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The word "youths" always seems to be used in a negative sense (e.g. "Drunken youths", "Disaffected youths"), and our church has now adopted the more politically-correct sounding phrase "young people".

Does the word "youths" have an inherently negative connotation?

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If the youths of your church do not like to be called "youths", by all means come up with another name. Similarly, if the "ladies" want to be called "women" or if the "over-the-hills" want to be called "seniors". – GEdgar May 31 '12 at 12:40
I've normally seen the word youth used as adjective (as in youth choir, youth group). A few years ago, my daughter was asked to serve as a youth ambassador. My question is, if the church decides to call them "young people," do they all go to the "young people's meeting" (as opposed to "youth meeting")? To be honest, "young people" almost has a condescending tone; I don't see it as an improvement, but that's just my opinion. – J.R. May 31 '12 at 20:33
up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is no negative connotation at all to 'youth' or 'youths'.

However,if people only ever use it in the negative contexts you describe, then it may gain that negative connotation, pushings things over the euphemism waterfall.

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The negative connotation can be found in the subtle equal sign people put between being young and having no experience. – speedyGonzales May 31 '12 at 12:12
The question is about the word 'youth' not the concept of being of a certain age. The word 'youth' itself doesn't have the poor connotation'. – Mitch May 31 '12 at 12:16
Considering their youth, @speedyGonzales, youth will generally be handicapped with respect to experience ("the observing, encountering, or undergoing of things generally as they occur in the course of time"). So instead of a subtle equal sign I'd use an explicit proportionality symbol: Youth ∝ Inexperience. But then I'm old(ish) :) – JeffSahol May 31 '12 at 15:13
@Mitch But that's how this stuff about words being offensively routinely goes. Like, I just saw a news story about some school where they have told teachers to mark wrong answers with green ink instead of red ink, because red ink conveys a negative impression and will hurt the children's self-esteem. But really now, if this became common practice, surely within a couple of years green ink would acquire the same connotations that red ink has now. ... – Jay May 31 '12 at 21:31
... Likewise, any term you use for teenagers will quickly acquire a connotation of inexperienced, any term for people over 60 will be associated with weak and senile, any term for French people will come to be a synonym for rude and arrogant, etc. – Jay May 31 '12 at 21:32

I would not say that the word itself carries either a negative or a positive connotation, but the contexts in which it is used may tend to be negative. A quick ngrams search for "youths" turns up mostly sociology texts in recent years...and not the kind that say everything is hunky-dory with youths, either.

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The question is about the word "youths," not "youth" nor "young," nor is it about being young.

My first thought was that there is no negative connotation to "youths," but on further reflection, it is youth that does not have either a negative or a positive connotation -- but "youths" does indeed have a negative connotation. I suppose this is because "youth" could refer to any young person, some of whom are actually good! Whereas "youths" applies to a specific group of young people, and we all know they're up to no good when they form into groups, right? Drunken, disaffected, etc. Perhaps the young people of your church could be encouraged to reclaim the word "youths" by applying it to themselves.

I hadn't thought about this before, so your question is appreciated.

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My friend George Bernard Shaw has said once "Youth is wasted on the young." That means the young people don't know what to do with their youth. I would say that the society today tolerate youth much more then ten years ago. Today you can have boss that is like ten or twenty years younger then you. There is also the word :

Yuppie (short for "young urban professional" or "young upwardly mobile professional") is a term that refers to a member of the upper middle class or upper class in their 20s or 30s. It first came into use in the early 1980s and largely faded from American popular culture in the late 1980s, due to the 1987 stock market crash and the early 1990s recession. (wikipedia).

In short the subtle connotation if the word is used in negative or in positive meaning can be found in the context. Although being young is an advantage from my point of view and there isn't inherently negative connotation.

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Seeing the word "youths" always used in a negative context might depend on the local media that is creating those negative associations. Where I live (a city in the 2-3 million population range) there are many religious institutions that have "youth groups" and "youth choirs". There are community centres with "youth activities" and "youth programs", etc... No one seems to have any issues with the word.

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I'm not aware of any general negative connotation to either the terms "youth" or "young people". Both have connotations of inexperience, but then they also have connotations of strong and active.

For what it's worth, my church refers to the people in that age bracket as the "youth group", and I've never heard somone say it was insulting.

Of course what words cause offense is hard to explain in any systematic way. Like, why is "defecate" a perfectly acceptable word, "poop" is considered juvenile, and other words for this function are considered crude and offensive? I don't know that there's any pattern. They just are.

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