Tag Archives: slang

Mystery Solved: The Etymology of Dude

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Mystery Solved: The Etymology of Dude

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The Dude.

For some time now, we have known the basic outline of the story of “dude.” The word was first used in the late 1800s as a term of mockery for young men who were overly concerned with keeping up with the latest fashions. It later came to stand for clueless city folk (who go to dude ranches) before it morphed into our all-purpose laid-back label for a guy. What we didn’t know was why the word dude was chosen in the first place.

 Now, we finally have the answer. Allan Metcalf (who wrote the book on “OK”) reports in The Chronicle of Higher Education that a massive, decade-long “dude” research project has finally yielded convincing results.

The project belongs to Barry Popik and Gerald Cohen, described by Metcalf as “Googlers before there was Google.” Along with the help of other colleagues, they have been combing through 19th century periodicals for years, slowly amassing the world’s biggest collection of dude citations. The latest issue of Cohen’s journal, Comments on Etymology, lays out, in 129 pages, the most solidly supported account yet of the early days of dude.

So where does dude come from? Evidence points to “doodle,” as in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” He’s the fellow who, as the song has it, “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.” “Macaroni” became a term for a dandy in the 18th century after young British men returned from their adventures on the European continent sporting exaggerated high-fashion clothes and mannerisms (along with a taste for an exotic Italian dish called “macaroni”). The best a rough, uncultured colonist could do if he wanted to imitate them was stick a feather in his cap.

“For some reason,” Metcalf says, “early in 1883, this inspired someone to call foppish young men of New York City ‘doods,’ with the alternate spelling ‘dudes’ soon becoming the norm.” Some of the early mocking descriptions of these dudes seem awfully familiar today: “A weak mustache, a cigarette, a thirteen button vest/A curled rim hat — a minaret — two watch chains cross the breast.” Yep, sounds like a hipster. But that word has gotten so stale. We should all go back to “dood,” or maybe even “doodle.”

53 Slang Terms by Decade

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53 Slang Terms by Decade

Every generation has its slang — new words and phrases that allow kids to communicate without their parents understanding. Read on to learn some of the most popular slang terms through the decades.

1920s

  1. 23 skiddoo — to get going; move along; leave; or scram
  2. The cat’s pajamas — the best; the height of excellence
  3. Gams — legs
  4. The real McCoy — sincere; genuine; the real thing
  5. Hotsy-totsy — perfect
  6. Moll — a female companion of a gangster
  7. Speakeasy — a place where alcohol was illegally sold and drunk during Prohibition
  8. The bee’s knees — excellent; outstanding

1930s

  1. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle — sign of disbelief; I don’t believe it!
  2. Gig — a job
  3. Girl Friday — a secretary or female assistant
  4. Juke joint — a casual and inexpensive establishment with drinking, dancing, and blues music, typically in the southeastern United States
  5. Skivvies — men’s underwear

1940s

  1. Blockbuster — a huge success
  2. Keeping up with the Joneses — competing to have a lifestyle or socioeconomic status comparable to one’s neighbors
  3. Cool — excellent; clever; sophisticated; fashionable; or enjoyable
  4. Sitting in the hot seat — in a highly uncomfortable or embarrassing situation
  5. Smooch — kiss

1950s

  1. Big brother is watching you — someone of authority is monitoring your actions
  2. Boo-boo — a mistake; a wound
  3. Hi-fi — high fidelity; a record player or turntable
  4. Hipster — an innovative and trendy person

1960s

  1. Daddy-o — a man; used to address a hipster or beatnik
  2. Groovy — cool; hip; excellent
  3. Hippie — derived from hipster; a young adult who rebelled against established institutions, criticized middle-class values, opposed the Vietnam War, and promoted sexual freedom
  4. The Man — a person of authority; a group in power

1970s

  1. Catch you on the flip side — see you later
  2. Dig it — to like or understand something
  3. Get down/Boogie — dance
  4. Mind-blowing — unbelievable; originally an expression for the effects of hallucinogenic drugs
  5. Pump iron — lift weights
  6. Workaholic — a person who works too much or is addicted to his or her job

1980s

  1. Bodacious — beautiful
  2. Chillin’ — relaxing
  3. Dweeb — a nerd; someone who is not cool
  4. Fly — cool; very hip
  5. Gag me with a spoon — disgusting
  6. Gnarly — exceptional; very cool
  7. Preppy — one who dresses in designer clothing and has a neat, clean-cut appearance
  8. Wicked — excellent; great
  9. Yuppie — Young Urban Professional; a college-educated person with a well-paying job who lives near a big city; often associated with a materialistic and superficial personality

1990s

  1. Diss — show disrespect
  2. Get jiggy — dance; flirt
  3. Homey/Homeboy — a friend or buddy
  4. My bad — my mistake
  5. Phat — cool or hip; highly attractive; hot
  6. Wassup? — What’s up?; How are you?
  7. Word — yes; I agree

  1. Barney Bag — a gigantic purse
  2. Newbie — a newcomer; someone who is inexperienced
  3. Peeps — friends; people
  4. Rents — parents
  5. Sweet — beyond cool

BEAT SLANG 1950’S

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Beat Slang 1950s

The thing that’s really interesting about the Beat slang 1950s era is that of all the various times when slang was popular, then died out, it’s in this particular epoch that so much of the jargon is still in current use.

