Kids Today.

While I wait for my grandkids to grow up and start using the latest slang, I have to keep up as best I can via online sources, and Anne Curzan has a nice little piece called “Electronic Innovation >>>.” She’s writing about “the use of ‘>’ or ‘<’ in text as a way to compare an experience or item/mark an experience or item as either BEYOND good, or BEYOND bad”:

For example, Carlina’s friend had just posted a photo of a cheesecake and added the caption: “sugary life >>>>.” Carlina provided the following translation: “sugary life is better than anything else/sugary life is on-point right now.” (For those of you who do not use the slang term on point, its meanings include ‘excellent, gorgeous, sexy, stylish, perfect.’) She also provided the sample text: “people who feed squirrels <.”

It’s all new to Curzan, and all new to me; I’m particularly glad to know about on point, because I would have had a hard time figuring it out from context.

Comments

  1. “On point” is 25 years old at least — “You on point, Phife? All the time, Tip.”

    I would define it as “at a high, flawless etc standard.”

  2. I’m 31 and I didn’t even realize ‘on point’ was a neologism. >>>>, though, I have never seen nor heard of. “Smh” is the incredibly common young-folks expression that nobody my age would use (and most wouldn’t understand).

  3. I had no trouble figuring it out, approximately of course, in the sense of “exactly what’s en vogue at the moment”. Perhaps I built instinctively on the Russian expression “в точку”, “you nailed it”, “you got it exactly right”.

    I like the use of “more than” and “less than” signs (too bad the “more/less or equal” signs are tricky to type) and I vaguely remember that >> is occasionally used to denote “much greater then” in the sense of “one or more orders of magnitude greater” or “the ratio tends to infinity”.

  4. I wish that various symbols would become more standardized for electronic communication so that we are all on the same page. There is clearly a need (but maybe not these specifically). In short, written communications, we don’t have the means to express our attitude or feelings like we do in spoken communications or longer written communications. I assume that standardization will come.

  5. Oskar Sigvardsson says:

    Interestingly, using several ‘s to indicate “much less than” or “much greater than” has been standard in mathematics for a while.

    For instance, when calculating the motions of pendulum, you can use something called the “small angle approximation” to greatly simplify the result. But, the small angle approximation unsurprisingly only really works for very small angles. So, in order to indicate that, you write that it only works when θ << 1 (lowercase theta being the standard character in mathematics for angles). See this wikipedia page, for instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendulum#Period_of_oscillation

    (by the way, you know that famous Galileo discovery that the period of oscillation is independent of the angle the pendulum swings at? Yeah, he was wrong. You get that result when using the small angle approximation, but it is only an approximation. If you have larger angles, like 45°-90°, the period differs quite significantly. That's why a grandfather clock will be more accurate the longer the pendulum is, because the longer the pendulum is, the smaller the angles it will make, and the closer it will be to keep true time. )

    It's important to note that you would never use this kind of symbol in a proof, because the meaning of <> is not rigorous (what, exactly, does “much less” or “much greater” mean?). It is instead used more as a descriptive shorthand than a proper mathematical symbol.

  6. “On point” is 25 years old at least

    Heh. I should have figured that by the time a professor was telling me about it it would be old as the hills.

    To remind people: if you want > and < to show up in your comments you have to write them as & gt ; and & lt ; (closed up, of course).

  7. Stefan Holm says:

    Sensible readers warned – don’t read further! ‘Point’ or ‘dot’ in Swedish is prick. (Also Infart and Utfart on road signs mean ‘entrance’ and ‘exit’, e.g. to or from a garage, respectively).

    Well, på pricken (‘on the point’) is a since long well established expression in Swedish meaning ‘exactly’ or ‘correct’, somewhat like the lately found ‘on point’ over there.

    By the way: is actually a cognate to English on. Originally Swedish had upp å, ‘up on, upon’. As almost always unstressed the first syllable in Swedish was dropped. And so it was in English, which however dropped the ‘p’ but kept the final ‘n’. Compare to modern German ‘auf’ and ‘an’. ‘On the table’, i.e. vertically placed is in German ‘auf dem Tisch’ but ‘on the wall’, i.e. horizontally placed is ‘an der Wand’.

  8. Swedish meaning ‘exactly’ or ‘correct’, somewhat like the lately found ‘on point’ over there.

    I was going to comment that “on point” had a related expression in the verb “come correct,” which was also in use 25 years ago, but I don’t think is used by young people today.

    >>>>, though, I have never seen nor heard of. “Smh” is the incredibly common young-folks expression that nobody my age would use (and most wouldn’t understand).

    Really? I thought smh was universal now, it’s been in use on message boards and IM since the late 90s. I have seen >>>> and also seen it derided as”girly” (because the number of > signs indicates an unbecoming level of enthusiasm/intensity).

    When I think of young folks expressions that people my age would not use, I think of “fleek”.

  9. Mark Liberman on on point a few years ago.

  10. To me, on point means ‘relevant, germane’, which a LL commenter traces back to 1937. But then I grew up in a lawin’ family (where there ain’t any definite answers to anything), and have maintained an interest in the subject.

