magic mushroom (1957), etc.

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Dec 17 18:19:26 UTC 2004

On Fri, 17 Dec 2004 11:28:21 -0500, Mark A. Mandel
<mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU> wrote:

>ben zimmer quoth:
>* shroom(s) = psilocybin (not yet in OED)
>Washington Post, Dec 27, 1981, p. A1 (Nexis)
>"I'm a closet smoker--I like 'shrooms," confides a 15-year-old California
>girl whose favorite drug of choice, unbeknown to her parents, is
>hallucinogenic mushrooms, or psilocybin.
>(Surely there are earlier cites for this one.)
>nowadays, and for quite a while as i recall, "shrooms" is also used for any
>mushrooms, e.g., as bought in supermarket salad sections.

Yes, the non-magical sense of "shrooms" probably developed at about the
same time in the mid-'70s (see other post on the use of "shrooms" in the
1976 book _Psilocybin_).  There are some references to "shroom(s)" as
college slang for a pizza topping:

New York Times, Feb 10, 1977, p. 41
Nations Beat Path to Door of Princeton Senior for His Atom Bomb Design.
For a time, Mr. Phillips's classmates called him "Shroom" -- short for
mushroom, which referred both to his pizza business and his physics

New York Times, Sep 7, 1980, p. SM133
Letters to the Editor.
In the middle of a hot summer term here at Dartmouth, we were into some
heavy booking so that we wouldn't fry our eccy midterm ("Words for Nerds"
by William Safire, On Language, July 20). We had been power tooling all
day and it was clearly time for a punt. Playing V-ball, tossing a bee
around or going on a za run were possibilities that crossed our minds.
Though za with shrooms was tempting, it was too far to walk, and it was
too hot for any of the other possibilities, so we vegged out, reading The
N.Y. Times. Even though we were bummed that Mr. Safire skipped over many
of the expressions that we use here, we thought he did a fine job of
giving an overview of what collegese is like. -- KATE RABASSA AND DAVID
VOMLEHN Hanover, N.H.

See also Jeremy Smith's _American-British British-American Dictionary_
(online since 1991, now published in book form by CodeSmith):
     shrooms [contr mushrooms] n :
     psychoactive mushrooms, and by humorous analogy applied to
     regular mushrooms, “put shrooms on that za!”.

I think it's possible, though, that the "regular" sense of the contracted
form could have arisen in conjunction with (or even preceding) the "magic"
sense.  Are there any good references on mid-'70s college slang?

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list