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What do oldies make of the youthquake?

Blog | By Annabel Sampson | Jan 10, 2018

The Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2017 is ‘youthquake’ which I’d argue is pretty positive, given that last year the younger generation was dubbed useless, soluble ‘snowflakes’. A gust of wind – a minor critique – and they’ll dissolve into tears. But a youthquake suggests ripples of youthful seismic strength – enough, I’d say, to topple a government. Or, so it nearly did in April last year.

The noun youthquake is defined as ‘a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’.

But, how, I wonder, do oldies feel about the youthquake? Not only are they categorically excluded from the ‘word of the year’ – chosen to mark ‘where we have been, how far we have come, and where we are heading’, but, also, as our fiercest protectors of the English language, what do they make of this innovative linguistic compound?

In the magazine, we used to have a column called Pedants' Revolt and submissions were filed with raging enthusiasm on the topic of incorrect grammar and word use. Teenagers, broadcasters and ‘the youf’ were castigated for abbreviations that defaced words and for tirelessly reinventing the language – taking it further and further from where it once was; where many of our readers feel it ought to be frozen and ‘preserved’ as linguistic relics.

Alongside youthquake there was a shortlist of other – quite silly – words, which I wouldn’t expect many people (oldies or otherwise) to understand. ‘Milkshake duck’ is one, defined as ‘a person or thing that initially inspires delight on social media but is soon revealed to have a distasteful or repugnant past’; and ‘unicorn’ which denotes something – often a foodstuff – that is technicolour and decorated in glitter.

Back to the youthquake – despite not using the word (perhaps even actively avoiding people who might use it), I did experience a few tremors last August. At the Shambala festival in Northamptonshire, I was helping out at the Idler bookshop. The Idler – a kooky, slow-living organisation which publishes a bimonthly magazine, as well as hosting events, from beekeeping to ukulele playing – has its regular festivals, such as Port Eliot and the Good Life Experience. Shambala is a slightly different crowd – more interested in poppers than Plato. It was amid this joy-seeking crew ­– in unchartered waters – that I ‘raved’ beside a police van and next to an officer in a fluoro, high-visibility tabard and a police helmet. Surreal.

On site, there were punters with homemade signs opposing ‘fake news’; there were rap battles and more political T-shirts than I could count. Corbyn and May were reimagined in countless guises accompanied by a multitude of slogans (‘Jez we can’, ‘Mind the Maybot’ etc). Rebel chic, indeed. I also hadn’t clocked that it was a ‘vegan festival’. My father is a deer farmer – he would have disapproved outright. If Dad had been there, might that have provoked an eruption of anti-meat demonstrations – ie an actual youthquake? The greatest ripples of the youthquake are felt through social media. A kind of ‘social media activism’ – or slacktivism – that makes those with the most agile, phone-tickling fingers feel positively, albeit passively, virtuous by getting onboard (‘liking’ or ‘retweeting’) what they perceive to be good causes – despite not actually doing anything. All these quakes, all these clicks, all this activism! Oldie readers, mind the youthquake. Traditionally the word of the year is added to the Oxford dictionaries, but youthquake is already there – first coined in the 1960s by Diana Vreeland, the then editor of Vogue.

ANNABEL SAMPSON, @annabel_sampson.

Above: Discarded remnants of a home-made billboard at Shambala festival