By Chris Fordney -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Every generation has its special words.
When my generation's parents would say something was "super," or "neat," we would say it was "cool," mainly because we wanted to sound cooler than our parents.
As we got older, we still said "cool" even as younger people began to say something was "awesome" when something was cool.
That "cool" and "awesome" are now roughly interchangeable is borne out by their dictionary definitions, which are, respectively, "very good; pleasing, etc.; excellent," and "wonderful; impressive; excellent."
But then a funny thing happened. Young people began saying "cool" again, or perhaps they never stopped.
This disrupted the normal progression in such matters. The younger generation is supposed to come up with a word, use it for a time, and then discard it for something new.
At that point, the discarded word may or not be picked up by the older generation. For example, someone my age using the word "awesome" might get away with it in the right company, although younger people, upon hearing us say "awesome," might cringe just as we did when our parents used words like "groovy."
But there is a line to be drawn, such as when some younger people use the word "sick" to describe something that is awesome or cool. That one is definitely off-limits to boomers. But "sick" seems to be having some trouble catching on -- I can't imagine why -- and hasn't yet eclipsed "cool."
Interestingly, young people in England use "sick" to mean "awesome" more often than young people in America, while older English people do not think of being sick as Americans do, as in having an illness. For Brits, being "sick" means actually tossing one's cookies, which is the nicest term I could find for that.
So, since young people seem to be done with "awesome," yet still say "cool," I've decided that I'll now use "awesome" when describing something that's cool, and if my kids complain, I'll just threaten to call their boyfriends "dude."
For those who want to keep up with cool -- I mean awesome -- new words, there's help from Merriam-Webster, which has added new words to its collegiate dictionary.
Some of these words are in common use, such as "earmark" and "waterboarding," and probably need no explanation for regular newspaper readers.
Others are more esoteric:
Flash mob: Sounds like an aggressive pack of press photographers, but it's actually a group of people summoned (as by e-mail or text message) to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing.
Locavore: Someone who eats locally grown food.
Staycation: A vacation spent close to home.
Shawarma: A sandwich of sliced lamb or chicken, vegetables and tahini in pita bread.
Reggeaton: Puerto Rican music that combines rap with Caribbean rhythms.
Frenemy: A person who acts like a friend but is really an enemy.
Haram: Forbidden by Islamic law.
Green-collar: Something involving actions for protecting the natural environment.
Webisode: A TV episode that can be viewed on a Web site.
Zip line: A cable suspended above an incline with a pulley and harness for a rider.
And in the category of "what took so long?" there's:
Sock puppet: A hand puppet made with a sock.