Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to talk about the origins of some of today’s popular slang.
The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.
I don’t often read Stephen King (I’m more of a Dean Koontz fan) but his latest, Billy Summers, caught my attention for two reasons. First, the protagonist is ex-military. Second, he’s a hitman posing as a writer. He kills time while waiting to kill the target and decides to try actually writing. But what really caught my attention was the vast amount of slang Billy uses. Much of it is military slang.
As a “Navy Brat,” some slang was second nature to me growing up. We went to the “gedunk” for sodas and ice cream. The word comes from the sound a coin makes when you put it in a candy machine. My father came home with “scuttlebutt,” rumors heard around a scuttlebut, or water fountain. Dad went to sea on the aircraft carrier Bonhomme Richard, better known as the “Bonny Dick.”
When I enlisted in the early 70’s, slang came from the Vietnam War. “Beaucoup” meant a lot (or a shitload), “Back to the World” meant going home to America, “Boonies” meant the middle of nowhere and “Hootch” was a tent men lived in. As a female, I lived in the “WAVE Cage.” The ribbon everybody got for joining during a war was referred to as a “gedunk medal” because they were often lost and extras were at the end of the counter in the “ship’s store.”
Another great source of lingo is law enforcement. Convenience stores were “Stop-n-Robs,” criminals took “leg-bail” to avoid being arrested and a flasher was a “weenie-wagger.” I worked with a narcotics unit, call sign 2-Adam. Deputies berated us by calling us “2-Adam too good.” I wish I’d written down some of the colorful language while I worked there.
Some modern words go far back. “Spill” meaning to give information originated in the 14th century. “Cool” emerged in 1728 and meant you had lots of money. “Psyched” came from the late 1800’s interest in psychology. Shakespeare gave us “Puke.” We call a dollar a “buck” because traders used animal skins for currency.
I don’t think I’ll ever keep up. I understood “LOL,” but when “OG” showed up on my rusted radar, I asked a young woman the definition. She looked at me like I’d just crawled out of a hole. “It means Original Gangster. But nobody uses it anymore.” Later, in a sentence, she said, “Oh, that girl’s just click-bait.” I think I got the reference but I could hear my inner voice saying “Okay, Boomer, let it go.”