Generational Vocab
(Try this quiz)

THOUGH I WORK in a cutting-edge technology business, I am neither inured to nor beyond appreciating how the wonders of technology have transformed the world you and I get to live in.

What on earth that thing with the finger holes?

What on earth is that thing with the finger holes?

Not too long ago, not even royalty had our standard of living, what with climate-controlled homes, luxury cars, and fridges filled with fresh foods from all over the world. And even at my (cough, cough) young age, I recall when picking up my favorite band’s latest meant a trip to the CD store, seeing a post-run movie meant running to Blockbuster, research meant a trip to the library where I’d dust off a dry, brick-like encyclopedia that was out of date before it went to press, and banking meant having to put on clothes, leave the house, enter a building, and actually speak with someone.

While my kids will doubtless see technology change their world as well, they will grow up taking for granted the innovations I find wondrous. 

Want to feel old? See how anyone born in 2000 or later fares with the following questions, which I bet most readers will answer with no trouble: 

  • Why do we call typing “typing”? Dialing “dialing”? Hanging up “hanging up”?
  • Why do we call news outlets “the press”?
  • Why does holding a fist to the side of your head with your thumb extended to your ear and your pinky to your lips mean “Call me”?
  • Why do we say we’re “rolling up” the car window?
  • Why do we call type “type,” fonts “fonts,” and the space between lines “leading”?
  • What does “that show isn’t on right now” mean?
  • What does “cc” mean? What’s a “carbon copy”?
  • Why do we call taking a video “filming”?
  • Why do we call that handheld thing a “tablet”?
  • Why the “smart” in smart phones”?
  • Who is Ringo Starr?

If you’re really a glutton for punishment, next see how many newer terms your kids use that fly right over your head.

Besides serving to make some of us feel out of touch, the above exercise has marketing implications. Rapid advances can separate markets not just by age, but by vocabulary and worldview. It’s important not to miss key audiences by speaking from a standpoint that unwittingly excludes them.

Venturing into another generation’s vocabulary requires care. Watch a younger generation’s eyes roll when an older one looks silly attempting, not successfully, to pull off using their argot. Good luck to us all.

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