Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Talking in the Nineties

One way to define a generation is their use of language, especially the slang developed in their teens and twenties. Slang words and phrases often reflect the political changes or social preoccupations of the time. You probably have stories that are built around the use of these timely terms.

I recently ghostwrote a memoir with many scenes set in the 1960s. One of the themes of this memoir was how secrets were preserved in the family by simply not talking about them, or even ignoring that they existed. I wrote that the children in the family had internalized their parents’ wishes to keep things secret by telling themselves “don’t go there.”

It wasn’t until I was in the editing phase that one of my beta-readers said he was jarred by the “don’t go there” phrase because it didn’t seem to belong to the 1960s. And of course he was quite right. I unconsciously took a slang phrase that originated in the 1990s and applied it retroactively. This is one of the common pitfalls in writing memoir, and this short episode points out why the use of an outside editor or reader is absolutely necessary.

Just for fun, here’s a list of twenty slang words and phrases that came into being in the 1990s, some of which are still alive today. Do you recognize any of them? Can you define all of them? Did you use any of them, even if you weren’t in your teens or twenties in the 90s? Perhaps you have a story from your life that is built around the use of one of these terms.

As if   |   F-bomb   |   OMG   |
Boo-ya   |   Get a room   |   Phat   |
Cha-ching   |   Going postal   |   Punked   |
Chillin’   |   Hella   |   ’Sup?   |
Dead presidents   |   It’s all good   |   Whatever   |
Don’t go there   |   Mofo   |   Yadda yadda yadda   |
Eat my shorts   |   Not!

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit kimpearson.me.


  1. It is so hard to proofread for Idioms, slang, and jargon goofs. Terms get so imbeded in your brain. Then there are all those phrases that originated with Shakespeare that sound modern. It is tricky. All you can do is go through a round of editing looking for them and researching when they began. :)

  2. I know most of those examples and have even used them (in spite of my advanced age)! I'm writing historical fiction set in 1838 at the moment, and even with that, I'll find more current words or phrases slipping into the manuscript. Thank goodness for my alert critique group.

  3. Nice post. I regularly read Ann Parker's blog, where Ann describes her research into appropriate word usage for her historical novels.

  4. Keeping dialogue appropriate to the era of a story is an important piece of making that story believable. Critique groups and beta readers are invaluable when it comes to keeping us aware when we step out of time because in the heat of the write, we sometimes forget this vital detail. Excellent post, Kim.

  5. An editor once suggested to me that I not include timely slang if at all possible, as that can confuse readers. I'm not sure if that was really good advice, because I think that slang appropriate to a time period can help engage the reader. But, as you, and others, point out, Kim, it needs to be within the era depicted in the story. Good post and good reminder to be vigilant in our proofing.


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