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Sweet word of youth

By John E. McIntyre

The Baltimore Sun

9:52 PM EST, January 11, 2013

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We no longer have children or kids or teenagers or young people. We used to have them, but now we just have youth

Youth used to be a singular, that thing that is wasted on the young, or the individual in the Sydney Smith screed about taxation: "The schoolboy whips his taxed top; the beardless youth manages his taxed horse with a taxed bridle on a taxed road; and the dying Englishman, pouring his medicine, which has paid seven per cent, into a spoon that has paid fifteen per cent, flings himself back upon his chintz bed which has paid twenty-two per cent, and expires in the arms of an apothecary who has paid a license of a hundred pounds for the privilege of putting him to death." 

Now it is a widespread collective plural, the way that officials talk about young people in their bloodless jargon.

This is how an official with Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services writes: "Tthe Department of Juvenile Services is showing great foresight in seeking capacity to treat youth who would otherwise be in detention while waiting for a vacant treatment bed and not getting credit for their time in detention."

And this: "Many youth in DJS' care need treatment now."

I do not to single out this particular official for scorn, but as a representative. This is the way people in government and social work and teaching and Christian education now talk about young people as a group.

Even though the plural sense of youth is by no means novel, it carries the bureaucratic stink up to my nostrils. And yet I acknowledge the futility of inveighing against it, of attampting to change youth to youths or young people or adolescents or whatever. Stet it. Let it stand as a marker for the kind of person who uses it.