The slang meaning of the verb "rip off"

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Sat Jun 5 04:35:33 UTC 2004

On Jun 4, 2004, at 5:12 PM, Mark A. Mandel wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Mark A. Mandel" <mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: The slang meaning of the verb "rip off"
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> --------
> Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM>
> sez
> The longer phrase _rip off a piece/hunk/etc._ does indeed
> exist, and is attested at least as far back as the 1930s; I
> assume it is the origin.
>         <<<
> I remember a similar term from the classic collection of Appalachian
> folklore _Pissing in the Snow_, in a story which may be called
> something
> like "The Decoy". Without giving away the point of the story, after a
> couple
> has cheerfully had sex, they talk a bit, and then "they tore off
> another
> hunk".  I can't be more precise because I'm quoting from memory.
> Presumably the original metaphor was tearing off another hunk from a
> loaf of
> bread or something similar.
> -- Mark Mandel
> [This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]

I must apologize yet a third time for failing to express myself
clearly. I am in no way unaware or doubtful of the existence of
"rip/tear/knock off a piece" and the numerous permutations thereof. It
has been an active part of my vocabulary for more than half a century.
The Appalachian reference, however, is intriguing. In my childhood in
East Texas, a word that sounded like "kyahn" was used by my parents and
grandparents with a meaning something like "an otherwise-unidentified
substance with a disgusting odor," since it occurred only in sentences
like "That smells/stinks like/as bad as kyahn." I've never heard
"kyahn" used by *anyone* outside of my immediate family. Nevertheless,
about 35 years later, while thumbing through a book on the vocabulary
of *Ozark* English, what before my wondering eyes should appear but the
citation, "kyahn. n. carrion." It blew my mind, to say the least.
Unfortunately, I'm unable to recall the title or the author of the

-Wilson Gray

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