by Liz Walter
There are rival claims about the inventor of the term Yuppie, and more than one explanation for what it stands for – either ‘young urban professional’ or ‘young upwardly-mobile professional’. But there is no doubt that this word filled a lexical gap in the 1980s and very quickly became established as a useful term to express society’s ambivalence towards the conspicuously successful young of the Reaganite/Thatcherite era.
It also started a trend for describing an emerging class of people by using an acronym. The other popular acronym of the 1980s was Nimby, which stands for ‘not in my backyard’ and is used as a pejorative term for people who oppose developments (such as wind farms or waste disposal sites) in the vicinity of their own homes whilst being happy for them to be built elsewhere. Both of these terms established themselves so deeply that even their derivatives – yuppification, nimbyism, etc. – are still in regular use today.
So what are today’s acronyms, and are any of them likely still to be around in thirty years’ time? Well, the topic of Nimbyism is as hot as it ever was, and we now hear of the Nimby’s more extreme cousin, the Banana (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything/anyone), as well as the more overtly selfish Sobby (some other bugger’s backyard).
On the other side of the coin is the Yimby (the grammatically inelegant ‘yes in my backyard’), which has lent its name to various organisations aimed at supporting enterprises such as the building of social housing or the erection of wind turbines. None of these terms, though, has entered widespread use, and it seems unlikely that they will achieve a lasting place in the dictionary.
A better contender, in the UK at least, is Neet (not in education, employment or training). The term refers to young people between the ages of 16 and 24, and is increasingly finding its way from sociological discussion, through political debate and into the public consciousness. Unlike yuppie, though, Neet is an entirely neutral term, and one which is almost always used in general discussion rather than with reference to a particular person, and for this reason it is unlikely to have the same mass appeal.
Remember the Dinky (dual income, no kids yet)? We don’t hear so much about them these days, perhaps because a dual income for a young couple is no longer the guarantee of financial plenty that the term used to imply. In fact, the current crop of acronyms seems to dwell on the opposite situation. So, for example, we have Sitcoms (single income, two children, oppressive mortgage), and even a young person in a lucrative job may be a Henry (high earner, not rich yet).
And while some lucky older people may be Magpies (mature adults go partying in style), and are happily skiing (not on the slopes but rather ‘spending the kids inheritance’ on their lavish lifestyles), parents of the boomerang kids, who return home in their twenties and thirties, just at a point they could have been expected to have gained independence, have become a generation of Kippers (kids in parents pockets eroding retirement savings).
Of course, many of these terms are extremely contrived, dreamed up by tabloid newspapers or insurance companies looking for publicity, but they do reflect the social conditions of our times, and most of them have that element of humour that is so useful in helping a term catch on.
And meanwhile, what has happened to all those yuppies of the 1980s, now that they are no longer young? Well, many of them have turned into Bobos, the apparent oxymoron ‘bourgeois bohemians’ who inhabit the trendiest areas of our trendiest cities, and who are educated, cultured, liberal-minded, and disapproving of the excesses of their younger selves.