I wonder sometimes why modern slang sounds like screeching chalkboard nails to my ears, yet old-fashioned slang is so fascinating. For instance: “Oh-Em-Gee! I totes heart that dress! It’s like so amaze gorg and that sale price is ridic!” Perhaps I’m bothered by the lack of ingenuity. We aren’t really coming up with new words or imparting new meaning to old phrases anymore- we’re simply snipping words into a kind of incomprehensible shorthand. It feels like we’re reverting to a caveman-like monosyllabic state.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the current temperament of the world, a million plates spinning faster and faster in the air, endlessly going nowhere. We’ve sped things up to make more time but the excess time isn’t filled with any substance, it’s all cotton-candy reality television H.R. Puff n Stuff fluff. Anyway, my point here is, if you’re over 18 and still unironically using textspeak or chopped off versions of real words, I probably think you sound like a moron (which itself is a slang term, originally from the Greek, later used as a psychological condition and now meaning, well, exactly what you think it means).
Compare this to eras like the 1920s, which brought us such gems as “the bee’s knees” (someone or something extraordinary)., “drugstore cowboy” (a street-corner pick-up artist, what would be known today as a scrub) and “giggle water” (alcohol). If you used these today I’d think you were just the cat’s pajamas! And don’t even get me started on flappers, flyboys, dames and dappers.
The 30s and 40s were no slouches either. The title of this post is one example, which to modern ears sounds like some kind of kinky drinking game but back then was a command a bandleader would use to start a fast dance tune- “beat me” (meaning give me the beat) “daddy” (as in daddy-o/the drummer) and “eight to the bar” (meaning 8 beats to every bar of music,unlike the usual 4, which would give the song a quick, uptempo sound. A great example is The Andrews Sisters singing a song of the same name:
The 1950s were wild with new words, as rock n’ roll shook its hips across the country and greasers burnt rubber in their bent eights every Saturday night. If you wanted a dance, you might say “come on snake, let’s rattle!” but your date’s friends might pull her aside to tell her “Pinky’s out of jail” if her slip was showing. If you were lucky, the evening would end with some back-seat Bingo, but sometimes it was just Nowheresville and you’d have to agitate the gravel. (You might get to make out in the back seat but if things were too boring, you could hop in your hotrod and get out of there fast.)
The sixties were groovy, stoned and outta sight. The seventies found us jivin’, far out and dyn-o-mite. Can you dig it? I think during this time tv and movie catch-phrases really started to have an impact on youth slang. That trend exploded in the 80s when it seemed like entire movie franchises were built around a clever tagline. May the Force be with you. If you build it, they will come. They’re here! I’ll be back!
And I will. I will totes be are be. El oh el. Tee tee eff en!