My article on teenage noises has become fairly popular and been talked about a little, and has no doubt inspired a few teens to react to it in ways suitable for inclusion in it, eye rolls and all. One little boon that has come out of this is something I picked up from a Metafilter thread discussing the article’s topic. One commenter mentioned a word for a typical teenage female attitude, a word I’d not seen or heard before: bershon.

Specifically, commenter Lou Stuells declared “This post is so bershon,” and linked bershon to the article “Would It Kill You To Smile?” by Michael Bierut in The Observatory. Bierut in turn cites the prime vector for such widespread use of bershon as there may be: a post on Sarah Brown’s blog Que Sera Sera with the name “Stream of consciousness post that makes no apologies yet comes full circle because I am magic.” And there we find the definition:

the spirit of bershon is pretty much how you feel when you’re 13 and your parents make you wear a Christmas sweatshirt and then pose for a family picture, and you could not possibly summon one more ounce of disgust, but you’re also way too cool to really even DEAL with it, so you just make this face like you smelled something bad and sort of roll your eyes and seethe in a put-out manner.

Now you know exactly what bershon is, don’t you? You’ll recognize it in the photos of the I’m So Bershon flickr group, inactive for the past few years, no doubt due to a glut of ennui and weltschmerz. The archetypal face of bershon, depending on who you ask, may be this, or this. There are rules of what’s not bershon.

So fine. The meaning of bershon has been amply covered. Yay. Where does this word come from. As if I care.

Not really sure. Look, you read Sarah Brown’s blog, didn’t you? Sarah and her friend Erin grew up in two different cities and both had heard it in their youth. So there it is. It came from somewhere. Do you have to keep asking me? It’s someone’s family name. I don’t know why. Maybe it didn’t come from that. Why do you expect teenage girls to know or care about etymology. Is that even the right word. Can I go now?

But how does this word feel to say, what are its resonances? Does it feel like you have a mouth full of braces? Is the opening “ber” reminiscent of the bilabial puff of air let out in resigned protest by a girl who simply can’t avoid having to endure something odious for an extra few seconds? Or do you find that the word as a whole seems instead like something else, maybe the brand name of the sweater that the girl is wearing under protest? Maybe it’s the brush-on makeup she’s wearing. Maybe it’s her mixed-up snobbery, leaving you to wonder “Where was she born?” Maybe it’s sombre with syllables transposed and a little changed. It could be something from Hebrew, by the sound (there seems to be a notable Jewish-American influence), but I don’t find a Hebrew word בּרשון.

So fine. Maybe we’re not meant to get it. Maybe we’re just too stupid and time-consuming. There are so many better things. Fine. Go.

5 responses to “bershon

  1. The video popped up as the video of the day in today’s Australian online newspaper, Crikey, under the heading ‘A grumpy old columnist brings you … A phonetic description of annoying sounds teenagers make’. Crikey is also the home of the adorable cartoon First Dog on the Moon. You’re in good company.

  2. ashtarbalynestry

    About the Hebrew hypothesis, I found that ראשון means «first», from a Semitic root ראש meaning «head», also continued in Arabic رأس. Maybe through the addition of the preposition ב? However, Google Translate tells me that ב ראשון means «on Sunday», because of יום ראשון «the first day». I have no idea if any of that makes sense, and anyway Hebrew seems like too stilted a source for a teenage slang word.

  3. Love “bershon” and how it successfully eludes “adult” interpretation. Also the explorations of what its original association might be. I suspect the facial eye roll intensifies significance. Hope you’ve seen Tavi Gevison’s blog/etc about young fashion, facial signals, lingo, all things teen. She’s been featured on several shows, twice on Stephen Colbert”s The Colbert Report. Though maybe she’s now getting a bit long in tooth – mid to late teens. A bit bershon, perhaps.

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