By Charles Layton
I eastwooded today. It was totes cray FOMO. But, really, YOLO, right?
Oh, I forgot, I’m writing for Blogfinger. Gotta switch to the king’s English here.
Today we’re going to travel into the turbulent world of in-crowd slang. Please stow your baggage securely in the overhead compartment and make sure your tray is in the upright position.
For our purposes, an “in-crowd” is any group of people that wishes to distinguish itself from the likes of you. To do this, an in-crowd will develop its own language. If you’ve ever been in the armed services, you know what I’m talking about. The sergeants used to tell us recruits there were three ways to do a thing: the right way, the wrong way and the Army way. And God knows the Army has its own way of speaking. Ten hut!
African Americans developed a way of speaking that was intended to be private from whites. This dates from slavery. It obviously served a needed purpose. And the black community has been a fertile source of language engineering ever since.
Jazz musicians have always had a special way of speaking. Back in the day, one of my favorite jazz-musician/hipster turns of phrase was the playful attachment of the suffix “ville” to almost any word. Instead of being weird, something would be weirdsville. Instead of being cool, it would be coolsville.
In my wandering youth – in the very early 60s — I once found myself riding on a train with a young musician who was just full of jazzy slang. He was almost a caricature of the type; he actually said “Daddy-oh.” When our train passed through the village of Hicksville, on Long Island, he asked me, “Hey, man, where are we?”
I said, “We’re in Hicksville.”
He said, “I know, man, but what’s the name of the place.”
Criminals and gangsters have always constituted the quintessential in-crowd. In the 1930s, the movies acquainted the general public with such colorful gangster lingo as “stool pigeon” (or “stoolie”), referring to someone who was a “snitch” or a “rat” – someone who “squealed” or “sang” to the cops and therefore needed to be “rubbed out.” I seem to remember Edward G. Robinson uttering the wonderful phrase, “My rod will speak,” meaning he was going to shoot some people.
Drug users have given us a ton of slang terms, such as “horse” for heroin and “pot” and “grass” for marijuana. You know those terms. But do you know what an “Alice B. Toklas” is? It’s a marijuana brownie, named for the woman who was the partner of the writer Gertrude Stein. (It may not be a coincidence that a puff of marijuana is sometimes called a “toke.”)
And then, of course, we have teenagers and pre-teenagers who use slang to create a separate place for themselves in the world, a distinct culture, a wall between themselves and adults. That’s why a teenager says “It’s totes cray” instead of “It’s totally crazy.”
A simple and common way to alter language is to cut off the ends off words. It’s why “radical” became “rad” some years ago, and why “reverend” got shortened to “rev.” Molly Ivins, the late columnist, used to call the Texas legislature “the Lege.” Now it’s the common term down there. In Washington these days, people call the Oval Office simply “the Oval.” It’s kind of fun to do this. The military raised word shortening to an art. Psychological operations became “psy ops.” Signals intelligence became “sigint.”
Connie Eble, an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been collecting college slang since 1972 and writing about it. College is a Petri dish for new slang. In the past, it has given us such expressions as “cut class,” “cram” and “rocks for jocks.” A “turkey dump” is when a college student returns home at Thanksgiving to dump his or her hometown sweetheart. “Dormcest” is hooking up with someone who lives in your dorm.
Eble’s list now includes two popular new terms that are acronyms: FOMO, which means “fear of missing out,” and YOLO, which means “you only live once.” These terms seem to have drifted downward into high school, junior high school and even lower. A kid who isn’t on Facebook can develop FOMO. Such a kid might say, “I’m having a FOMO attack,” converting the word into an adjective.
YOLO is even more interesting. It became popular this year after the rapper Drake included it in a song. “YOLO, and we ‘bout it every day, every day, every day.”
YOLO is what you say when a friend suggests parking in an illegal spot. People also speak of a boozy night on the town as YOLO-ing – “I went YOLO-ing last night.”
It’s not just a word, it’s a philosophy. This past spring a streaker – wearing nothing but a pair of sneakers – sprinted across the field at a Boston Red Sox game with YOLO written across his chest.
By the way, we witnessed the birth of a brand new word just last week: “eastwooding,” named for the actor Clint Eastwood. To “eastwood” is to have a conversation with a chair, or to post a picture of yourself on the Internet in conversation with a chair. This has been happening on both left-wing and right-wing websites in recent days. It’s an activity all of America can enjoy, regardless of party affiliation.
I think my favorite new slang word – phrase, actually – is “honey badger.” The honey badger is an animal native to Africa and Asia. It is known for its fearlessness and tenacity. According to Internet legend, honey badgers steal food from bigger animals, such as leopards; they attack and eat cobras, and they break into bee hives and eat the larvae even while getting stung thousands of times. Urban Dictionary states that “when they kill something they crack open their victim’s skull with their teeth and eat their brain and digest their thoughts.” It is even claimed that a honey badger will climb into bed with your sister and impregnate her while she sleeps.
Anyway, a guy named Randall made a YouTube video about the honey badger. It was crude, it was hilarious, and it went super-viral. Randall then, in 2011, published a book called Honey Badger Don’t Care. And now, voila!, “honey badger” has entered our language, and probably other languages, with several different meanings. A person might say, “I hate that girl; she’s such a honey badger.” The term also has a rather specific sexual definition, which Blogfinger propriety forbids me to reveal. But, actually, its meaning seems to be migrating in several directions, and if it should survive long-term, it’s unclear what it will finally come to mean.
Such is the nature of language. It is adaptive, supple, inventive and thoroughly unpredictable. In other words, it’s totes cray.