I’ve always loved listening to the music of language, especially those words and phrases outside the tidy boundaries of Merriam-Webster. Somewhere in the Exurban Dictionary of my brain, I filed them away, the associated gray matter swelling with each new person I met and each new place I visited. Here are some of my favorite slang expressions:
1. Slide it, Earl
I first heard this from an old boyfriend who came from the pseudo-Appalachia of way-upstate New York. He said it when someone-usually someone behind the wheel of a pickup with a gun rack on the back window and a dog riding in the cab-was driving too slowly for his taste. He didn’t outright say he’d invented the phrase, but strongly led me to believe so. (Hey, I was young and gullible.) Not only had I adopted the phrase, but after he disappeared from my life, other future boyfriends picked it up from me like a nasty, embarrassing rash. Which annoyed me. What annoyed me even more? While watching an old episode of Match Game on the Game Show Network recently, Gene Rayburn gestured to the manually-operated bonus round answer board and said, “Slide it, Earl!” Feh! I’ve been HAD.
2. Half a bubble off plumb
Ah, this has a beautiful sound, just kind of rolls off the tongue, which is the best thing about great slang. This is a wonderful phrase for someone or something that isn’t quite right, albeit probably in a good way. As in, “My aunt’s half a bubble off plumb, but that quirkiness is probably what I love most about her.”
3. Sea change.
This came to me via an uncle, who was actually not an uncle but one of those friends of the family my parents insisted we call “uncle.” We were having a political discussion and he said something like, “To get that kind of legislation passed, we’ll have to see a real sea change in Congress.” He couldn’t believe I’d never heard the term before. Apparently, according to his explanation, people in the pre-aviation days, seeking relief from a broken heart, consumptive illness or other assorted shattered dreams, would board an ocean liner for Europe, hoping their bad humors would dissolve in the Atlantic. Hence, sea change. Or it could have been from Shakespeare. To-MAY-to, To-MAH-to.
Early in my advertising career, a colleague coached me on how to quote jobs. We were working on one for a particularly obnoxious, petty nickel-and-dimer (speaking of slang). “And then, of course,” she said, “We add the five percent PITA tax.” As in “pain in the ass.” When I went client side, I was particularly conscious of not needing this tax added to my jobs.
Another word I love for the sound. I can just hear a mosquito being vaporized in a lamp. Which is also, for the mosquito, anyway, a real buzzkill.
I love this word, as it encompasses so many activities at once. Coined by Robert Heinlein in his 1961 sci-fi classic, Stranger in a Strange Land, it means understanding something all in one gulp. Or, from the novel:
Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed-to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science-and it means as little to us (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.
Unfortunately, this word is slipping out of favor and, at times, is being replaced with the unctuous, camera-ready “aha moment.”
7. Frack (original series), Frak (reimagined series)
One of my favorite words ever coined, this was a Battlestar Galactica writer’s way of getting away with a juicy expletive on television networks that frowned upon juicy expletives. Frak is currently bobbling into over- and mis-use. Please help me save “frak” by using it as judiciously as you would any other f-bomb. Thanks. And thank you to the environmentalists of New York State, for another definition of this slang term: “Frack” is short for hydrofracking, or hydrofracturing, a potentially water-table-contaminating way of fracturing sedimentary rock to extract natural gas. To which many of my fellow New Yorkers respond, “No fracking way.”
I think I made this up. Means, roughly, “awesome.” Please feel free to correct me if, say, an old boyfriend copped it from a game show.
What are your favorite slang words or expressions?
(Thank you, Plinky people, for today’s prompt, “What’s your favorite slang word?”)
I think you’re probably familiar with my vernacular by now! Oh, and I sure am guilty of overusing “frack” and, of course, the “real f-word” (can’t help myself).
A lot of the expressions I use regularly, but not usually in print, are in slang-Italian. For example, the Italian word for crazy is pazzo. When referring to, say, a crazy woman, we’d say “she’s ah-pazz, that one!”, though the “p” is pronounced “b” and the “z” sound in Italian is more like “tz”. Another one we use a lot here is “shem” (“sheminoots” is a variant), slang-Italian for “schmuck”.
I could go on for an eternity. We’re very colorful in our language in this city! Another great post to get my wheels turning, Laurie!
That’s my job, sis. The pay might not be great but the benefits are fabu.
Oh. Just thought of a word I read in the book NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER by Betty Mahmoody. In the book, she explains an Iranian word “taraff” (if memory serves me; I read it ages ago), which means an offer that is extended to someone which is expected (by silent agreement of both parties) not to be accepted. Since my mother and I read it around the same time, we use this term often and no one knows what we’re talking about!
Redneck racks used to be a fairly common sight in the back windows of pickups in this neck of the woods. Dont hardly see ’em any more. Kept a fishing pole in mine, Winchester behind the seat.
Don’t think a lady like yourself would use “my kind of slang….”
Yes, even a knuckle dragger like me enjoys your blog….
By the way, you should have gone for the job….NEVER sell yourself short. Think that you are a most capable writer, and probably person. Plan on buying your book, just make it known when it goes on sale.
You strike me as one of those people who I have absolutely nothing in common with, but would enjoy chatting with over a hot cup of joe….
Thank you! And keep writing…you have some really powerful work on your blog.