Kids these days can’t process figurative speech. Literally can’t process it, which is why they say “literally” all the time. If you’re under 30, it’s like… like…
I’m sure there are cog-sci studies on this, if anyone cares to plow through PubMed one rainy afternoon. I’m going off my observations interacting with, and attempting to instruct, college kids. So, yeah, it’s all anecdotal, but the sample size is decent. I see the following types of communication:
Undigested Metaphors. E.g “Donald Trump is literally Hitler.” George Orwell nailed this back in 1946, and as this post is really just an attempt to update “Politics and the English Language,” you should probably skip this and go read that. Should you choose to soldier on, this is the essay with the famous quote “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. ” The rest of the paragraph is equally instructive:
The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.
We don’t use Bolshevik jargon like “reactionary” or “bourgeois” much anymore, but the others are very much with us. In Orwell’s day they at least still had vestigial meanings — even the commie trying to justify Stalin’s gulags would make a nod to Plato when asked “what is justice?”(1) These days, we’re in the odd position of throwing around words and phrases that have never meant anything. Whites being racist towards other whites in favor of blacks, as compensation for the supposed racism of other whites towards other blacks — all of whom have been dead for 100+ years in most cases — and calling anyone who notices the blatant self-contradiction “racist”… that’s the kind of thing I mean. Kids who call Donald Trump “literally Hitler” don’t know any of Trump’s policies and couldn’t recognize a Nazi if he anschlussed their ass with his jackboot. It’s just a metaphor that passes through their speech undigested, kinda like corn in… well, that’s another metaphor, so I won’t confuse any Millennial readers with it. The point of Undigested Metaphors is to express disapproval, with an implied threat of legal action.
Voice-to-Text. This is an expression of disapproval without the implied threat of legal action, as most VtT phrases could themselves be actionable. E.g. “ur a fag,” the standard putdown of “noobs” (or whatever it is now) on the internet / video games / whatever. It might as well be an emoji, and had voice-to-text technology progressed slower, it probably would’ve been, e.g. 8=>. It doesn’t occur to users that words like “fag” actually mean something — it can’t, as the people who throw around homosexual slurs the most are Social Justice Warriors, who at every opportunity proclaim themselves the BFFs of every sexual orientation except straight.
Tweets. A cant(2) phrase intended to be retweeted / upvoted, i.e. virtue-signaling. As any actual information content would almost always destroy the intended effect, Tweets are effectively anti-communication. E.g. “love trumps hate!,” followed immediately by “DIAF Republicans!” In the dark ages before social media, this was called bumperstickerese — see, for example, any Subaru Outback in any college town in America, where “Coexist” bumper stickers nestle quite comfortably next to calls for the eradication of entire classes of people.
Tinfoil Hat Prose. According to feminists, everything that’s wrong with a feminist’s life is the fault of The Patriarchy, even though nobody knows any patriarchs. Same goes for White Skin Privilege, Heterosexuality, and all the other “social constructions” — if they were true, we’d never know about it, because all the chicks, gays, blacks, etc. would still be on the plantation(3). Phrases like “social construction” give the veneer of academic respectability to what are essentially hare-brained conspiracy theories. It’s easy enough to detect one — just ask, “who is society (a patriarch, etc.), comrade? Point to a specific member of the set.” As the whole point of Tinfoil Hat Prose is to keep everything in the passive voice — “women are oppressed by the patriarchal reification of capitalism” instead of “women are oppressed by Steve” — the same technique refudiates it.
KISSes. New writers are commanded to “Keep It Simple, Stupid,” and this is the only type of prose modern kids can handle. In my experience, you can’t make instructions simple enough. Your sentences can’t be too short, too clear, too declarative. If you leave any room for interpretation at all, you will be misinterpreted, in hilarious ways you couldn’t have forseen in a million years. This is literally — literally!!! — the only way to communicate with Millennials.
More as the mood strikes me.
(1) n.b. to any Millennials reading this: “What is justice?” was the central question of Plato’s Republic, which used to be required reading in any college humanities class… often in the original Greek. Here’s a summary.
(2) n.b. to Millennials, not a typo (though how would you know?). “Clear your mind of cant” isn’t an uplifting slogan about being all you can be; it’s about thinking for yourself. “Cant” is dogma, things “everyone knows,” the rote bullshit you had to memorize for every test you’ve ever taken in your entire lives. Rosa Parks is the patron saint of cant.
(3) no, really, homosexuals used to be confined to lavender plantations, which were located in closets. That was the point of the Stonewall Riots. Pick up a history book, why dontcha?