Sweet word of youth

The Baltimore Sun

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. 


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