1961 article on teen slang

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Sep 14 19:15:00 UTC 2007

I know how I for one would assemble such a list. It's easy!

  First, find your teenager. Better yet, find several, all the better if they already know each other. That will make the discussion more fun for everyone.

  Second, ask something like, "What kind of slang do teenagers use nowadays?"

  Third, write down anything and everything they say, disregarding any conceivable doubtful or complicating factors.  If, for ex.,  a teen has once heard (or thought), "That's so cool it's practically frozen!" expect him or her to report "frozen" as the hot new synonym for "cool."  When you edit later, assume all teens use it.

  Four, edit to taste, leaving out anything already familiar to you as being passe'. Don't bother to scruple about parts of speech though, because the the teens will probably be gone and may not know the difefrence between a noun and a verb anyway. As for yet more subtle distinctions, fugeddaboudit!  The less you know about language or lexicography, the more entertaining your results will be!

  Take "Murgatroyd," for ex.  One suspects, simply on the basis of history and probability, that when this word was used (if on more than one or two occasions by any significant number of teenagers), it was likely to have originated in the cinematic "Beat it, Murgatroyd!" of a few years earlier. In other words, used chiefly in that very phrase or something synonymous ("*Scram, Murgatroyd!" sounds eminently plausible), or at most in other instances of direct address as well.  The likelihood that anyone was referred to as "*a Murgatroyd" is proportionately less. But few journalists on the teen beat would hesitate to call "Murgatroyd" the latest synonym for "square."  (IIRC Snagglepuss, BTW, used it only in "Heavens to Murgatroyd!")

  Take "grody." By the uninstructed, adjs. are frequently defined as nouns.  The article gives us no way to know whether the source(s) said, "He's grody!" or "He's a grody!" Or both.

  Try this method with your undergraduates!  Fun!  Nearly worthless!


Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Laurence Horn
Subject: Re: 1961 article on teen slang

At 10:12 AM -0700 9/14/07, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
>On Sep 13, 2007, at 11:30 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>>The following article by Gay Pauley, UPI women's editor, appeared in
>>various newspapers in December 1961. (Newspaperarchive has it in: San
>>Antonio Light, Dec. 12, 1961, p. 21; Long Beach Press-Telegram, Dec.
>>14, 1961, p. 8; etc.)...
>>... Unger is publisher and and editor of "Datebook" magazine and
>>author of
>>a new book, "The Cool Book" (Prentice Hall), called a "teenager's
>>guide to survival in a square society."
>>Unger talks to teens, in teen terms, on such matters as dating, good
>>looks and grooming, popularity and education. But it's the section on
>>teenager "cooloquialisms" and "daffynitions" which I suggest for dazed
>i was in college when unger's book was written, but i recognize
>almost none of the cooloquialisms, and the few that i do recognize
>had somewhat different meanings than the ones in this article. i
>can't believe that many of these expressions were in general use
>among american teenagers around 1960.

as an echt teenager of 15 at the time, I can vouch for "There's a
fungus among us", with the rhyme (i.e. the adjusted pronuncation of
"among") as noted by Wilson. I can't recall the others from that
period, although obviously "grody" from a later generation with a
different meaning (in "Valley Girl" English).


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