Fwd: retro "psych"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Mon Apr 25 05:19:15 UTC 2005

On Sun, 24 Apr 2005 21:01:12 -0700, Arnold M. Zwicky
<zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:

>first, an exchange between me and larry horn:
>Begin forwarded message:
>> From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
>> Date: April 8, 2005 7:51:15 AM PDT
>> To: "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu>
>> Subject: Re: retro "psych"
>> At 6:10 AM -0700 4/8/05, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
>>> my Stanford student Tommy Grano reports a use of retro "psych", used
>>> like retro "not" (by conveying 'I just psyched you out').  this was
>>> when he was in grade school in Santa Barbara, ca. 1992, and the kids
>>> didn't continue the usage through later years.
>>> have you heard of this, or was it (as is entirely possible) just a
>>> short-lived local fad in a very small language community?  if it had
>>> more general use, it might be worth mentioning on ADS-L.
>> It's real.  I remember it, but mostly from TV shows, as I recall, not
>> real life.  Maybe it really was specifically Californian, including
>> Hollywood productions.
>has this made it into anybody else's files?

Oh sure, it was quite common in the '80s and early '90s, even among East
Coast kids.  Connie Eble's _Slang and Sociability_ has it:

p. 66:
College students' fondness for juxtaposing appearance and reality is show
in their use of a sentence pattern in which a statement presented as fact
is immediately retracted by the use of a word like _fake_ or _psych_, as
in "Your econ prof phoned -- she wants to see you. Fake!" A similar
structure to indicate negation -- adding _not_ after a statement said in a
serious tone -- became immensely popular during 1990-91 because of its use
on the "Wayne's World" skit on the television program _Saturday Night
p. 93:
In its placement after a seemingly serious declarative sentence and in its
effect on meaning, _not_ is similar to _psych!_ made popular by Eddie
Murphy in the mid-1980s.

I don't remember associating it with Eddie Murphy, but apparently he used
it in _Delirious_, a 1983 video of his stand-up routine...

"You want some ice cream"
"You want to eat some of my ice cream. But...."
"You wanna lick?"

Surely it's much older than that.  I'd wager it goes back to the '60s.

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list