If anything, moving to Joburg has made me acutely aware of my Zimbabwean roots, traditional english upbringing, and the fine secondary school education I received in the leafy Cape Town suburbs of Newlands. I may not have know it at the time, but even my vague attempt to make it out of the school system in the least amount of time, instilled in me a love for the English language, respect for basic etiquette, and a social rigidity that will forever relegate me to the uncool side of the Joburg school yard. You see, I just can’t bring myself to say things like ‘turnt’, ‘outchea’ or ‘yung’. In fact, I’m not even sure if it’s ‘yung’ or ‘young’.
This puts me at quite a social disadvantage up here. I fumble through greetings, disrupting the group flow and spectacular flurry of varied hand movements and shoulder bumps. I respond as best I can, trying to recall keywords I picked up from reading HYPEBEAST, watching American music videos, and following the barely literate artists and their tweets about turning something up, possibly with a ratchet.
It’s not that I don’t like slang. I dabble in the ironic, obvs, and I still use words like ‘rad’, and ‘dude’ – which I picked up as a kid and have kept with me ever since. It’s just that my slang word acceptance window shut around the same time I stopped furiously masturbating to photos of Pamela Anderson. I no longer have any interest, or the ability to deal in the fleeting or impractical when it comes to language – something about an old dog and new tricks. I couldn’t even commit to the ‘NOT’ phase back in junior school, so I’m most certainly not going to throw shit like ‘turnt’ around for the sake of cultural relevance.
Besides the fact that I’m thirty and feel quite weird about my fellow adults picking up new words quicker than a two-year-old in group daycare, I battle with commitment. The thought of adopting a transient phrase, then mastering its use in critical social situations – with the accompanying handshake, only to have to drop it after Drake releases his new single and the inspiration behind the new it-word, ‘Turnuut’, is quite overwhelming, especially for a simple Capetonian whose last inclusion into his slang portfolio was ‘kiff’ back in ’92.
It’s all rather confusing, and like going out in a new shirt you just don’t feel comfortable in, I’ll never feel confident using slang that’ll be tossed out next season. I like my words like I like my wardrobe. Worn-in, and comfortable. Feathered hats and multicolored vests are fun for a while, but I’ll stick to my plain tee and jeans. I can wear them almost anywhere, and they go well with a good handshake.
“In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold;
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old:
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”
― Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism
Nash on How To Shake Hands Correctly