The Atlantic

Why Grown-Ups Keep Talking Like Little Kids

Embracing your inner child is comforting and fun—and just might revitalize the English language.
Source: Tamara Shopsin

I recently had the honor of meeting an award-winning literary sort, a man wry and restrained and overall quite utterly mature, who casually referred to having gone through a phase in his 20s when he’d been “pilly”—that is, when he’d taken a lot of recreational drugs. The word had a wonderfully childish sound to it, the tacked-on y creating a new adjective in the style of happy, angry, and silly. My writer-acquaintance, I recognized, was not alone in bending language this way. On the sleeper-hit sitcom Schitt’s Creek, for instance, one of the protagonists, David, speaks of a game night getting “yelly,” while his sister describes a love interest as “homelessy.” Meanwhile, back in real life, one of my podcast listeners informed me of a Washington, D.C., gentrifier who declared that a neighborhood was no longer as “shooty-stabby” as it once had been.

and its counterparts are not just charming, one-off neologisms; they’re signs of a and are common; my daughter, at age 3, described herself as “a talky kind of a person.” The adoption of some of these linguistic tics by adults—in the form of and many other terms—has given rise to a register we might call kidspeak. It’s a new way of sounding “real,” with a prominence that would challenge a time traveler from as recently as the year 2000.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min read
The Wizard of Oz Invented the ‘Good Witch’
Eighty years ago, MGM’s sparkly pink rendering of Glinda expanded American pop culture’s definition of free-flying women.
The Atlantic5 min readSociety
When Kids Are Straight Until Proven Otherwise
Many gay preteens know early on that they are somehow different, but lack the parental and social support that heterosexuals take for granted.
The Atlantic8 min readSociety
Saved From Death Row, Only to Be Returned
A set of unusual cases in North Carolina brings new attention to racism in death-penalty trials.