Nothing marks out a generation more than the slang it uses.
If we concentrate on right now, February 2014, you’ll hear people say they’ve, “taken a selfie,” or say, “because,” followed by a single word rather than an explanation. Back fifteen years, and it wasn’t unusual to, “tape that programme,” or answer the phone with, “WASSU-U-UP?”
So when writing a piece that’s going to hang around for a while, most notably a novel, it’s a good idea to decide whether you want to incorporate the slang of the day to make it a period piece, or create a more timeless tale by using more generic terms.
I recently wrote a story where a major plot element is a pager. This immediately sets it in the 1980s, and I felt safe using the term data bank to describe the device’s storage, rather than the more modern memory. I tried not to overload the piece with dated words, but I did allow myself a yuppie, as the pager’s owner described himself.
But while the eighties is over and we know what it was like, writing a story set in the future is different. One day, selfie and because _____ will be as embarrassing as fab and groovy. For my first novel, where the action takes place in the 2500s, I used, for instance, sound system rather than iPod or even MP3 player. I decided not to try predicting the future term, and write something a little more bland, as would distract from what I was trying to say.
There is an elegant solution to this problem, and those of you who write steampunk know what I’m talking about. This genre imagines modern or relatively recent technology as people in the 19th century might have seen it. There are many literary examples of this, but an accessible non-literary one is the TV series Warehouse 13.
Which leads me to wonder if there’ll be a genre of the future where writers of the 2110s envision their everyday gadgets as we in the 2010s might have viewed them. This decade’s most popular invention is probably the touchscreen computer. So, a hundred years in advance, I’m going to label this predicted genre as tabletpunk.
I’d like to be around to see the look on some geek’s face when they unearth this entry.