How Shared Language Drives Culture

Every entity on Earth is a culture. Our businesses, marriages, religious institutions and social groups all have a unique atmosphere around them. One the members of the entity establish. The glue that holds every culture together is language. Evaluating and understanding the language of your entity will help you thrive in it.

I remember the first time one of the teens I work with used the word “lit”. No kidding, I looked around to see if something was on fire. They meant “cool”, I discovered. I’ve never felt so old. They also use the phrase “low key” and I admit I am not quite sure what it means.

This happens every few years. When I initially started out in youth ministry, they were all using the phrase “beast mode”. Now, they’re screaming “let’s go” to get themselves excited. Lit has replaced awesome which was a replacement for cool which was a replacement for groovy, etc. etc.

Why do young people do this? The reason is simple. Each generation is fighting to establish their own culture. They are working to attain something unique to them, to which they can belong, of which they might own, and in which they may discover value.

 

Determining Value

Culture runs on two things, in equal measure: shame and admiration. To be cool (or lit or groovy or whatever) is one of the highest values for every culture. So, one of the first things we do is try to set ourselves apart by inventing new language. This is why slang exists.

So, by creating new words for “cool”, we are creating a sort of password. It becomes the check at the door to see if you are in. Do you have enough value to be included with the new lingo? Are you “in the know”? Have you heard of this or that? Teens always use the phrase “that’s so old” as a defense mechanism against being excluded from what is new, hip, worth knowing… valuable.

Adults do this as well. We develop inside jokes in our marriages and our workplace. We adopt nicknames for one another. The whole point of all of these exercises is to establish a culture, to name what is admirable and what is shameful.

So how do we go about being deliberate about the culture we are creating?

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