In Spring of this year, I read an article about a “cool” and “savvy” 43-year-old high school teacher in Massachusetts who developed a “Gen Z Dictionary” that attempts to define the colloquial terms that his students used throughout the school year. The dictionary garnered considerable attention on social media when students posted excerpts of the presentation.
The dictionary defined the terms “hop off”; “run that”; “take the L”; and, my favorite, “periodt” as, respectively, “mind your own business,” “to take/to start,” “make a sacrifice,” and “facts—I’m in agreement with what you just said.” Although I cannot vouch for the spelling of the terms/phrases or the accuracy of the definitions, I was thoroughly amused and have even heard some of these terms/phrases used in popular songs. This Buzzfeed article refers to this dictionary as African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).
After being thoroughly analyzed, discussed, and retweeted, other users suggested that the term “yeet” be defined. I chuckled when I saw this because I had just seen a meme in which a Gen Xer expressed frustration with a Millennial’s use of the term and the necessity of consulting Urban Dictionary. Upon further research of the definition of “yeet,” I discovered that the term has evolved over the years.
According to this 2018 Daily Dot article, “yeet’s” origins are traced back to Urban Dictionary’s 2008 definition as a form of exclamation. In about 2014, it transformed into a dance, and it currently is used as a noun, an adjective, and a verb (in several different tenses) to express forceful motions or emotions like dramatic defeat. It can also mean to throw and can be used as an exclamation made while throwing something—as in, “I ‘yeet’ out loud when I ‘yeet’ the book at criminals.”
Upon searching “yeet” on Twitter as a hashtag, users hashtagged “yeet” to express political views, delight, disgust, fear, worry, or relief; to cringe; to draw attention to one’s cause; to disparage someone; and to describe someone in an unflattering manner. With all of these possible uses of “yeet,” how can it be an effective term/phrase with which to communicate?
Fortunately, I don’t and have not used the term (mostly because I am afraid that it will again evolve before I use it), but it gives HR professionals a good lesson on how everything—from trends to the law—evolves over time and why it is important to acknowledge such evolution in an employer’s policies, procedures, practices, and/or employee handbooks.
Most importantly, the law is constantly evolving and being shaped by legislators and the judiciary. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments regarding whether LGBTQ rights are protected by Title VII, cannabis has become destigmatized and even legal for recreational use under some state laws, and some states mandate that certain criminal history entries cannot be used against applicants or employees. Oftentimes, employment policies, procedures, practices, and handbooks aren’t updated as frequently as they should be to address such changes. More frequently, the handbooks are updated, but the policies, practices, and procedures that are derived from the handbook are not updated. Employers should ensure that these items are updated at least yearly and after a major change in the law (of which experienced employment counsel should be abreast).
Trends also shape HR policy in that attitudes about events, occurrences, and fashion that were once taboo are now widely accepted. Therefore (putting aside any concerns over Title VII or disability discrimination), dress codes that prohibit certain hairstyles, facial hair, and tattoos may be considered outdated by some.
The bottom line is that employers should ensure that their policies, procedures, practices, and handbooks evolve with their workforces or face “yeet” [insert your pessimistic interpretation of the noun form of “yeet”].
Destiny Washington focuses her practice at FordHarrison’s Atlanta office on the representation of employers in labor and employment law matters. Her experience representing an international union and state and local government entities, including law enforcement agencies and school districts, gives her a unique perspective in her advice and representation. A former military print journalist, she has proudly served her country and is a veteran of the U.S. Army and the Louisiana Army National Guard. Find her on LinkedIn here.