When You ‘Literally Can’t Even’ Understand Your Teenager

“Adolescent slang has evolved a clever defense mechanism against the threat of the search engine. Teenagers have always used words to obscure their most sensitive subjects: He’s a total babe, but he sweats this ditz who gets blazed every day after school. Now the most creative linguistic innovations elide the discussion topic entirely. ‘I can’t even’ is a confession interrupted. A close relative of ‘I can’t even’ is the keysmash, a string of actual gibberish — asdf;lkl, maybe — meant to signal that the typist has become so excited that she has lost control of her fingers. Or consider ‘Your fave could never,’ a gleeful taunt meaning roughly ‘Your favorite [actor] could never [pull off the beach ensemble modeled by my favorite actor, Darren Criss, over which I am literally dying right now].’ A reader can only decipher its meaning if she has been briefed on the speaker’s celebrity allegiances and is plugged into the web’s breakneck gossip cycle. The modern revelation doubles as a warning: Reveal less.”


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