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Boomers vs Zoomers: comparing generational communication

Picture this: you’re texting your parents, who are boomers, about coming home late for dinner. They simply reply by sending a thumbs up. Now, if you were born before 1980 you may see no issue, however those born after 1981 might interpret the emoji, not as a thumb, but a massive middle finger. 

To each generation their language

The Greatest generation, the Silent generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Z and Alpha. These are the seven generations currently still living. Each one with their own traits, role models, tastes and habits that people born around the same time in history share. The  events we live through affect the way we think, but also on how we communicate with others. 

When a Zoomer, someone who belongs to gen Z, thus born between 1997 and 2012, is texting a Boomer, born between 1946 and 1964, there are often misunderstandings. The issues which may arise from this communication stem from generational differences.

While Zoomer speech is full of emojis, memes and acronyms, such as “brb”, “lol” and “iykyk”, boomers tend to use more formal language even when texting. Young generations are used to modern technology, to messaging apps and social media, used daily and very loosely.   

Emojis: zoomers today, boomers tomorrow

Emojis seem straightforward enough, emotional icons, whilst Boomers continue using these symbols in a very literal fashion, Millennials and especially Gen Z have assigned new, more sarcastic, meanings to this iconography, and enjoy poking fun at excessive and incorrect uses of emojis. 

The biggest point of contention regards the use of the “thumbs up” emoji. This icon is widely used by Boomers as an alternative way of saying “ok”, however young people see it for what it is: a punch in the face.

Some emojis, when overused by older generations, become completely toxic to the young, unsalvageable even by sarcasm and irony. One such case is the “laughing crying” emoji, which has now been replaced by gen Z and gen Alpha with the skull and “loudly crying” emoji to convey hilarity.

Because of the sheer amount of emotional icons, and the continuous evolution of communication, it’s likely that gen Z too, in a not so distant future, will end up coming across as Boomers to gen Alpha and generations to come.

You are how you text

A single period can be extremely offensive in the eyes of younger generations. Ending a text with a period is widely accepted, by gen Z and Millenials, to convey passive aggressiveness. That’s not all, text messages rely on a new and unique syntax, meant to accurately recreate casual conversation. In order to do so it’s important to not treat messages as letters or quick memos. Gen Z and Millenials use a combination of symbols, capital and lowercase letters and punctuation to communicate, therefore older generations may come off as more hostile or detached when using proper grammar. 

Canadian linguist and author of “Because internet”, Gretchen McCulloch, defined this phenomenon as “typographical tone of voice” which is continuously evolving. From the more common use of periods to be passive aggressive and typing in all caps to yell, there are less familiar techniques such as typing in all lower case letters to indicate a monotone deadpan.  

Generational language

Slang words are all those terms which aren’t technically part of the official lexicon but which are social, cultural and technological dynamics through the years. Each generation’s distinct language is a sign of identity and belonging. It seems paradoxical that the universality of communication becomes more and more complex as words, and expressions, become a code understandable only by those who share the same existence in a given time. When two cohorts begin to chat, sooner or later, both will start using their own set of expressions. From “groovy” and “bummer”, to “lit” and “no cap”, misunderstandings can be commonplace. However, if patient and curious, these interactions can become a precious opportunity for intergenerational dialogue. 

While in the past older generations – Boomers and gen X especially – looked down on the way young people would speak. Today gen Z has decided to continue the tradition of hazing the young in a more creative way. So-called “brainrot” are slang words typically associated with the very young gen Alpha. Words like “skibidi toilet”, “phanum tax” and “rizz” have become the target of ridicule on social media platforms such as TikTok. 

Differences in slang, however, should not be seen as a barrier, rather as an opportunity to learn. Understanding the vocabulary of younger generations can also give a glimpse into their ideas and experiences. It’s a win-win situation, in which both parts can enrich their own communication skills.

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