How media sensations changed the way we speak

By Patience Kelly

Art mimics life, and this is no different for linguistics. We talk like people we can relate to, who have similar ideas to us, not necessarily who we see (or hear rather). But, as with most things there are exceptions. Around twenty-two years ago, the movie Clueless hit theatres and changed the way teenage girls shopped, but more importantly introduced and spread what most of us have come to know and love (or hate); the valley girl.

This is a trope that initially seems ditzy, loves shopping, plaid miniskirts and more than anything loves the phrase “as if”. “Oh my GOD!”, “whatever”, “rad”, and of course “clueless” are a few iconic examples of this ‘dialect’. It’s not as though the movie completed invented this way of speaking, but it did help bring it into the main stream in a huge way. Language fads tend to be just that, dying in a very short period of time, but to this day people still use “like” and “all” in ways like this: “She was all, where are you going? And I’m like, to the mall!”

Some linguists even argue that Clueless influenced a vowel shift in California changing “dude” to “dewd”. What’s more is that this is not the only shows to elicit a similar response. Another cult classic TV show (that turned twenty in the last two weeks) called Buffy the Vampire Slayer has huge impacts on the way a huge number of its fans and others speak.

Clueless and Buffy are similar in the way of the blond, seemingly ditzy girl is the heroine, in Clueless, our heroine Claire is shown to be what might be surprisingly smart, and in Buffy, she alone can conquer the forces of darkness. She is the chosen one, a vampire slayer, with super strength, and just so happens to be a cheerleader, at least for one episode.

This series not only introduced slang like “slayage”, “vamps”, “wiggins”, and “big bad” to everyday conversation, but trades on references to pop culture by shifting proper nouns into other parts of speech, like verbs and adjectives like in the Halloween episode of Octover 96 where Xander remarks “Halloween quiet? I figured it would have been a big ole vamp scareapalooza.”

Both Buffy and Clueless use the word ‘much’ in unexpected ways like ‘excuse much’ which tries to convey “excuse (you) much”. Buffy also uses suffixes on any and every word imaginable; “Buffyness”, “kissage”, “glowery”, and “foreheady” are all examples. This is a speech pattern I follow in my own life, shifting just about anything to be an adjective.

Another interesting change in usage is shifting adjectives to nouns like; “what’s with the grim?”, “stop with the crazy”, and even “making time go all David Lynch.” Made up compound words like “net girl”, and “perception girl” play with the word form and meaning, and this word play is what makes Buffy truly unique.

These plays on words to create new meaning, new layers, and new jokes add a whole other dimension to the world that is Buffy in both a comedic yet tragic yet dramatic scene and a completely ordinary high school teenager young adult fiction way.

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