02 Jul

Why do some words move from slang to permanent? What makes people continue to use the same heretofore slang through the decades? Yes, friends, one of those language loops is running through my head again.

The slang that comes to mind as cross-generation is “COOL.” This word surfaced in the 50’s and had a slightly different meaning (although related) before it morphed to its current definition.

Cool—A restrained approach to music. A superlative which has gained wide acceptance outside of jazz. That cat Miles Davis plays some cool jazz.

Some 50’s terms that didn’t make it to our time include groovy, hip, pad (home), split (leave).

By the time we arrived at the 60’s, cool meant nice with “bitchin” adding emphasis meaning good, exciting, awesome. Nice is pretty much the meaning that has stuck from here on out. However, bitchin didn’t outlast cool.

The 70’s added “cool beans,” which was the reply to something that is cool and I’ve actually heard college students say this. By now, you could add any other word to “cool” and it was a good thing. Slang that didn’t make it to the permanent lexicon include copacetic, dig, skinny (what’s the skinny?).

From the 80’s, you probably never hear primo, yello (for hello), trippin’, or schweet (sweet). And remember “tubular?”

Cool survived.

We didn’t keep fly, dead presidents (money), or all that and a bag of chips from the 90’s. When I researched slang of the 2000’s, I read that the culture of the 90’s and 2000’s were similar, so except for computer and text acronyms, not much had been added.

Slang has given culture humor, personality, and immediacy. Perhaps that’s why much of it changes from decade to decade. But cool is always cool. And, in studying the subject, there are other words that started out as slang that have been retained.

To close the circle, why does some slang move from slang to permanent? What makes people continue to use the same heretofore slang through decades? What do you think?


Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Idaho


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16 responses to “Cool

  1. Liz Fredericks

    July 2, 2012 at 6:44 AM

    My daughter will be a writer. Our relationship is in a ‘detachment phase’ at the moment so she denies it, and in fact, claims it the most boring activity since ‘the dawn of mankind’ (which raises another point, what’s the difference between slang and cliche?). I point out it doesn’t apply since she’s a woman – ‘ha ha, mom, you’re such a funny feminist, dude, that’s so obtuse’. Aside from the ‘dude’ I hear ‘really’ and ‘cool’ from her lips (apparently obtuse isn’t slang because no one else uses it) – nothing else. So, I know she’s fascinated enough with language to use it as more than rote. Yet, from her friends – NOTHING comes from their mouths except slang with a great many ‘uh’, ‘um’, and ‘yeah, Iddaknow’. And we haven’t even discussed regionalisms (puhleeze blog on that some day, pretty please).

    Why the long missive? Iddaknow ‘ceptin’ I’m working on my dommylatte ‘fore I gotta burn rubber to hot yoga.

  2. Janis McCurry

    July 2, 2012 at 7:07 AM

    Liz, “dude” was one of the other slang terms that has crossed many generations. My darling DIL (a doctor) uses dude to describe a person. Totally!

  3. marsharwest

    July 2, 2012 at 7:41 AM

    I got a grin from this post, Janis. “Cool Beans.” I’d so forgotten that one. My girls and I all said that. (not my lawyer husband.) 🙂 “Like” and “you know” are phrases I’ve heard through many decades. Both are like potato chips-addicting. Let one creep by your lips and you have a fight on your hands to keep them from multiplying. My favorite g-rated expletive is “My stars and garters!” Not certain where I got that–maybe in some form from my mother. LOL Bless mothers’ hearts they take all the heat for whatever quirks we may have.

  4. Janis McCurry

    July 2, 2012 at 7:56 AM

    The beauty of colorful language always makes me smile, Marsha.

  5. John Ross Barnes

    July 2, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    I always liked how in J.D. Robb(Nora Roberts) In Death Sci-Fi/mysterys “Cool” has morphed into “Frosty” (Really cool) I also enjoy “Mega” a Very-Very cool example of whatever the thing/situation is.

    As an aside – “Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you m y friend – Any minor world that falls apart falls together again – Any Major Dude will tell you…” – Steely Dan, Any Major Dude. I like how this song reminds us that a “Major Dude” is one who is righteous and “Has his shit together” (being a vessel of wisdom or coolnes, being in a state of making one’s life work).

  6. Janis McCurry

    July 2, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    Right on, Dude! 🙂

  7. Meredith Allen Conner

    July 2, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    Ha! I love your blogs on words, Janis!!My mother uses dude all the time. I wonder if some of the texting acronyms (LOL, OMG) will make it into the next decade. My daughters even say them and the oldest is in 4th grade.
    BTW I went totally 80s the other day and “gagged myself with a spoon” – I always loved that one. Especially when said with that most obnoxious Vally Girl twang 🙂

    • Liz Fredericks

      July 2, 2012 at 10:42 AM

      Mer reminded me and I have to share . . . the other day we drove by a McDonalds and I had the usual discussion with my son about how eating junk food would rot his brain. He said something about a Big Mac and I broke into song . . . ‘two all beef patties, special sauce . . . . you know the words. The look of horror on his 10 yr old freckled face . . . really, I have no words.

  8. Janis McCurry

    July 2, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    “As if!” Remember that one? These are so fun to remember. Thanks for the gag me one. I’d forgotten it.

  9. Peggy Staggs

    July 2, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Thanks, Liz. Now I have, ‘two all beef patties, special sauce . . .” stuck in my head.
    I think Cool has survived because it’s…cool : ) Some slang makes me crazy. Awesome. Really?!?! Everything can’t possibly be awesome. But cool changed with the times and therefore, survived.

    • Janis

      July 2, 2012 at 6:42 PM

      I have a student employee that came in the other day. “How are you, Michael?”

      He’s a freshman and I hadn’t heard anyone say that lately. Two days later, he was “stellar.” I wonder if that was better or worse than awesome?

  10. Lynn Mapp

    July 2, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Smokin, the bees knees, right on, fine as wine, joint ( as in a place such as a seedy bar, or not), let’s blow this joint. I don’t think they mean a knee or elbow.

  11. Janis

    July 2, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    Wow, bees’ knees goes back to early 1900’s. Zane Grey used it in 1909 in The Shortstop.

  12. maryvine

    July 4, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    Cool blog post today, Janis. I’m surprised, I thought words like cool and groovy were from the sixities. I remember hearing groovy around 1970. Ah, those were the days.

  13. Janis

    July 4, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    I had fun researching origins on the slang and several times I was surprised as well about their actual dates.


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