Widgets Magazine
The language of Stanford students
Who you hang out with can influence the way that you speak. (DANNA GALLEGOS/The Stanford Daily)

The language of Stanford students

Words are sneaky; they slip into our vocabularies when we’re not looking and become a regular part of how we talk. The other night, I was eating dinner in my dorm’s dining hall when somebody made a particularly amusing comment. My roommate, who was sitting next to me, responding by saying “lol,” at the same exact time that I said “lol” as well. The whole table laughed, because this was not an uncommon happenstance: I spend so much time with my roommate that we tend to say things in unison.

I’ve noticed that certain words my roommate says often have slipped into my vocabulary as well without me consciously acknowledging this happening. It took one of my dorm friends pointing this out for me to realize that there was a distinct overlap in our vocabularies. Thinking about how easily I had picked up my roommate’s lingo made me think about how much of a reflection of ourselves our vocabularies are — how we pick up words here and there from important people in our lives.

Each individual’s lingo is, in some ways, a unique representation of their interactions with the world around them. We take our language from our conversations with others, our interactions with online media, the songs that we listen to, even from the classrooms we sit in each day. Our daily experiences and interactions with others shape how we speak about our world itself. It is very powerful that an individual’s language is, in some ways, an amalgam of who they are as a person, a compilation of all of the people and experiences that are important to them.

In this way, the words that each individual uses are like a complex collection of the communities that they are a part of. These communities could be anything from clubs to classes to dorm environments, but each contributes to a unique set of words in one’s language. We sometimes think of tracking our activities and interactions through a résumé, a journal or a planner (or, let’s be honest, Google Calendar), but in some ways our language can be an equally interesting representation of our communities.

It is most interesting to me to think about how these communities contained in our language collide without us even realizing it. Sitting in my dorm lounge, hearing my friends use random phrases coined by their high school friends in some ways brings those communities to Stanford, bringing a tidbit of another community onto our campus.

When we begin to pick up others’ languages, we somehow take part of who they are and make it new in ourselves and then transfer it unknowingly to other people through our own vocabularies. Certain words (currently, it seems like the word “rip” fits this bill) spread like wildfire as they are spoken from one person to the next, with the initial source probably forever a mystery.

This transfer of language, and the slight differences in all of our lingos, is an interesting way of tracking social trends. We all have phrases we say often, usually without even noticing that we do so. Next time you hear yourself using one of these phrases, try to think about when you started using it and where it came from. Maybe you know right away when that word entered your vocabulary, but more likely, it’s an enigma.


Contact Julie Plummer at jplummer ‘at’ stanford.edu.