Citation for the Word "Slacker"

Christopher Philippo toff at MAC.COM
Thu Apr 24 22:12:52 UTC 2014

“Slacker” lines were repeated throughout the Back to the Future films, and I recall some people quoting them at the time - though not recently.

BttF Part II

Its use in the films might have helped inspire the use of “slacker” with respect to Gen Xers.  The sense is closer to the first in the OED: showing up late, hanging around with the wrong people, having a bad attitude for in Strickland’s view constitute shirking the work of being a responsible student/young person.

I’ve seen the word frequently used with respect to people avoiding war work, civilian war work, or patriotic duties around WWI, or more generally those shirking any responsibilities depicted as those of a productive citizen.

“Don't be a slacker, and fail to vote."
"Don't Be a Slacker; Go Out and Register; Junior Chamber of Commerce Thinks Right Prevails if Enough Voters Vote." San Jose Mercury News. March 9, 1916: 6.

"Today the word 'slacker' has a new significance.  The man who fails to enlist and who has no good excuse for such failure is still, of course, a slacker.  But so is the man who refuses to do civilian war work.  So is the man who refuses to buy Liberty Bonds or Thrift Stamps, and the man who refuses to help the Red Cross, the Y.M.C.A. and kindred organizations.  So is the woman who refuses to practice food conservation, and the woman who refuses to make any other necessary sacrifices in order that the war may be won.”
“Are You a Slacker?” Colorado Springs Gazette. April 4, 1918: 4.

“A community slacker is a walking delegate chartered by public right to speak well of no one and shirk every duty to help things along.
“A community slacker is a tax-payer who spends most of his time entertaining street corner loafing with ‘thrilling’ stories about the inefficiency of the business men’s organization in not doing something in which he is selfishly interested.
“A community slacker is an individual who lives at the expense of others and then complains because no one will trust him.
“A community slacker is a human dyna who constantly bombards newspapers with petty tales of magnified neighborhood gossip and publicly ridicules editors because his stories are not published.
“A community slacker is one who never overlooks mistakes others may make but who is blind to his own shortcomings.
“A community slacker is a mistake in mud-mixing—a down-and-out specimen of an inhuman human—a two-legged excuse who trims his best friends—a has-been in ideas and a never-will-be in achievement.”
“Are You a Community Slacker.” Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader. March 1, 1919: 6.

Slacker in the sense of shirker or underachiever predates WWI, though.  By how much, I’m not sure.

Christopher K. Philippo

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list