This is no sh*t.

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Fri Jul 30 23:37:45 UTC 2004

On Jul 30, 2004, at 2:09 PM, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: This is no sh*t.
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> On Jul 29, 2004, at 2:41 AM, Jonathon Green wrote:
>>> As I've said here before, women don't
>>> understand slang. (Is *everyone* here with me on this?! So far, ain't
>>> nary nobody oblected!)
>> In that case, let me be the first. (And if I haven't got the joke, mea
>> culpa). Setting aside the academic expertise of such as...
> i didn't object before because the claim just seemed too preposterous.
> wilson isn't talking about researchers, of course, but about ordinary
> speakers.  but unless he's using some very specialized sense of
> "slang", the claim is just false: women are adept users of, often
> innovators of, large parts of the slang lexicon.
> from earlier discussions on these matters, i suspect that what wilson
> is referring to is the taboo portion of the slang lexicon, which is
> conventionally held to be "men's talk" in our culture -- "strong
> language".  now, this is a stereotype, and as with any stereotype,
> there are at least some people who conform to it.  and it is true that
> mastery of the taboo vocabulary is, in our culture generally, a central
> part of the socialization of boys.  but in truly massive numbers, women
> (of all regions, social classes, ages, races/ethnicities, etc.) are as
> competent in the use of taboo vocabulary as men are.
> as i think i've pointed out here before, for some people, learning to
> use the taboo vocabulary is part of achieving adulthood (rather than
> specifically gendered adulthood) and is managed in mixed-sex groups.  i
> believe i've mentioned overhearing a set of palo alto high school kids
> (equal numbers of girls and guys) having coffee together and, in
> effect, practicing their taboo vocabulary together.
> for an example of a middle-class white teenage girl from a good family
> who really understands her taboo slang, check out claire fisher, the
> daughter of the family in Six Feet Under (on HBO).
> arnold (zwicky at

For some reason, I don't always receive postings and, in other cases,
my replies have been received only by the original poster and not by
the list. Hence, I'm not able to reply fully to Jonathon, since I have
only the sentence partial that Arnold has included to work with.

Jonathon, I am serious. I, of course, realize that sweeping
generalizations about any class of human beings are overstatements, at
the least, and are very, no, extremely likely to be utterly ludicrous.
I've read the books and looked at the Web sites devoted to "scientific"
racism. But that was my point. I was expecting at least a "McEnroe":
you *can't* be serious!

But, Arnold, I didn't realize that my claim was so empty of content as
not to (or should that be "to not"?) merit any reply whatsoever. I'm

In any case, in addition to the case of the woman who "corrected" the
phrase "lay dead" to "play dead," I had in mind cases like the

Everyone here is, no doubt, familiar with the slang meaning of the
phrase, "she's a cheap date," wherein "cheap date" means something
like: "not only is she an easy lay, but she's also so stupid that
she'll pick you up in her car, pay for your dinner, drinks, and
cigarettes, and put the motel room on her credit card." Now, if I were
a woman and I knew that men were saying that about me, even if it was
true, at the very least, I'd be displeased. But it has been my
experience that women are so unaware of what "cheap date" means that
they consider it a compliment and literally *brag* that they've been
called cheap dates!

When I was a kid, I used to hear when-mother-was-a-girl stories in
which I was often told that guys greeted chicks by saying, "Hi,
stuff!", back in the day. By the time that I reached adolescence, I was
fully aware that "stuff" was shortened from "good stuff" and that "good
stuff" was just another way of saying, "piece of ass, pussy, boody,
cunt," etc. Needless to say, I doubt that my mother would ever have
allowed herself to be addressed that way, "stuff" when she was a young
woman, had she the foggiest idea of what the guys were saying.

I don't have any children, but I do have six nieces, ranging in age
from 14 to 34, and they don't appear to be any more aware than their
mothers. Naturally, they know most of the major four-letter words and
use them with understanding and accuracy. Even the 14-year-old has
known and understood the meaning of, e.g. MILF, since she was twelve
and has known all of the words to, e.g. "Baby Got Back" since she was
younger than that (*very* impressive; that song is epic in length) and
delights in challenging my hipness (not to mention my sense of decorum)
by asking me whether I know what, e.g. "cameltoe" means. (I do, now.)

Of course, what I've described is based only on my own casual and
random observations across an extremely narrow spectrum. Nevertheless,
from chatting with my nieces, I find it difficult to believe that girls
and women today truly understand guyspeak any more now than they did
back in the day. Though I grant that the nieces certainly talk
"dirtier" in a trivial sense, than "nice" girls used to, I'm constantly
having to say to them, "Don't let guys to say those things to you!"
When guys say that, they're actually making fun of you!" "Don't you
realize that that is an insult?" "Never allow boys to say things like
that to you!" Etc., etc., etc.

We don't have HBO, unfortunately.

-Wilson Gray

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