You sure can’t say that about the lingo of any other decade, all the way from the 1920s (“23 skidoo”) to the1960s (“groovy!”)

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Origin of Beat

The Beat generation harkens back to the late 1940s. The generation was sick of World War 2 and stunned by the sudden entry into the atomic age by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. They had no place to go, and nothing from which to draw hope. They were the predecessors of the “turn on and tune out” hippies of the 1960s (although, it can be argued, the Beatniks – the followers of the Beat lifestyle – did it with more aplomb than the hippies.)

 

 

The term “beatnik” is derived from the slang term “beat,” which was popularized by famous writer Jack Kerouac after the war. “Beat” came to mean “beaten down,” but Kerouac said that wasn’t his intent.   

The Beat Generation, as Kerouac saw it, were people who were “down and out, but who had intense conviction.”

Hipsters Loved Jazz

In some ways, the Beatniks’ music was way “cooler” (a very Beat word.)

 

 

“Hipster,” as Kerouac used it, is one of the lead slang terms of the generation. Hipsters were aficionados of jazz music, and the entire jazz lifestyle. That included a particular lingo, dress, and attitude, and probably the first systematic use of marijuana in an American subculture.

The word “hipster” ultimately replaced the slang “hepcat,” which was pretty much a jazz subculture follower of decades earlier.

 

Anyone who was a hipster was in constant pursuit of whatever was “cool,” a slang term that survives to this day. In the late 40s, that included a combination of jazz and bebop, or bop, music, a takeoff on jazz, but with a quicker beat and lots of improvisation.

Dating for the Beat Generation

 

 

Hipsters were also relaxed about other conventional social mores, including sex. Jazz musicians attracted their own followings; the hipsters were, in their day, a bit like groupies (band followers).

Let’s say you’re interested in a girl. The first looks translate into “eyeballing a doll” (that is, giving the potential date a good lookover.)

You envision what’d it be like to take her out. You anticipate it being an incredible amount of fun; or in Beat-speak, “a gas.”

But if the chick nixes the “back seat bingo” (a phrase devoted to the fine art of kissing, or making out, with a girl in a car), she’d be “bad news.”  It’s important to note that it’s not the act of rejection, but the person themselves, who is the “bad news.”

About Beat Slang in the 1950s

State of Coolness

But how serious is this chick? Does she really have to be home early to “Big Daddy,” or is she just “copping a bit”?

In this usage, Big Daddy may indeed be the potential date’s father. But more likely, it’s an older person who isn’t hep to the Beat scene (and wants to put a damper on Beatnik fun.)

The date herself may very well be a closet square; that’s why she’s “copping a bit” (making up an act to delude the Beatnik.)

Squares are an abundant source for Beatniks of “the big tickle” (a laugh at the expense of the victim.) But hey, it’s not like they were cool to begin with! No big loss in Beat society.

Such a person is known as a “square” or “cube” in Beat slang in the 1950s.

 

The only major differences were the degree of “squareness.” A waitress, for example, might be square, but she probably wasn’t nearly as square as, say, a banker, an accountant, or – the worst yet! – a cop.

 

 

Anti-police Slang

Because of their “on the brink” lifestyle, and their engagement in activities that were either straight out or borderline illegal, the worst enemy a beatnik had was an officer of the law.

This may be the first time the use of the word “pig” as a slang slur against policemen had been used.

If a beatnik saw a bunch of cops heading toward a hipster hangout, he’d “haul ass” or “beat the gravel” (run like crazy to get away from them, since cops were never up to any good in Beatnik circles.)

More Cool Words

Beat culture had many ways of describing the ultimate amazing experience. Did you cats have a blast? That’s like saying the Daddy-o Beatniks were cookin’!

Both phrases have similar meanings. “Cats” and “Daddy-o” are variation on the Beatnik self-descriptive “hipster” word to describe, well, themselves! Beatniks are nothing if not self-referential.

A blast and cooking? No, it’s not the prelude to a Beatnik barbecue. A blast to the Beats is pretty much the same as it is to modern day partiers: a fun time. If you were cookin’, it’s a high compliment, indeed. It merely meant you were doing something well (as in a jazz musician, favorites of the Beats, playing a hot horn so much so that the patrons said he was “cooking

More Beat Slang

If you dig it, man, that’s crazy! (This is all a good thing among Beats.)

“Digging” is getting, or understanding, something, just like being “in orbit”; and “crazy,” like “boss!”, are both  euphemisms for something that’s just plain old good.

Just don’t “go ape,” especially at “the flicks,” or your fellow movie patrons are apt to get “wigged out.” (That means don’t yell at the movies, or it’s apt to annoy the rest of the audience.)

Are you out to get your “kicks” by “making the scene”? The kicks is the thrill you get by doing something fun or incredible; and if you’re “making the scene,” you’re in the right place at the right time.

As you can see, there’s an art to Beat slang from the 1950s. It’s worth the effort to make the language scene, especially if your goal is to be a real hipster!