lead from the footballers, who all seem to have poorly-proofread Instagram accounts, and an aversion to expand beyond the post-match clichés they lean on when being interviewed in person. Even the older guys, like Pep Guardiola – that perma-spitting flexor muscle made flesh – dips frequently into this new lexicography.
His favourite seems to be ‘It is what it is’. Ask him about injuries, financial fair play shenanigans, cowering in Liverpool Football Club’s shadow and he’ll come back at you with: ‘It is what it is’. Which is no answer, of course. A profundity as insubstantial as the friable surface of a brûlée. And there, perhaps, we find the nub of the gist. It’s an avoidance tactic. A way to answer the question without answering the question. The rules of engagement between the generations are changing. Or disappearing altogether. It was ever thus.
It fair makes me cray-cray.