An initial 4A N2...?

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Mon Jul 1 22:19:47 UTC 2002

Good work. Now we have something to work on. A difficulty: is "grass"
older than "pot" (and on its way out), rather than "slangier"?


>  > When we fly by the seat of our pants in declaring "pot" one thing and
>>  "grass" another, we air our opinions, but we do the linguistic world
>>  no service (except to let it know what our personal feelings are).
>Guilty as charged regarding flying by the seat of my pants, but I would
>substitute "personal experience" for "personal feelings." It is a judgment
>based on how I've encountered the use of the terms, not on what I would like
>them to be.
>But you've challenged me to justify this judgment...
>Googling on "pot marijuana" turns up some 124,000 hits, while "grass
>marijuana" gets you only some 38,900. This is probably a pretty good
>indicator of the relative popularity of the two terms.
>Searching in NY Times over the last week (24 Jun-1 Jul), turns up 14
>articles containing the word "marijuana." There are two articles containing
>the word "pot" in the drug sense, one a letter to the editor and the other
>an excerpt from a novel. There are no uses of "grass" in the drug sense for
>the same period (lots of articles about Wimbledon though).
>A similar search in the Washington Post also turns up 14 articles with
>"marijuana." None for "pot" or "grass."
>AP has some 20 articles with "marijuana" (that number is rough because AP
>posts articles to the wire multiple times and I may have miscounted). It has
>2 with "pot;" one uses it in a headline, the other in a direct quote.
> has six articles with "marijuana" for the same period. It uses the
>drug sense of "pot" in two articles; CNN doesn't use quotation marks or
>otherwise indicate that it's a slang term. Evidently, CNN has a different
>editorial policy regarding use of the term than the other three.
>Given their strict editorial policies, one would expect that mainstream news
>articles would be just about the last medium to be penetrated by a slang
>term. Here we're seeing "pot" starting to make its way into them.
>Looking at, which provides a more general commentary and language
>use than the strictly editorially supervised news services, we find a total
>of 1528 articles online with "marijuana" (no date restriction on the search,
>so you can't compare frequency of appearance with the above news sources).
>Of these, 1197 use the word "pot," and only 48 use the term "grass." Salon
>does not use quotation marks around "pot" or otherwise indicate that it is a
>slang term.
>Based on this, I stand by my statement that "pot" has made or is making its
>way into standard American English, while "grass" remains a slang term.

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Languages
740 Wells Hall A
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
Office - (517) 353-0740
Fax - (517) 432-2736

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