Off the wall

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jun 1 03:37:35 UTC 2004

At 11:24 PM -0400 5/31/04, Wilson Gray wrote:
>FWIW, the late, great blues harpist, Marion Walter "Little Walter"
>Jacobs, recorded an instrumental with the title, "Off The Wall," on
>March 4, 1953 at the Chess Records studio in Chicago.
>Contemporaneously, the phrase, "off the wall," became hip among blacks.
>We used it as a general pejorative with the meanings "lame, uncool,
>unhip, countrified, stupid, fucked up," etc. In fact, we "old heads"
>still use it with these meanings. I've long wondered whether the slang
>term was derived from the song title or the song title was inspired by
>the slang phrase. Normally, a song would become popular and contribute
>new words and/or phrases to the vocabulary of slang. But "Off The
>Wall," being an instrumental, had no words, except for its title. And
>there's the mystery as to why this neutral phrase came to be used only
>as a pejorative, given that a very similar phrase, "off the hook," is
>used only as a meliorative.
How similar is it?  I assume "off the hook" is a reference to
fishing, while that's not involved in "off the wall".


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