So the 2017 OED word of the year has been announced. It’s Youthquake, and I gather I’m not alone in never having heard the word before.
The OED defines Youthquake as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’. When they put it like that, the word makes more sense to me, or at least the concept does. It’s what I might term ‘the Jeremy Corbyn effect’, knowing how strong the support for his leadership among younger Labour voters and party members seems to be. I’ve read that the word was coined in 1965 by Diana Vreeland, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, to describe youth-led fashion movements which saw a dramatic move away from the fashions favoured by older generations. OED lexicographers report that the past year has seen similar trend patterns, with distinctive street styles in major world cities overtaking more formally set styles.
Working as a teacher, no matter how old you get (or feel), means, though, that you still get to experience the youthquake, still get to be aware of what it means, even if you’re not familiar with the word.
I’m always aware quickly when there’s a new boyband on the scene. I still remember the days when news broke of Robbie leaving Take That, of Westlife and Boyzone breaking up, of One Direction going their separate ways. I remember the tears. I passed around the box of tissues. I saw the gloating glimmer in the eyes of the boys… who might now get a look in at long last.
I’m aware when there’s a new make-up trend. I see the inexpert, non-uniform attempts at covert contouring. The HD brows. The whitened teeth. The gel nails: ‘Miss, they won’t come off, I can’t just use that wipe, and anyway I need them for Friday night.’ The orange tan which develops to an eerie glow as the weekend gets closer for the teenage nightclub. The fake eyelashes the week after the sixth form formal. Every rule is stretched; every bit of teenage patience tried as we try to enforce our Oldquake rules.
I’m aware of every new craze. The bottle flip. The fidget spinner. The loom band – remember those? The craze for buying 100 packets of Fruitella in the Pound Shop and selling them on at a 100% profit from the locker room. The online crazes reach us in the staff room too: the darker recesses of ask.fm, the politics of the Snapchat screenshot, the filtering and the last-day-of-term selfies. I’ve learned about emojis too: when the 2015 OED word of the year was the ‘crying laughing face emoji’, I may have been surprised, I may have been a tiny bit appalled, but at least I managed to know what it was and what it meant.
It’s a Youthquake, all of it. In staff rooms across the world, ageing teachers manage to stay in touch with some of what’s exciting the younger generations. Maybe it’s an especially wonderful thing for those of us who aren’t parents as well as teachers. If I had children of my own, my whole life would be a Youthquake, I imagine. As it is, my days of sensible things like books, good newspapers and interesting TV, a reasonably healthy diet and not quite enough sleep are shaken to the foundations just enough to make things interesting by the teenagers I teach.
How else would I know that X Factor isn’t cool any more and that Strictly is what your mum watches? That wearing a Christmas jumper for my school’s annual Charity Fun Day was probably a bit of a faux-pas? That my all-time favourite television programme, Frasier, has turned into ‘what you watch when you’re off sick but you’re awake quite early’? That magazines and newspapers are for old people but that blogs and YouTube vlogs are quite cool.
The ultimate Youthquake of the year just ending came a few weeks before the Christmas break, when the boys in one of my GCSE classes called me over at the end of class one afternoon. ‘What are you getting for Christmas, Miss?’ they asked. I said I didn’t know. Books, probably. ‘Ah Miss, not books,’ one protested, nudged into action by his friends. ‘Miss, ask for an X Box 360 and some games. We’ll tell you which ones to get. Then you can play games against us at like, weekends and stuff and we’ll help you get a life.’ There’s no other word for such engaging generation-shaking honesty. 2017? Year of the Youthquake it is.
Let’s hope the Richter Scale can cope.