I’m always impressed with how the meaning of a word can change so dramatically over time. What was benign, or even silly, suddenly has more far-reaching implications.
I remember being scared to death of getting my mouth washed out with soap, a recurring threat when I was growing up, if I ever said such a word. That threat thankfully never came to be reality. This prevented me from ever mentioning my desire to see a new John Wayne movie that opened called “Hell Fighters”. It was all about fighting oil fires. I didn’t see that movie until adulthood because I feared the consequences of using the word ‘hell’ when asking.
That’s what social norms do, they keep us in check so that “in polite society,” we all know what’s appropriate.
Maybe that’s why slang evolved. It’s been around since the 1800’s so it’s nothing new. Every generation comes up with their own unconventional way to express either something new or something old, in a new way within a certain social content. Often a flippant, irreverent, impertinent way to criticize current social norms of respectability. Other times it’s just a way to keep up with the evolving world around us where the introduction of new devices and ways to communicate make conventional words obsolete.
Do these classics, still used today, ring a bell?
A rip off
JK (just kidding)
LOL (laughing out loud)
I was horrified the first time I heard the slang, “wife beater shirt”. It come out of my 12 year daughter’s mouth. When I asked her how it felt to refer to a man’s top in such a way, she had no clue why it mattered. But words do matter, and that phrase for anyone, let alone one who’s an impressionable little girl spouting references that advocate harming a woman, is not acceptable. To me it was demeaning and abusive, to her it was just a way, “for guys to show off arm muscles.” How it was represented wasn’t the issue.
Or the phrase “booty call.” A way to express sexual interest without a connection. Again, not exactly the way I was teaching my daughter to view her sexuality.
I first heard the chorus to the country song, “Back When,” by Tim McGraw, and it resonated. He speaks of a time when words meant something different-
A hoe was a hoe.
Coke was a coke.
Crack was what you were doing when you were cracking jokes.
A screw was a screw.
The wind was all that blew.
And when you said you were down with that it meant you had the flu.
I miss back when. . .
Each generation puts their special twist on words.
One memorable weekend I was enjoying a spa day and forgot open toed shoes so I wouldn’t harm my beautiful pedicure. As I was admiring my newly painted toes, I asked my daughter, sitting across from me, if she had brought an extra pair of thongs. . .
In my day they were another term for sandals. Then they were called flip flops and thongs had morphed into another thing entirely! The manicurist looked at me, horrified. Was I really asking for my child’s underwear?
One birthday, my nephew couldn’t say enough how he was going to take his new found gains and, “pimp out” his car!
That got the attention of the entire room as we tried to explain what we heard. No one older than 20 knew that the expression meant to embellish your car, as was shown on the famous MTV show at the time.
Or the recent gaff by a presidential contender who had the audacity to refer to a record player. I realize they’re considered vintage now, but does it really have to infer a feeble mind or inability to accept today’s innovations?
I recently went out of my way to obtain an old-fashioned record player so I could finally hear all the amazing pops and cracks that accompanied a far richer and more authentic sound from my large vinyl collection.
Each year, Webster’s dictionary adds words that last beyond a generation’s fad and become part of everyday language. “Bingeable” and “ hangry” being the most recent. Spell check hasn’t even caught up to many of them yet. That’s the challenge. Slang words sprout like weeds and often vanish just as quickly.
So next time you roll your eyes at the lack of knowledge someone else exhibits, remember- with how rapidly things change today, you’ll be there sooner than you think.