By Sheryl Gwee (18A01D)
You’ve heard these phrases thrown around—hollered across canteen tables, muttered in lecture halls. You’ve probably used quite a few of them yourself, being an active participant in school culture. Maybe, at some point in time, you’ve even wondered, “Why ‘fam’? What’s that all about? Where’d that come from?”
Well, we’ve done the same, and while this article won’t focus on discussing the origins of “jock speak”, we’ll be looking at the what our slang terms reflect about school culture and ourselves, and the implications of the sneaky infiltration of these terms into our everyday vernacular.
To set things straight, when I say “jock”, I don’t mean it in a derogatory or contemptuous way. While, for some, the label might have become synonymous with “noisy, obnoxious, a-hole”, my interactions with jocks (people whose sporting careers form a large part of their social identities) have led me to believe that they are generally cheerful, outgoing, spontaneous and good people.
The reason why we’ve decided to lump this whole barrage of popular word and phrases under the umbrella of “jock speak” is that (in my limited experience) they’re used most commonly by “jocks”, and I’m guessing that many of these terms— “massive defeat”, “acad gainz”, “top lads” — have their roots in a culture of sports competition. Yet, somehow, these terms have been swept into the realm of everyday use and have come to define and be an expression of school culture.
Perhaps the most direct reason why these phrases have caught on is simply that they’re catchy. Composed entirely of snappy one-syllables, slang is often a way to avoid the verbosity that explaining or elaborating on a statement would entail. Words like “same” and “relatable” roll off the tips of our tongues, unlike “I have had similar experiences and can therefore empathise with your sentiments”, which often entail further explanation of these “similar experiences”; explanations which may be unnecessary in many social circumstances.
The next most obvious reason would be that using slang signals a willingness to adhere to the norms of the community and therefore become a part of it. Familiar, recognisable phrases (often with nuanced intonations) allow their users to build an immediate sense of camaraderie. Slang works for the same reason that languages and dialects survive and we subconsciously mimic our conversation partners’ postures: (yes, the old cliché) humans are social creatures.
One curious function of slang that isn’t immediately apparent, however, is that it creates distance between people. While these broad, unspecific, choppy terms do breed a general sense of solidarity, they do so by sweeping away potential sources of conflict through couching potentially hurtful statements in a more moderated fashion. Because of this, slang makes issues and assertions seem less personal, distancing people through the use of “catch-all” phrases that fail to capture the stinging truth in its entirety.
Consider phrases like “Thanks for mock” or “I too wish”. Not only are they healthier and often humorous ways of expressing and coping with envy, but also means by which those who inadvertently flaunt their achievements can be subtly alerted to the discomfort that they are producing in others. In other words, “thanks for mock” can serve to call out instances of “humble bragging” or “suanning” in a lighthearted manner. In an achievement-saturated environment, such occurrences are annoyingly common, and slang allows us to avoid dampening the mood in social situations by directly chastening “mockers”.
Slang, with its lack of specificity, also allows users to distance themselves from their own emotions, and even downplay touchy issues. Statements like “it’s tough” or “feels bad” don’t call for further explanation, or even if they do, they do so to a much smaller extent than their equivalent, “I am having a difficult time and I feel upset about it.” Slang, with its casual and almost offhand briefness, demonstrates a willingness to take ourselves less seriously, and a refusal to brood over and amplify negative feelings.
However, for all their usefulness, the very qualities that allow “jock speak” to catch on and broaden our social interactions may instead hinder us from deepening them. Even as slang provides common ground for conversations with its all-inclusive, compact, non-specific-ness, it limits our responses to each other, rather than opening discussions and building further confidence and rapport. While it’s certainly easy to blurt out, “big defeat, feels bad man” in response to a friend’s distress over failing their CTs or performing badly in an important competition, it’s hardly an appropriate response and might even be seen as facile and thoughtless.
In this way, slang can become a social crutch, a safety net that we comfortably and easily fall back on in uncertain situations. Instead of opting to navigate a more difficult and potentially awkward path wrought with social nuances and complexities, we set up a comfortable distance between ourselves and the people around us. In doing so we nip friendships in the bud before anyone’s ready to open up and discover what’s really important.
And while it’s always good to be able to step back from the stifling turmoil of emotions and not get too caught up with ourselves by using slang, we must be careful not to employ these distancing devices as an excuse to avoid confronting ourselves every once so often. Putting in a steely facade in a critical, unforgiving academic environment and sometimes, equally precarious social ones, helps us to thrive. But sometimes we must let down our defenses and dare to be vulnerable—to our own emotions, and especially to others.
So then, should we completely disavow “jock slang”? I’d say no. There’s really no inherent harm in embracing our school’s slang culture, and in fact, it opens many doors to conversation in a variety of social situations. Even so, slang isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are still situations in which an abbreviated response closes doors that it would open in other contexts. It’s tough, but ultimately, we must learn for ourselves how best to use the arsenal of words and phrases at our disposal to survive and thrive in the dicey and even capricious arena of social dynamics.