Tag Archives: linguistics

It’s all Good… I Mean Dank


That’s Dank.

Yo.

Recently I had to ask a co-worker what “dank” meant, and if it’s a good thing. He had recently described something as dank. I understood from his context that he didn’t mean “cold and musty.”

He laughed, “Where’d you hear that word?”

“You just said it,” I explained. “So, is it good?”

“Yeah, it’s very good,” he told me. “It’s a stoner term you know. Stoners say that things are dank.”

Uh, remember when I just said you used the term?

Oh, yeah, bro. The dankness overwhelmeth me.

The rest of the night, I was sure to be marginally annoying by referring to things as Dank. “These new pastries are very good. In fact, I’d go so far as to describe them as dank. They are supreme in their dankness.”

Stuff being dank doesn’t work when you’re in your forties, kids.

At some point I got old. I don’t know when it happened. I remember when things were radical, awesome, bitchen, tubular, even gnarley (which was both good and bad at one point. Now I think it’s evolved to surfer talk for only bad). I survived copasetic, bodacious and cool.  Fab, boss, funky, groovy, tight, The sixties had far out, and outta sight. My opinion: they were worried about not seeing stuff in the sixties, so they used lots of drugs, which led to sex, which led to radical kids (they never were all that radical), which led to to dank grandchildren. Hip (hep), neat (neat-o) and keen (keen-o) were a bit before my time but I may have used them, once in awhile. Aces? Snazzy? My Granny Spurgeon used to say snazzy. So was swell. I make sure to use them all because I don’t want anybody to know how old I am by my language.

I’ve heard killer, “the shit”, “the bomb,” “the shit bomb”. Some good things are actually bad. Michael Jackson tells us he’s “bad, I’m bad… you know it. OOO!” So how do we know anymore? I wouldn’ be surprised if some kid eventually comes up to me and says “That hat is the explosive diarrhea!” and it’s actually a good thing.

By the way–if you say you’re apt to say “killer” or “I’m the bomb,” or “I’m radical,” I’d recommend not using slang if you happen to be going through an airport security line.

How about fly, chill, crunk, sweet, insane, dope, crazy, wicked? Are these words off the hook or what? Oooh! Off the hook. Different than off the rack, which is definitely not off the hook.

I had a professer (Norman Arnesen, if anybody is wondering) use the term “the bee’s knees” in conversation with a totally straight face. Cat’s pajamas anyone? What about the cat’s meow? Killer diller?

Why does it mean one thing if you say “you’re the shit,” and another if you say “you’re shit?” And what about puncutation? If you say “your shit” you need a verb. Stinks comes to mind.

I have also noticed modifiers–all of them are variations on “very”… Hella, hecka, mega, epic, mongo, leet, über, –that’s a good one. We have a dearth of words in English with umlauts. Ever notice, by the way, that the word umlaut doesn’t have an umlaut? I think there should be an ANSI code so I can type an umlaut-N for every time I reference the movie Spinal Tap. Granted, this is the first time, ever, I’ve referenced the movie Spinal Tap.

We also have très, super, ultra, you know… comic book superhero terms. Make you own! Mix and match. Norm Arnesen should have said “That seminar was ‘hella-the bees’ knees’.” Best super hero name ever!

So, I may not be dank, but I know people who are.

Which words do you find yourself using? Are you stuck in a decade?

Top-Shelf Words


I just got home from work. Apparently Super Bowl Sunday isn’t the busiest time of year for us. I spent the last two hours walking around, cleaning things, then walking around only to clean them a second time.

Continue reading Top-Shelf Words

Hapax Legomena


Honorificabilitudinatatibus: that’s a nice long Shakespearean word to start your morning. Hope you’ve had your coffee!

Shakespeare used it only once in his entire body of work. To use a word only once in your entire body of work is called a Hapax Legomenon. These are remarkably important words for people (and I admit I am used to be of them) who count and rank words for a living. Continue reading Hapax Legomena

An Exaggeration, an explanation, and Two Apologies


I’m sitting at the computer with a plate of salsa, cheese and Triscuits. Dinner has been served, and I was still feeling a bit snacky, so I grabbed a couple snackies. And yes, the autocorrect really wanted to make Triscuits into “tracksuits.”

