A few more words about words, phrases, and slang

Published 10:56 am Friday, March 8, 2019

Six months ago, one of my columns focused on “a few words about new words.” That was a few days after an announcement from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary that 840 new words had been added to our dictionary.

From two or three readers, it was suggested that we look at previously accepted “new words” that may have started out as slang or began as a local term in one part of the country and then became widely accepted in the USA.

There are plenty of examples. If you want to pursue the idea, it will likely require a trip to the local library or a long-term visit to selected sites on the Internet.

I started with words and phrases that I could remember from youth. If you share any of these, you are very likely to be a senior citizen.

From the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, consider the word ‘ace,’ which was translated to expert sometime before mid-20th century. ‘Beat’ is another that dates back to the same period, and it became a synonym for tired or exhausted. ‘G-man’ was popular about the same period, and is still recognized, as government man, a special agent of the U.S. government.

‘Square’ meant old-fashioned, and maybe it still does. The opposite may have been ‘hip,’ which meant in the know or fashionably current.

Interesting to learn that ‘boondocks’ was probably first introduced in the 1940s and would become a hit song in 1965 (“Down in the Boondocks”) — featuring Billy Joe Royal singing about being down in the boondocks, or as we might have said “way out in the country!” Joe South wrote the song that can be heard occasionally now in the 21st century.

On the Internet today, you can find “Forty Slang Words and Phrases You Need to Know” at www.smartling.com and many other references.

One of those caught my attention because it was headlined “Best 10 Slang Phrases That Are Super Popular.” Because teen slang can change overnight, this particular reference contains usage from 2016, and I made no further search for more up-to-date material.

A few samples, new perhaps to those who haven’t been around teenagers often, include: ‘spilling tea,’ or telling secrets or gossiping; ‘woke,’ being aware of current events; and ‘basic,’ an adjective to describe something as typical or ordinary.

It’s likely that today’s teen will declare us outdated if we were to use any of those in a conversation with them in 2019. For those of us in the category of senior citizen, it’s safer to stick with the slang that we either grew up with or learned before today’s generation.