Here’s something I’ve noticed lately. Occasionally I’ll hear a person from the Boomer generation speak of a young cohabitating couple with the description “shackin’ up.” You’ve probably heard this expression, particularly if you’re a Boomer. A generation ago, it was the most common description of a couple enjoying the pleasures of sex outside of its proper context, being marriage. It was likely that the couple had not simply enjoyed sex once but had in fact moved in together. Years ago, this was quite scandalous. Nowadays, it’s called a healthy relationship.
Now we all know things have changed. The cultural scene is sexually super-charged these days. The same narcissistic morality that toppled truth in the academy has removed it from the bedroom. We know this, if we have a cultural pulse. But it’s interesting–fascinating, even–to see the shift in sexual behavior as expressed in colloquial speech. It’s always fun to study cultural changes through language, and this matter proves no exception. Noone made a top-down decision that “Shackin’ up” was outmoded. My generation simply adopted this language and discarded the old phrase, with good reason. Fewer people of college age or post-college age move in together than in years past. Extra-marital sex is not limited to just one person for many of my peers. Those who so limit themselves are in many cases the exception. They have “settled down,” a term that used to describe marriage.
The youth culture of today knows little desire for “shacks” or shared quarters. They momentarily come together, joining their bodies for little less time than it takes to dance a waltz, and then they are off again. They hooked up–briefly joined together–and then they breeze away, having enjoyed bodies without entangling concerns such as the other’s welfare, spiritual state, or responsibility to God. The language is appropriate. One hooks one’s coat for a little while, and one hooks a sexual partner for a little while. Easy come, easy go. With the change in behavior comes a change in language. Less people “play house” these days. One wonders what the next change in behavior, and language, will mean for society.