A few weeks back I was getting dinner with a friend and she mentioned that she was proud to have done her taxes before the month of April this year. She was excited to get her return and put the money towards paying off a credit card. I brought up that I’d just closed one credit card and applied for another through a different bank – I had my eyes on a card that offered very appealing travel rewards and I was hoping to start taking more frequent, smaller excursions out of Chicago. This prompted her to pull up her bank’s app and check through her own unused rewards, seeing that she earned more reward points this week when using her card for food and groceries. After texting her roommate that grocery shopping was getting rescheduled to tomorrow, she looked up at me and said, “Look at us. Adulting.”
Adulting, or the verb-phrase ‘to adult’ is a relatively recent neologism. Merriam-Webster pins its origins in this current use to around 2009 on Twitter with its surge in popularity happening around 2014-2015 across social media platforms and subsequent online news articles. Urban Dictionary’s earliest submitted definition is from June of 2014, its most popular in July of 2016 defining adulting as “to carry out one or more of the duties and responsibilities expected of fully developed individuals.” While it may have started as a playful changeup of vocabulary, language always evolves to reflect its culture.
Shifting the use of adult from a noun to a verb implies that adult isn’t something you become; it’s something you do. Rather than waking up and behaving like an adult, you can decide to adult today or not to adult today. I can exercise my self-responsibility through eating a healthy breakfast and spending the morning keeping a personal financial ledger and keeping up with this year’s election cycle on the news, or I can decide to eat cookies for breakfast and spend the morning binging shows on Netflix and playing with Snapchat’s face-changing filters. If adult were a noun or a role to fill, in either case I still meet all the role-requirements - I’m financially independent, maintain a job and interpersonal relationships, and account for my own actions. But from the perspective of adult as a verb, it’s not a stable ground I’ve crossed over a threshold to get to through meeting role requirements. Rather, it’s a shifting behavior that I can employ based on my decisions and understanding of my interconnected relationships with my community.