I know I go on a bit about the correct use of language, but I’m not a complete stick-in-the-mud. Language evolves, I know. New words come in, archaic ones get shown the door and you only need to know them when you’re reading Austen or Conan Doyle or Shakespeare.
For all that, I’m very fond of the dynamic way language is thrown about and sometimes stretched into weird shapes in contemporary language – particularly in online communities. As long as the use (or misuse) communicates the intended message, turning an adjective into a noun or vice versa can add a robust energy to an observation or exchange. I like language to be fun and full of energy. I like it to surprise and delight me.
Not every new word is a delight, of course. I was recently introduced to ‘upweighting’ – which essentially means to put more investment into the promotion of a particular product or service to improve the item’s public profile or success. I don’t like the term because it’s vague. It didn’t communicate its meaning clearly to me. I had to have it explained because I had no idea what it meant, even contextually.
Actually, when I first heard it, I thought the term was ‘upwaiting’ and assumed it meant to handball a task to someone else up the chain to procrastinate on doing anything with it. I liked *that* version of the word. It was playful and descriptive, I thought. But alas, no, the truth was dull in comparison.
But I have adopted a new word: a delightful language twist I keep seeing on Tumblr.
I first found it in a post that said something like:
“I’m surrounded by all these teens doing stupid things and
I thought there should be an adult here to keep them in line.
Then I realised. OMG. That’s me. I’m the adult here.
BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO ADULT!”
I think it’s a perfectly glorious thing, to have turned ‘adult’ from a noun into a verb. In the context in which I see it, ‘adulting’ has a new and particular meaning that infers that behaving like an adult is a strange and difficult thing, an arcane skill to be learned. It implies that most so-called adults you see are still children inside, and that they have either magically grown into the skills of being a grown-up or else are faking it like mad. They are adulting like pros, even though they are still basically 12 and constantly scared of botching all their responsibilities.
Some people take to adulting like a duck to water. Some seem to be steeped in the behaviour from the time they’re seven years old. Some people get to grand old age, not only never knowing how to adult, but never knowing that they should learn. They are still, essentially, bawling, selfish five year olds refusing to share their toys and having tantrums any time they don’t get their way.
But most of us I think learn how to adult to lesser and greater degrees. Some days it comes easier than others, and our success depends on the circumstances and experience.
Mostly, I adult like a pro. I earn a living and pay the bills and take responsibility for my life and my choices.
But frankly, I still feel many days as though I’m faking it. Inside, I’m still just a kid looking for adventure and running through the world like it’s a playground. I talk too loud and too fast, I eat sometimes foods like it’s going out of style and I take a giddy delight in the things I’m passionate about, incautious in my enthusiasm. I often don’t really know what I’m doing, except that I’m doing it optimistically.
Never mind. When occasion demands, I can adult with the best of ’em, and no-one can tell that there’s the occasional panicked voice in my head wailing “BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO ADULT!’
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.
- In case it appeals, you can now get ‘Adulting… this content has failed to load’ at Redbubble.