Of the parlance of Isla Vista

I apologize, oh comrades of mine, for the long lapse since my last post. I have been busy gathering the material for what follows, however, and hope that you will find it both edifying and thrilling.

I am currently teaching a course on what I like to call “techno-dystopias” in the literature of the Americas. I thoroughly enjoy teaching this course and you might thoroughly enjoy taking it (or at least reading the material) but the added bonus of this little endeavor has to do with a very tiny but powerful part of this particular portion of the northerly Americas, a kind of techno-dystopia all its own: Isla Vista.

Isla Vista, or ‘I.V.’ as those in the know like to call it,  is the home to some ungodly number of undergraduate students attending the University of California, Santa Barbara. This is where, as you might know, I happen to be teaching. Isla Vista is known primarily for its proximity to the beach and its bacchanalian excess (Halloween has become so fantastically debaucherous that the town is cut off by the police from traffic traveling in or out–it becomes an island of co-ed cavorting during this special holiday). It is less known, unfortunately, as the hotbed of creative linguistic production and creativity that it certainly is.

I try very hard to learn the parlance of my students and to employ their sometimes fantastic language in my discussions with them. I like to think of myself as the layman’s linguistic anthropologist. I doubt weather I command anything like ‘insider’ status in this ethnographic study of mine, but I do what I can. And just this very week a new term was brought into my ever expanding I.V. vocabulary: ‘creepin’.

My class and I were discussing Adolfo Bioy-Casares’ glorious novella, La Invención de Morel. (It is a beautiful book and I strongly recommend it.) I asked my students if they still employed the term ‘crush’ to describe amorous desires directed from afar at someone. They said that perhaps, yes, this term was still functional but that the novella’s protagonist could more accurately be described as ‘creepin” on the object of his misguided affections. ‘Creepin’,’ they explained, is when one (you guessed it) creepily behaves towards his beloved, but not quite as creepily as a stalker might. The term is used pejoratively, as far as I can tell, but offers a kind of nuance that ‘stalking’ and ‘crushing’ lack. One who ‘creeps’ is not likely engaged in any kind of criminal activity, but his or her behavior merits some critical attention. A commonly employed expression, according to my research, is ‘don’t go creepin’ on her/him/them.’

This may be my favorite of the terms I’ve picked up over the years in the presence of I.V. residents. A very close second would be ‘kick-back.’ I discovered this word two years ago when I asked my students at the time if ‘a keg-party’ was something that still went on among the co-ed set. Nope. One goes to a ‘kick-back,’ a party where people ‘hang-out’ and drink alcohol, usually but not always provided by the host. Another good one: ‘the business.’ This last term refers not to an actual organization devoted to the making of profit but rather to something good, broadly speaking. As in “that style is the business,” or “the UC regents’ decision to raise tuition while students are on summer break and thus less likely to protest is not the business.”*

I should point out of course that, as with all dynamic dialects, fluctuation is frequent. It is very hard to pinpoint the moments when expressions disappear to be replaced with newly developed terms. I wouldn’t recommend heading into Isla Vista this weekend and asking if you could ‘creep’ on a potential mate at a ‘kick-back’ somewhere. I have all too often been reminded of my age and peripheral social status when I have attempted to employ the terms of my audience.

Needless to say I have only just begun to penetrate the unimaginable linguistic depths of I.V. But I vow to continue in my labors, incomplete though they may be. You may expect future updates forthwith.


*This, indeed, is both an example taken from my research and, very sadly, true. I was particularly pleased with the expression, however, because it seemed to point out both how horrible the state of public education is in California and because it indicated in a sort of punning way how wretched it is when what should be a state-funded public service becomes a would-be-corporation.

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