It’s pretty much a non-blog day. I have little of consequence to share with you. It was a morning-to-mid afternoon workday, where I made drinks, and handed folks sandwiches, and filled the ice bin several times. Iced drinks sold like hotcakes today (it’s my blog – I can use a lousy simile whenever I want!) because it made it to 92°F (33°C) today. We never really got a springtime. It snowed a couple weeks ago, had 14 days of completely inoffensive weather, and yesterday we blasted into the era of Hot Friggin April.

I noticed somebody exaggerating today. They told someone something, and the warm weather stretched the fabric of their facts just a leeeetle bit. I didn’t say anything, just shook my head in resignation. It really annoys me. It’s a pet peeve, if you will, having somebody do that. It seems to just aggrandize their deeds just a little bit, propping up their maybe-fragile ego. Jerks.

Then, I realized, I do the same thing ALL the time. For example, I didn’t wait 2 hours for my kids. I waited 1. But I said 2, because I’m an insecure jerk with a fragile ego. My fragile jerkish ego says I only got 1/4 of the piece of chicken, when really I got a whole piece and I wasn’t really hungry in the first place. But exaggeration makes my story better, see?

I’m a pinhead. I try to avoid it. Before I know it, a lie (let’s call it what it is, folks) slips out, and I try to make myself look a teensy bit better, or more trodden upon, or harried. Maybe it’s to gain sympathy. Maybe it’s to make me seem “special,” if for just a second.

I also exaggerate when I’m joking. For example today, I told a friend that we should buy wax, and teeny combs, and join a Mustache Club together. We’d be mustache twins, I told her! She politely declined, insanity not having eaten away the better part of her judgment apparatus. A stupid joke, to say the least. But my point is, what is a joke, if not an exaggeration? Comics do this all the time. It’s a game of exaggeration, or embellishing the truth the entire time they’re on stage. But somehow it’s different.

The difference is in the verbal contract. All conversation is a “contract” between the speaker, and the recipient of that conversation. In a dialog, people take turns being the speaker, and the listener. Normal places and situations (like work, or church),  we expect truth, or the contract is broken. If the child in the back seat shouts “Mommy! I really have to go potty now!” and forces mother to pull over, the child had better pee (or at least make a good effort of it), or we know what’ll happen next. Broken contract? Bad news.

In comedy, the recipient expects to be fooled. Several times, all night. The funny comes when words are twisted, stories are ludicrous, and situations are untenable. Take, for example, the words of Steve Martin: “I slit this sheet; this sheet I slit / And on this slitted sheet I sit.” Say it five times fast. If you’re not laughing (or at least horrified), then please ask yourself why not? The words are twisted. The story it presents are ludicrous.  The possibilities are untenable.  Comedy gold! And he didn’t even need to wear an arrow through his head.

If I’ve exaggerated to you in the past, I’ve broken contract. I want to apologize to you for it. If I’ve done it while being funny, I hope it didn’t go over like the proverbial lead balloon. If I’ve come down on you when I’ve found you exaggerating, I’m sorry for my hypocritical attitude. I’m a pig. It’s what I’m good at, so I hope you can make allowances.

Nothing too profound today. Just a few exaggerations, an explanation, and an apology. Be well, folks.

The Semantics of Straightness


I’ve been struggling for the last 18 hours for a blog topic, and you know how it is: 20 minutes before it’s time to jump in the car and head to work, you’re hit with something you’re ready to share, and possibly even worthwhile.

It came from a friend in a text message: she said “My turn to wait at the orthodontist office.” Both my boys have been doing the Tooth-Straightening Twostep for a few years now. Daniel just got his braces off a couple weeks ago. this sent Alex into a fit of anger because he got his braces on first. At one point he even muttered “My teeth are straight enough…” and wanted us to scrap the nearly $12,000 worth of treatment we shelled out. Yeah. I’m not seeing it, bucko. If your dad had to have 4 teeth extracted, and wear braces from 7th grade until AFTER his senior pictures, you can have yours on a couple years too.

And now all my friends are doing it! bless ya, you’re in for a ride.

