Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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For no particular reason other than that the photograph pleases me on both an aesthetic and emotional level, I present Thing Two as the perfect fall foreground:

This one is about the balance between color and line. I'm thinking Degas. I'm thinking pretentiously. I'm thinking I'd like to run my fingers over that beautiful "blaze," not to mention the blazing one in the background. To quote William Safire's delightful column on the latest youth colloquialisms from this past Sunday's New York Times, "Fo'shizzle!"

November 28, 2004




Fo'shizzle, I'm going to get hella crunk tonight.'' The first slang word is a variant of ''for sure''; the second, hella, is an adjective meaning ''very, a lot, really,'' perhaps a clip of ''helluva.'' But the word that's sweeping the high-school playgrounds and college campuses is crunk, a blend of ''crazy'' and ''drunk,'' which has elbowed aside wasted, just as faded has replaced stoned. A hard drinker, loud but not yet a crunk, is a daunch.

The main interests of high-school seniors and college students include not just drinking, but also sex, reverse peristalsis, superlatives for handsome and ugly, sex, derogations of the stupid, bodily waste, fast automobiles and sex. Accordingly, they create words for these subjects that sometimes last up to three years before they are adopted by adults and then -- as the insider quality of the lingo is lost -- are hurriedly dropped by the originators.

Vehicles -- wheels, as they were once called -- are now whips. ''Have you seen Joe's new whip? It's a stretch Hummer.'' An ordinary car is called a ride, while a large passenger car out of style or otherwise low on prestige is not a whip, but a scraper. ''A vintage Buick -- or, as they call them in the Bay, a scraper -- pulls up, and all four doors pop open.''

What is the latest term for the old cool (including its emphasizer, too cool for school) and the more recent phat and rad? Try tight, which is making a comeback, as in ''Did you see his pimped-out ride -- it was tight.'' The meaning is extended to innocent intimacy with someone: ''Charlie's my boy. We're tight.''

The antonym to tight is not ''loose'' -- logic has no place in the coinage of neologisms -- but janky, also spelled and pronounced jinky or jainky. This slow developer (it started at least a decade ago) has picked up meanings ranging from ''substandard'' to ''weird.'' An expurgated citation goes, ''That janky camo boy got some stuff on the side of my ride.'' (Camo is fashion slang, short for ''camouflage,'' used to describe outdoorsy wear that blends in with jungle greenery. On the gripping post-election cover of The New Republic, the editorial cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty drew a crowd of recriminating Democrats blaming John Kerry for every possible campaign error, including ''He shouldn't have worn camo.'')

What are the current derogations of what used to be dorks? They are now dillweeds and dipsticks, the latter an instrument to determine the amount of oil in the engine. An obnoxious male showoff seeking to attract females is derided as a floss or as engaged in flossing, which may have a dental origin. The old to hit on of unwelcome flirtation has morphed into to mack. Contrariwise, what used to be ''a man's man'' and is now ''a guy's guy'' is called a bloke, a borrowing from British slang.

''Good-looking,'' male or female, is bangin'. At the top of the heap of desirability is the adjective blaze: ''that guy is blaze!'' means that he is exceptionally attractive. (In the canine world, a blaze is a stunning showing of white fur on the chest of a Bernese mountain dog. My own dog, Sebastian, has a magnificent blaze, much admired by my bitch, Geneva.) A cruel floss may derogate a young woman with an attractive figure but a less-than-appealing visage as a butterface, the term not a dairy derivative but from the phrase ''but her face.''

Superlatives coming on strongest are off the hook, which has topped the old ''wow''; uber, as in ''His whip is uber-fast'' (from the German for ''over, super''); and wooka, as in ''That movie is wooka-sweet.'' Lexicographic Irregulars willing to speculate on the origin of wooka are urged to e-mail

Though the popularity of smoking pot seems to be getting stale, the lingo of aging Mary Jane (marijuana) maintains its freshness: dank, which in Standard English means ''disagreeably damp,'' in current slang describes the high-grade illegal product, and the adjective's meaning is extended to anything highly rated. On the other hand, the standard English noun stress is used as a synonym for the cheaper variety of weed: ''I'm not gonna smoke this stress.''

The state of excitement generates new verbs. The old pumped has lost its zip; stoked, from the poking of a fire, is a dying ember in slanguage. Amped, from amphetamine or ampule, meaning ''frenetic activity, perhaps drug-induced,'' is current, but this category could use a fresh volt.

I am going to cop out on the latest descriptions of copulation, which -- along with new phrases for excretions -- relentlessly spice up youthful slang. The old euphemisms for coupling -- from yesteryear's all-but-forgotten sleeping together to the last generation's more mechanical parallel parking to the more recent hooking up -- have been replaced by short, less imaginative verbs. The latest slang term for defecation, however, is dropping the kids off at the pool, which offers hope for a new generation of euphemistic suburbanites.

Frankly, if I were to accost a young person and say, ''What's the current term among your contemporaries for 'desirable, attractive'?'' the likely response would be, ''Filthy, Gramps.'' This would follow slang's frequent linguistic pattern of semantic reversal, with ba-a-a-d meaning ''superb,'' with shut up meaning ''tell me more'' and junk no longer pejorative, instead updating the meaning of ''awesome.'' The word sexellent, for ''awesomely sexy,'' strikes me as a strained coinage, but as a silverback, I would not inspire trust in the young interviewee. (Although silverback is defined in the O.E.D. as ''a mature male mountain gorilla,'' current slang uses it to mean ''old man.'' It strikes me as more dashing than geezer, but it's not easy swinging from trees.)

Therefore, I sought intermediaries who have close rapport with users of current youthful slang. These include Pamela Munro, professor of linguistics at U.C.L.A.; Connie Eble, professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the Cassandra Report, published by Youth Intelligence; and Grant Barrett, editor of ''Double-Tongued Word Wrester'' on

Though chill out, meaning ''relax,'' is still in use, it is warming up to marinating, a culinary term that has gained the sense of ''taking it easy.'' Anything tasty is apple sauce, and ''money'' is cheddar.

Totally time to clip. Gotta bounce.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times


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