Friday, March 1, 2013

How Boss is Old-fashioned Slang?

The movie Simon Birch* has so many unforgettable lines:
  • "My balls just turned to prunes." "My balls just turned to raisins."
  • "Last year we were in the squirt league, and this year we're in the peewee." "So?" "So what do they want us to do, play baseball or urinate?"
  • "Your mother is so sexy, sometimes I forget she's someone's mother."
  • "I'm sorry!"
*You can watch the full movie here and if you haven't seen it, you should.

Despite these great quotes and many others, my buddies and I always used to love a less memorable one:
"Oh, man, this is so BOSS!" (32:18 on the clip above)
The line comes toward the beginning of the movie and has no real bearing on the plot. It's a great line, though, because it gives a terrific example of 1960s juvenile slang.
Can you imagine kids saying the word "boss" today?

This scene is indicative of the ever-changing nature of slang, a relatively obvious but often forgotten truth. With that in mind, I thought I'd swing through a few of the most important eras of American history and examine some of the slang words in use. I also imagined how people would have described me back then.

The Civil War From
Grab a root--have dinner
Bark juice, Tar water, Nokum stiff, Joy juice--liquor

What They'd Say About Me: FrantT had to do the quick-step after grabbing a root and having a little too much joy juice.

Mmm, Tar Water.

The Old West
Fight like Kilkenny cats--fight like hell
Curly wolf--real tough guy, dangerous man
Bunko artist--con man
Get it in the neck--get cheated, misled, bamboozled

What They'd Say About Me: That curly wolf FranT was ready to fight like a Kilkenny cat after he got it in the neck from that lousy Bunko artist.

Four-flusher--a cheat, swindler, liar.
Now I know where the guy in Home Alone 2 got the phrase "lousy, lyin', lowdown, four-flushin' carcass."

"Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!"

The 19th-Century Immigration Era
From the film Gangs of New York*:
Sand--courage, gumption
Mort--a woman
Frenchified--have a venereal disease

What They'd Say About Me: FranT didn't have the sand to approach the Mort on account of he was afraid she was Frenchified.

*A quick not on Gangs of New York: I have heard and read historians complain that the film had many historical inconsistencies (e.g. the fictional scene in which navy cannons are fired on Lower Manhattan). But any movie like that must be historically untrue anyways, because we would not be able to understand any of the language from that time period. With all the different languages, accents, and slang terms, New York City must have sounded stranger than that made-up tongue Gibberish. "Whothagat dothagid othagi mothagiss?" (What did I miss?)

World War I
Axle grease--butter
Barker--a pistol
Bint--a young woman
C3--low-grade, worthless

What They'd Say About Me: FranT is C3 with a barker and horrible company in a trench. He'd be much better off back home, churning axle grease with the Bints.

The 1960s
From the film Simon Birch:
Boss--beyond awesome

What They'd Say About Me: FranT, this blog is so boss!

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