econo = thrifty, efficient, parsimonious

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Jul 18 15:36:23 UTC 2007

>From an online bio of the Poughkeepsie-based band Robbers On High Street:

"I like econo pop songs, songs that do just enough to get the point
across," [Ben] Trokan states.

I believe this is an extension of the usage of "econo" popularized by
Mike Watt of the seminal '80s band The Minutemen, akin to the "DIY"
ethic of the punk/post-punk scenes. In 2005 a documentary about The
Minutemen was released under the title _We Jam Econo_, which is a
quote from a 1985 interview with Watt (in which "econo" appears

Wikipedia claims that "econo" is local slang in San Pedro, California,
home town of The Minutemen, but other sources suggest it actually
derives from the Ford Econoline van that Watt has driven for band gigs
since the Minutemen days.

The group's early recordings (up until their 1985 12" EP Project:
Mersh) were recorded as "econo" (Pedro slang for inexpensive, short
for "economic") as possible — the group would book studio time after
midnight at cut rates, rehearse the songs before going into the
studio, record on less-expensive used tape, and record the songs in
the order they intended to have them on the record rather than waste
time editing the master tape during the sequencing phase.
The title comes from a comment made near the end of the film by Mike
Watt, in a 1985 interview, when the band is asked if they have
anything else to say. He answers for them: "We jam econo." Econo was
local slang for economic and described the band's dedication to
low-cost record production and touring.
_Confusion Is Next: The Sonic Youth Story_, by Alec Foege (1994)
"Another trip was, his songs were like, _econo_," [Mike] Watt says of
[John] Fogerty. "And this was way in our youth, before we even
understood economics -- you know, music, moneywise, any-wise --
conceptually. But the idea of getting all these sounds, making a whole
body of music with just a couple sounds..."
_Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie
Underground 1981-1991_, by Michael Azerrad (2001)
"Econo" meant thrifty, efficient; it became a way of life for the
Minutemen. (p. 67)
But back then, in the greedy, materialistic Reagan era, making the
most of meager resources was positively rebellious. For the Minutemen,
"jamming econo" meant parsimonious recording budgets, short songs, and
being their own crew. ...
In the best sense of the word, the Minutemen were conservative, a
time-honored concept in American thought going back at least to
Thoreau. "Econo _is_ an old concept," Watt agrees. "The punk rockers
picked up on that, the idea of scarcity and just using what you got."
(p. 74)
Warrensburg Free Press - June 19 - July 2, 2003
The boat is the van, in which Watt "jams econo." Econo, of course, is
the Econoline van Watt uses to tour the country, a humble trend he's
maintained since he and the Minutemen pushed off on their epoch-making
punk rock tours in the early 1980s.
The title even shows the band's self-reliant style; We Jam Econo is a
reference to the trio's always unloading their own gear and
consistently living in their Econoline van.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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