One of the great things about being young— as in late adolescence and well into the vague parameters of young adulthood— is you get to make up your own language and toss words and expressions your parents and grandparents are fond of onto the scrapheap. Words like scrapheap, for instance. I explored that subject a few years back in a newspaper column entitled: “Outliving a Big Chunk of My Vocabulary.”
Even in the three years that have passed since writing that commentary, I already see words and phrases that were cutting edge back then slipping from the mainstream vocabulary. I suspect that “cutting edge” is one of them, along with the always reliable “state-of-the-art.” I’m thinking that the words “politically” and “correct” don’t really go together either. What is correct about politics anyway? Sometimes it seems people on opposite sides of the political fence in these United States of America despise each other more than we ever did our enemies.
So, what are some of those other words we’ve been using of late that are going out of favor? How about “whom?” Nobody says or writes whom anymore. Most of us don’t know when to use it. When you use it right, it sounds wrong or, worse yet, pretentious. Whom is the objective case of who, so most of us are already lost at that point. Who are you with? You are with whom? I’m pretty sure it has never been used in a rap song. There I go. “Rap song” gives me away as knowing nothing about that genre, which I don’t. I couldn’t tell you the distinctions between hip hop, gangsta rap, boogalooga or rapsturbating. I say good riddance to a four-letter word nobody wants to use.
Cool is still cool, but groovy is gonzo. Gonzo is still okay for gone, even though it started out to mean weird or eccentric, as in gonzo journalism. I think gonzo will be gonzo itself before long. I’m not sure why cool is still hanging in there. I used it when I was a teen and kids are still using it today. It’s one word that all the remaining generations still use without being regarded as uncool. Last I knew, anyway. Compare that with swell, which was the equivalent of cool of the forties and fifties. Sometimes, when somebody asks how I am, I say, “Swell!” It always gets a reaction. People my age and older— the dwindling number who are left— nod and smile. Others just give me a vacant look like a zombie lost in a morgue.
How about the word “bad?” I was actually alive and breathing during that brief period when bad meant really good, even great. The baddest man in the whole damn town was actually really cool, if not swell. That slang derivative of bad ceased to exist in most vocabularies years ago, used mostly by nerdy white guys who refer to themselves and their gamer pals as “bad dudes.”
You see, bad is going to be around for a long, long time because we use it in so many ways. Actually bad can still mean a lot of things, ranging from downright evil and immoral to something rotten, such as food going bad. If you are feeling bad, it’s a health issue. Bad kids are naughty. Bad checks can land you in jail. If you feel bad about something you did, you are regretful. Of course, bad habits are bad news.
Then there is queer. That’s a touchy one, so don’t ask me to explain what is acceptable in the LGBTQIA community, or why Q went back in favor, depending how you mean it. I do know it is no longer an acceptable synonym for weird, strange or unusual and is only fashionable when discussing English literature.
Things my father would say remind me of expressions we don’t use anymore, like “full of baloney” and “a bunch of hooey.” I know the first is a cheap sausage — a.k.a. bologna— while hooey has made some dictionaries as a synonym for nonsense. Calling a woman a gal is definitely out, but you can still say “guys” when addressing a mixed gender group, as in, “What’s going on guys?” One word used by generations of Americans was “dope,” which went from meaning someone uncool to something cool. We seldom refer to stupid people as dopes anymore, nor is it commonly used to describe illicit drugs or inside information. For a brief time, being dope was the same as being cool.
I’ve seen the passing of many words— words that most people under 30 have never used— like cassette and floppy disk. Cassettes were used to play music on your (speaking of extinct words) boom box or Walkman. Cassettes also spooled the ink-saturated ribbons on typewriters, and I actually used a typewriter during the Stone Age of journalism.
As for the floppy disk, it used to be high-tech. Now it is something that might be repaired by an orthopedic surgeon. CDs are still hanging in there but, thanks to digital evolution, its days are numbered in our vocabularies. CD, of course, is an acronym, not a word, so getting rid of a few of them is no tragedy.
There are expressions that have more than one meaning, neither of which is used by anyone younger than 60. For instance, when I hear the term “barn burner,” I’m thinking of a sports contest with a lot of scoring. However, the original barn burner was a wooden match that you could ignite by striking it on a rough surface. We used to call them kitchen matches, because they didn’t blow out when you reached underneath to light the pilot on the kitchen gas stove.
Women don’t have pocketbooks anymore, but they are allowed to have pockets, which were once the province of the male population. We don’t wear galoshes, even on the wettest of days, and we are no longer supposed to refer to pants as slacks. Couples making out are no longer sparking, necking, spooning, canoodling, smooching, or petting as they did in days of yore. Today it all falls under foreplay, the preliminary to the serious stuff.
Other things we don’t hear much about anymore are a high horse to get off from; a bandwagon to jump on; midnight oil to burn; music to face; a best foot to put forward; a bullet to bite, or a bus to be thrown under.
I’m not complaining that so many words that were part of my vocabulary have gone by the wayside, wherever the wayside may be. Occasionally, one of them will pop out in a conversation. I’m okay with that. In fact, I think it’s swell.