Have you ever heard someone say something that made you wonder, “What does that word mean?”

My dear friend Regina Lewis recently wrote about it possibly being time to retire the term “Virtual Assistant”  in the wake of the continuing rise in popularity of services like Siri, Alexa, Google Home Assistant and the like. These devices are increasingly referred to as “virtual assistants,” which could make life interesting for people who run a business that provides some type of remote administrative support to other businesses that refer to themselves in the same manner.

Regina also mentioned a popular term with her children, “lit” – as in “that game was lit,” meaning it was a great game. Back when people like Regina and me were young, “lit” usually meant someone was high or drunk.

All this got me thinking about a number of words and phrases that have changed over the course of my life. My 49th birthday is coming up soon, so I have a nice, wide range of eras to choose from. Let’s look at a few of them.

Secretary – For those of us that are a part of Generation X and older, as we were coming through school, this was the term used to describe the person that provided the administrative support in the office. Unfortunately, this term would eventually become a very seedy stereotype, thanks to Hollywood. In way too many TV shows and movies, the secretary was a woman whose only other career option was to be a model, that wasn’t all that bright, could only perform one or two tasks, and whose most important duty was catering to the sexual whims of the boss. By the 1990s, most people who worked in this role preferred the term “administrative assistant,” which didn’t do a much better job of describing the wide range of duties but was at least a distance from the sordid “secretary” stereotype.

Clap – as in, “clap back.” Now we’re diving into the social media pool. To “clap back” means to respond to something said to or about you. It is adversarial in nature, and is usually part of a dispute. You’ll see an example in the next term. Basically, if you get on social media and either respond to something I posted or tag me in a new post of your own, and talk trash to / about me, and I respond in kind (talk trash to you), that is a “clap back” on my part. Quite a departure from the other meaning of something you do with your hands to show your approval of something or someone.

At – If you haven’t noticed, this preposition has taken on a new identity. This started with email. We all know the @ symbol used to connect a user name to a domain name in an email address. Social media, particularly Twitter and Instagram, took it to another level by making the @ symbol the first character of the user name, or handle, for those platforms. When you want to get someone’s attention – speak to them directly, tag them, speak to generate a response, etc. – you type in their handle, with the @ as the first character. I was recently listening to a podcast with one of my favorite comedians, Kevin Fredericks, better known as KevOnStage. Make that @KevOnStage. 😊 Kev and his wife Melissa do a podcast about marriage called “The Love Hour.” On this particular episode, they were discussing rapper Cardi B and her on-again-off-again relationship with her husband, fellow rapper Offset, and whether the hubby’s recently-discovered infidelity was enough for the wife to call it quits. Melissa wondered aloud if people expressed a certain opinion on social media, would Cardi B see it, and would she clap back. Kev was adamant in his response. “Oh, yes she would! She will get on social media and clap back at people that didn’t even “at” her.”


Do what?

He used “at” as a verb.

Part of me feels good that I knew exactly what he was talking about, that I know how to “at” somebody if I want to, because I use Twitter and Instagram just enough to be dangerous. Part of me was also feeling like the Get Off My Lawn Old Guy. “These darn kids don’t know how to talk anymore.” (Oh, gee, look – another cultural item to give me a split personality. As if there aren’t enough of those already.)

Those are the examples that quickly came to mind as I was reading the discussion on the Virtual Assistant phrase. What words have you noticed that have changed over the years?