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'Adulting,' 'Othering' and Our Fluid Language

by on February 05, 2018 5:00 AM

 I overheard some students on the walk to class on campus last week. They were chatting with great enthusiasm to the point it was hard for those around them not to hear their conversation. One was mentioning some life decision that she had made and jokingly said to her friend “Hashtag adulting.” Aside from the fact that that she actually spoke the word hashtag, I was somewhat amused by her identification of the decision as “adulting.” Translation: She did something that is associated with being an adult.

Mrs. Kingsbury, my 10th grade English teacher might call that an odd form of gerunding -- adding “ing” to a verb and turning it into a noun.In this case, though, it’s making a gerund of a word that doesn’t really function as a verb -- turning a noun into a verb into a noun, if you will.

In more traditional cases of gerunds, those in attendance at a party – insert gerund – are partying. Parents taking care of their children are parenting. Students in my class who hold their cell phones under the desk and think I don’t see it are usually texting.

College students who do things like pay their own cell phone bills, pay off their credit cards or host a dinner party are, if you are hip to the latest slang, adulting.

It reminds me of that scene in The Office when Andy Barnard asks Jim to “Beer me.” Verb? Noun? For slang in the English language, the lines can be so fuzzy.

When I graduated from college and moved into my own apartment with my own bills, my own car payment and car insurance, and I enrolled in the health insurance from my employer, I didn’t think of it as “adulting.” I thought I was just growing up.

As I mentioned in a previous column, there are even adulting schools now that will help young people learn how to become an adult.

If there is adulting, can there also be childing? I would occasionally like to put off the burdens of paying the bills, working full-time, cleaning the house and managing the cars, and go back to the carefree days of childhood and adolescence. Sadly, I don’t think it works like that.

I find the whole concept of language to be fascinating. How we communicate verbally to each other. How we write it down. Our accents. The various ways we use pitch and inflection and tone when we talk.  How we learn to speak and how our language develops. The use of slang.

Language responds to our culture and what is happening in our day to day lives.  Our language has evolved.  

Methinks that William Shakespeare would not have understood the meaning of adulting. Different language. Different times.  

With the current political climate at what seems to be the most conflicted in recent years, I learned of another gerund that is making its way into our vernacular. The term is called othering.

Othering is defined as that “us vs them” phenomenon of human nature. In other words, when we perceive others as not being like us or a not within our perceived group, it makes it easier for us to dismiss, dislike or even hate those people.

Social scientists have studied group dynamics and social identification theory for years. It’s only been recently that we have given the concept it’s own gerund. Othering.

Giving it a cute name doesn’t make it any less troubling.

Many of the articles on othering suggest that the distance, distrust and dislike of the “others” is being fed by the media and by politicians. When we sit down together, we are often able to see what we have in common with the “others.” In giving it a name, we don’t seem to be doing much to bring us together. Instead of othering, perhaps we should be same-ing.

The English language is fluid. It changes to meet the times. When slang terms and words hang around long enough, they become a permanent part of our language. Let’s let go of adulting and othering. Both in words and in action, we don’t need either.

 



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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