Teen slang tears into gnarly dogs

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The Independent Online
THEY THINK avant-garde dress is "weird", men with long hair are "poofs" and adults who drink alcohol are a "turn off".

Today's 13-year-olds, far from blazing a youthful and progressive trail into the 21st century, are more conservative, sexist and homophobic than any generation for 40 years.

A survey of language among British 13-year-olds has found that they are deeply distrustful of anyone who is not clean cut, down to earth and conventional. Tomorrow's generation prefers the steady Alan Shearer to the racier David Beckham, and Baby Spice to the "threatening" Mel B. And they think reading and cultural pursuits such as going to the theatre are the preserve of swots or, in 13-year-old terminology, "boffins", "jumpers", "spengs", "mongs" and "chiefs".

The study, Youth Language: What Young People Are Saying, showed a quickly involving language and deep intolerance for anyone who deviates from a bland suburban norm.

Their favourite terms of abuse are "gay" and "poof", and they regard women who dress up and wear obvious make-up as "slappers".

"Their tastes, in terms of who they admired, were safe and conservative," said Hannah Davies, a researcher from the Institute of Education, who co-wrote the report. "They regarded anything that was slightly different as unacceptable. They use the word 'gay' constantly as a generic term and as an insult."

Even those teenagers from multicultural schools - whose vocabulary is peppered with Afro-Caribbean phrases - use openly racist terms, referring to black people as "Zulus" and "out of the jungle", while "Jewish" is a synonym for mean.

The study, by researchers from London University's Institute of Education, looked at the language and attitudes of children from London, Rochdale, Birmingham and Somerset.

The research, carried out for Children's BBC for its Big Bash festival in Birmingham, found that the colloquial language of young teenagers was far more diverse than their attitudes. Among the 13 words used for uncool were "gay", "gnarly", "feeble", "gone", "naff", "lean", "shameful", "lame" and "shabby". A person whose clothes were thought out of fashion was described as "dog", "retro", "tat", "nitto", "nytoo", "gay", "queer" or "antique". Gay equality campaigners said they were shocked by the rise in homophobic language in schools.

"In the playground, gay is being used as a derogatory term," said Mark Watson of the gay and lesbian campaigning group Stonewall. "It may be because schools have stamped down very heavily on abuse against black people, which has gone out of fashion, and this is what's left."

The research also discovered that tomorrow's voters preferred adult television programmes to those designed for people of their age. They did not approve of long, punk or shaved hair and preferred suits and chinos to the more unkempt look of Liam Gallagher or the funkiness of the popular Scandinavian band Aqua.

An entirely new vocabulary to criticise those who look unkempt has sprung up. They are known as "downer", "skanky", "cheesy", "grim", "tramp" and "vertchin".

The young fogies of Generation Y wanted to be referred to as "young adults" rather than as kids or children.

Black British influence on their language was apparent among city children, with terms like "barlin" (crying), "butters" (ugly), "bredrens" (friends) and "cussed" (insult) forming part of the mainstream.

Though the children tended to watch the same television programmes and listen to the same radio stations, there were clear regional variations in their vocabulary.

Teenagers from rural or suburban areas tended to have a more conventional vocabulary than their urban counterparts.

Academics specialising in children's development said that many young teenagers tend to shed their racist, homophobic and sexist attitudes as they get older. They said their closed-mindedness was often a symptom of insecurity.

"They are very reactionary and conservative at this age. It is very worrying and something that is coming out in research," said Dr John Coleman of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence.

"At that age they are desperate to be part of the mainstream and they are deeply dismissive of anything that is different," he said. "That includes people with disfigurement and people wearing the wrong sort of clothes."