Does My ‘80s Slang Require a Glossary?


Dear Totally Amped…

In novels set in the ‘80s, those “old sayings” flavor the story soup—which is totally rad. Should you tack a slang glossary onto it, or onto any historical novel? I’m generally like “No way, dude” about that tack-on. I worry it would give the novel a nonfiction shading. Don’t get me wrong, nonfiction is chill and all, but your readers picked a novel. I’d rather its slang be understood from the context, or that readers pick up meaning from repeat uses (repetition rocks!), or that they just absorb the slang as the flavoring it is. That said, this is a book for young readers, and a glossary won’t tank it, so if you feel the kids might need or enjoy the boost of a glossary, go for it, dude. It’s not a wrong choice. Agents and editors won’t wig out about it during submission. Together you’ll fer sure debate the glossary’s inclusion during the book-making process and reach a team determination. If you’re self-publishing and thus making the final call yourself, I consider this a “do it if you want it” item. The goal is a bitchin’ book for readers, and smoothly incorporated ‘80s slang is righteous regardless.

Happy writing!
The Editor

The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services.


    • It is my feeling that the word “groovy” should be used at least once a week. Feels groovy to say groovy. I love it.

  1. ‘Sup Dude!
    I agree with the editor, but a word of caution – the average reader doesn’t care about the 80’s. Note I said AVERAGE reader! There are kids who think the 80’s is totes cool, so lay on the slang for them and find a publisher that gets ya.

    What’s awesome about stuff set in the 80’s is how stylized you get to be – neon colors, scrunchies, bubblegum, walkmans and slap bracelets. I almost hate to burst your bubble that it wasn’t really all like that. But “Back to the Future” was right I guess, when they did that scene with the 80’s Cafe.

    • Historical fiction is funny that way, isn’t it? We use an era’s iconic elements to signal the era and create a world for our story, but it’s so easy to create an overly concentrated version of the era by piling all those elements on a single character or story. It’s a fascinating balance to establish.

    • I was in high school in the 80’s, in the Midwest, and, “Gag me with a spoon” was a California saying or slang, distasteful among us teens, and “Groovy” more a 60-70’s Brady Bunch era, IMHO.

      • I’m a sucker for “groovy” still. I think the Brady Bunch wormed it’s way into me.

        When it comes down to it, I think “Gag me with a spoon” is one of those phrases that the media/movies/music assigned to SoCal teens, but I don’t think anyone said it in real life. I grew up in SoCal—San Diego, specifically—and I don’t know anybody who actually used it. It does crack me up, though. 🙂

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