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TCU Magazine "Purpectives"

Watch your language

By Amanda Hosey '03


I think I'm pretty "with it." I'm "down" with Avril Lavigne and Jay-Z. I can name all the cast members on MTV's The Real World. I support Justin Timberlake's solo project. I read Rolling Stone. I pay attention to the rapidly changing world of popular culture, mainly because if I don't I can't have any opinions (and I love to have opinions). But a recent newspaper quiz on slang presented words that I'd never heard, let alone used to distinguish myself from those less "with it" than I.

For example, "DeBo." I wanted this to refer to the '80s supergroup DEVO, but according to the article, DeBo means "to steal." I think I will change the meaning of DeBo. From now on, it means "to whip it." Even "to whip it good."

Another mystery on the quiz was "breaking bread," which supposedly means "making money." This phrase will not get regular rotation in my personal slang jukebox, because it doesn't make sense. I don't associate breaking anything with acquiring wealth.

Sometimes, as with DeBo, it's perfectly acceptable to change a slang word's meaning. But the quiz had the phrase "that's thick on it" matched with the meaning "that's great." I've always known thick to signify anything but great, unless we're talking cake frosting. "He's got a nice face, but he's kind of thick." Not good. If somebody told me I was thick, I'd slug him.

I also must dispute "sweatin' me." The quiz said it means "copying me," but I have heard it used to mean "liking something a lot, almost to obsession." For example, someone once told a friend that a boy fancied her by saying, "Girl, he's sweatin' you."

My favorite word on the quiz was "badunkadunk." One of many current terms with hip-hop origins, badunkadunk describes buttocks of exceptional quality and bounce. Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot gave the word wide exposure in a rap hit she wrote about her new self-image after losing 70 pounds. She speaks of her "badunkadunk-dunk."

I should qualify my opinions of the slang quiz by saying that I don't know if the author is a slang user or just a slang observer -- an important distinction when gauging the quiz's value. Too, it originated in Lexington, Ky., and I mostly know slang used in Texas.

A more effective way to test slang knowledge is just to listen to people's regular speech. Certain staple words and phrases make a slang user easy to spot.

The primary staple word in my lexicon has unknown origins, and I'd stop using it if I could. The word is "all," and it means "to say." It frequently pairs with the related staples "like" and "y'know." The word is ubiquitous in a slang user's narrative repertoire: "He's all, ‘I don't know,' " or "We would have been all, ‘Why don't you go?' "

A slang user gives herself away by using compound slang sentences. "And I was all, ‘Like, I don't know,' y'know?" Not only has the speaker failed to communicate anything, she is obviously a regular customer at the slang store. We all are aware of the way "like" has weakened the communication skills of our youth, but I would argue that "all" and "y'know" are equally chronic speech-muddlers.

Beyond the staple slang terms, there are myriad other words with varied origins. I would overstep a line in the sands of coolness if I tried to explain the meanings of all the words with hip-hop roots (see badunk-adunk). I would probably be wrong about some of them, given my second- or third-hand knowledge, but if anyone wanted to "school" me on the various usages of "bling bling," "grill," "shorty" or "dubs," I would be a willing pupil.

The most common slang word for anyone around my age may be "dude." For me, everyone's a dude. My mom's a dude, as are my bosses, friends (male, female), 2-year-old nephew and pets. "Dude" is easily the most versatile of slang terms, because the slightest change in inflection can alter its meaning.

On a 1996 episode of Friends, I first heard the term "go commando," meaning "to not wear underwear" ("I'm not gonna go commando in another man's fatigues"). Lately, my friends and I have adapted it to mean going without anything we'd normally have with us. My friend Lauren often says she's going commando when she leaves her purse in the car. We're still waiting to see if it'll catch on. Lauren is one of my main slang influences. She has undertaken a crusade to enliven the slightly dormant "da bomb," which you may remember means "very good, excellent, the best." She's also trying to bring back "all the rage."

Lauren is one of millions of soldiers fighting to keep people from speaking the way they write. I admire her commitment to a vibrant slang canon.

I do not claim to be a slang scholar. I know that the words used in daily speech are a matter of personal expression, as much as one's dress or musical tastes. That said, I would encourage people to make up new phrases, as well as to adapt existing slang words to fit their personalities.

Except for badunkadunk. Leave that one alone.

Amanda Hosey '03, is pictured with her roommate Lauren Martin. Amanda, The TCU Magazine intern, graduated in May and needs a job. Contact her at amandajewel@charter.net.

From flappers to rappers - a sampling of slang

1920s

- bee's knees, cat's pajamas (the ultimate)
- gams (a woman's legs)
- dogs (feet)
- giggle water (liquor)
- swell (wonderful; also a rich man)
- hard boiled (a tough guy)
- jake (OK, as in "everything's jake")

1930s

- Abyssinia (I'll be seeing you)
- wingding (party)
- sweet patootie (attractive girl)
- all wet (no good)
- five spot, Lincoln ($5 bill)
- togged to the bricks (dressed up)
- joed (tired)
- kippy (neat)
- doss (sleep)

1940s

- make tracks (leave quickly)
- off the cob (corny)
- blow your wig (get excited)
- behind the grind (behind in one's studies)
- shake a leg (hurry)
- scrub (a poor student)
- suds (money)
- aces up (good)

1950s

- go ape (show anger)
- back seat bingo (necking in a car)
- cat, Daddy-O (hip person)
- square (conformist)
- go for pinks (a drag race with a car's title as the stakes)
- knuckle sandwich (a fist in the face)

1960s

- a gas (a lot of fun)
- dig (like or understand)
- a drag (boring event or person)
- far out (excellent)
- groovy (nice, cool, "neat")
- right on (I agree)
- pad (house or apartment)
- outta sight (fantastic)

1970s

- foxy (good looking, describing a woman)
- check ya later ( see you later)
- mellow out (get calm)
- dy-no-mite! (great)
- I hear that (I accept your decision
- score (obtain, as in "Let's score some pizza)

1980s

- airhead (stupid or unaware person)
- chill (to relax, hang out)
- bogus (unfair, unfortunate)
- yuppie (young urban professional)
- grody (gross, unappealing)
- awesome, bad (very good or cool)

1990s

- all that (having everyone's attention; "All that and a bag of chips" means "The best and then some.")
- Don't go there (touchy subject)
- crib (home, dwelling)
- my bad (my mistake)
- crunk (excited about)


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