My next thought was why? Orthodontics has no discernible health benefit. It doesn’t decrease cavities or reduce stomach cancer rates, or even make us feel happy about ourselves. We just like things straight! We put a lot of money into straight things. Straight teeth (orthodontics) straight back (chiropractic), straight bones (orthopedics). We like stuff straight. As I reminisced further, I realized that even seemingly innocuous terms pervade our metaphors: “the straight and narrow.” “Straight up, dude!” Tidy white picket fences. Little maidens all in a row. We queue up, true to our mostly-anglo roots, and behave ourselves, because, like to confound all nature, straight is good.

On the contrary, the crooked path is bad. “Come straight home” says mommy. Saving time and steps are good. Meandering will lead you down a bad path full of sloth, gluttony and non-puritanical stuff. What’s the opposite of a nice straight pine tree? Gnarled? Twisted? The opposite of “straight up” is “gnarly” (I haven’t talked to a surfer in a few years so I may be corrected on this).

So where’s that lead words like “gay” or “homosexual”? I think you see what I’m getting at. What’s the opposite of “gay”? You know what it is. Again, to our old buddy “straight”. My point is that, semantically, anything that’s against straight has to fight a cultural, semantic bias in order to overcome it.

Smarter people than I (I’m thinking George Lakoff and Howard Kurtz) have realized that words matter. If you want to win a war, you need to change the language. Metaphor is so thoroughly engrained in our cultural and linguistic psyches that we can’t really separate the some concepts without lots and lots of work.

Maybe the simple act of embracing the term “straight” has led the LGBT movement to a half-century of panemonium. It’s like being branded on the forehead for LGBT folks: Well, if Straight is good, and I’m transsexual, then I must be… What? Gnarled? Twisted? Bad? Rotten at the core? Maybe even evil?

No. I don’t buy it. Fight the metaphor, people. You need to rethink your language, if you want to rethink your identity.

Monsieur Mal Élevé


I was studying my French vocabulary this morning and came across this phrase, that struck me as interesting:

Mad Manners Magazine.

Mal élevé (or for girls, mal élevée) means “bad-mannered”.  As a point of comparison, bien élevé(-e) means “well-mannered.” A little knowledge of French is a dangerous thing, but most of my readers will probably know that mal means bad, while bien means good (or in this case, well). Élevé comes from the idea of raising or lifting something up. You might recognize the English word elevate in it, in much the same way the pope is raised to his office, or an elevator moves people up an obnoxiously tall building. So literally, the French would translate to “badly-raised” or “well-raised.” There’s even a cartoon in French: Mr. Mal Élevé, which I know nothing about, other than he seems to be a rather popular cartoon morality tale of some kind.

French English Literal English 
Mal élevé Bad-mannered “Badly-raised”
Bien élevé well-mannered “well-raised”

I am writing all this because I found it interesting that in the French language (at least), these words haven’t lost the idea that the onus lies squarely upon the shoulders of the guardian to instill manners in children. (Manners, incidentally, is from the french word manières, which means  “ways”.) In English, we’ve lost that sense. In English, if “you have bad manners”, it’s your fault. Not the school’s, not your parents’, not a chance rubbing-off from society, but yours.

M. Mal Elevé.

In French, élève means “pupil”. It is used for children and adolescents. The word élève has the sense of guardianship of a teacher, who is raising up a child. In English, a pupil has the same sense (from  a very old Latin word meaning orphan, or ward, and later Latin apprentice) as the word élève, even though we use pupil interchangeably (although probably less frequently) with student these days.

In french, étudiant means “student.” This word is not used for children eighteen and under. It is reserved for people in university, who are responsible for their own education. Student is from Latin root that means “to take pains.” Your own pain. When you’re no longer a minor, you get to take pains, not be a ward.

M. Mal Elevé. Being his rude li'l self.

My first thought was “Hey! If my kids don’t have good manners, it’s not my fault.  And schooling? Also not my fault if they fail! That’s not very nice!” I didn’t really connect it with the thought that it’s a rather precise linguistic construct in another language. Our language is not quite as demanding. Student and pupil are used interchangeably, although one word (historically) insinuates the care of parents and teachers. I wonder if our society would be different, if we had a sense of parental and educational responsibility, still condensed in these words. Instead we pass the buck “That kid is bad-mannered (and who knows where he got it from, surely not me!)” or “That kid is a student (and his Fs are his own responsibility–not his teacher’s; not mine!)”  Maybe if we went around saying “That kid sure was badly raised!” or “He’s still a pupil…” We’d stand up and take notice.

Just a thought.