    Shakin’ my head is familiar enough to me as an oral expression, but I don’t think I ever noticed smh as a written form; if I did, I googled it, nodded my head, and forgot it again.

  11. I thought smh was universal now

    I… still don’t know what it means.

    *hangs head*

  12. Jongseong Park says:

    For what it’s worth, the use of ‘>’ or ‘<’ in text with generous repetitions for emphasis has been going on for many years in Korean internet-speak, so it's not confined to English. But I don't remember it being used with one side missing to say that something is good or bad without supplying what it is being compared to. It may be used in a format like "A < B <<<<<< (넘사벽) <<<<<< C" to mean that B is greater than A, but C is way beyond comparison with either. 넘사벽 neomsabyeok is slang that stands for 넘을 수 없는 사차원의 벽 neomeul su eomneun sachawon-ui byeok “insurmountable four-dimensional barrier”.

  13. I… still don’t know what it means.

    Acronym for “shaking my head”. smh, lol, lmao, iirc, afaik all seem long-standingly ubiquitous to me. I meant to say late 90s “at least” — for all I know smh goes back to Usenet or before.

    Apparently, on fleek is the on point of today or at least yesterday…

  14. Thanks. The others I know, but smh had somehow escaped me. I guess I could have googled, but I’m still weak and letting others fetch and carry for me.

  15. Is ‘on point’ related to ‘on the dot’ or ‘punctual’ or both? Punctum is Latin for dot, or point (in time, i.e. moment), or typographical period, also hole made by a pin in paper. ‘On the dot’ and ‘punctual’ have to do with time, not relevance to an argument, but I wonder if one is a variation on another.

  16. Smh, according to Urban Dictionary:

    “Acronym for ‘shake my head’ or ‘shaking my head.’ Usually used when someone finds something so stupid, no words can do it justice. Sometimes it’s modified to ‘smfh’ or ‘smmfh’ by those that prefer profanity in their internet acronyms.”

    I was also unfamiliar with it as my social media activity is very, very limited.

  17. Wow, I see “smh” everywhere and had always interpreted it as “so much hate” for some reason.

  18. Once again, Languagehat enlightens the masses!

  19. I’m so out-of-it I thought “on point” was rather the opposite of “off topic”. But as you say, I come here for enlightenment!

  20. 넘사벽 neomsabyeok is slang that stands for 넘을 수 없는 사차원의 벽 neomeul su eomneun sachawon-ui byeok “insurmountable four-dimensional barrier”.

    Could you, uh, break this down a little further? I don’t think we have that technology here in the Sprawl yet.

    for all I know smh goes back to Usenet or before.

    For some reason I thought that smh was much more recent, like Twitter recent. I don’t have any good way to check this, though.

  21. @Oskar Sigvardsson: Pretty much no modern clock uses a simple pendulum. The deviations from simple harmonic motion at finite displacements are just too large for accurate timekeeping. The development of practical pendulum clocks was actually limited not by engineering but a purely mathematical problem: What is the correct arc for the pendulum to swing through, so that the period really is independent of amplitude? This (the tautochrone problem) was solved by Christian Huygens (also the , who it credited as the inventor of the modern pendulum clock.

  22. For some reason I thought that smh was much more recent, like Twitter recent. I don’t have any good way to check this, though.

    I swear I was using it but I don’t know what is left of the 90s that is easily searchable. I tried to search Usenet but the Google interface is so terrible that I gave up. I did find 2004 and
    2005 examples, from before Twitter was in operation. The accessibility of Twitter data may be misleading, just because the older “social media” (IM, message boards, blogs, etc) are long gone or difficult to search.

    The Twitter-era acronyms like wev, gnr etc I can distinctly remember learning from younger people and would not use myself.

  23. Like Matt, I don’t remember SMH from Usenet. I’m pretty sure I didn’t encounter it until Twitter. And in my experience SMDH is much more common than SMFH, for some reason, despite plenty of F’s in other initialisms.

  24. The best way to search Usenet is with ordinary Google search, by adding the term site:groups.google.org and then clicking on “Search tools” to set a date range. Doing so shows no relevant uses of “smh” between 1979 and 1999 inclusive.

  25. >Brett
    Don’t forget the thermal dilatation of metals.

  26. Sugary life –isn’t that what the Italians call”la dolce vita”?

  27. I was wondering if “on point” has its roots in “as a matter of point” or is that too logical? As ever, by the time we hear about these words – let alone decipher them – the kids will have moved on to something else. Meh (verbal shrug)

  28. Jongseong Park says:

    Matt, 넘을 수 없는 사차원의 벽 neomeul su eomneun sachawon-ui byeok “insurmountable four-dimensional barrier” is just an exaggerated way of referring to a huge barrier. It is often used in comparisons as I described, but also on its own as a shorthand for describing huge achievements that don’t seem likely to be surpasses, e.g. Michael Jordan is the 넘사벽 neomsabyeok of basketball.

  29. Thanks Jongseong! Is there a specific cultural referent, like something from a science fiction TV show or something? The “four-dimensional” part in particular makes it sound like it probably isn’t from the Confucian classics, for example.

  30. And here I was thinking that everyone was reading the Sydney Morning Herald!

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