February 18, 2009

This Blog Is Wack

I like slang. After all, why would you call a dentist anything but a “fang bandit” once you’ve heard the term? So you’d think that all my browsing of slang dictionaries (whether “real” or on-line) would come in handy when an argument arises over whether “wack” means good or bad.

It turns out that “wack” is bad. Always bad. And here I thought it could sometimes also mean “wildly good.” Dang it!

I find both antiquated and contemporary slang equally interesting, so I’m happy to turn to a venerable source like The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang for confirmation. Hmm, “wack” is bad. Always bad. Dang it!

While this poxy, white-arsed book is a minging piece of rubbish, it does reveal that a clarinet can be called a “liquorice-stick.” (That’ll come in handy next time you encounter street ruffians spraying graffiti on a street corner.)

At the Times, Henry Hitchings highly recommends Chambers Slang Dictionary, but the examples he cites seem a bit stilted, e.g., “to break off one’s math” means to give a person your phone number. Likewise, the expression “Are your arms and legs painted on?” is intended to tell someone he’s lazy.

Natch, there are plenty of inappropriate slangisms to avoid, but the same holds true for innocent euphemisms. Jane Gross, the “old age” correspondent for the New York Times recently learned the "age-ist" terms most frowned upon by the longbeards at the International Longevity Center. It has a stylebook for use in writing of the elderly in a respectful way.

But don't use “elderly." They don't like that. From the guide:
Use [elderly] carefully and sparingly. The term is appropriate only in generic phrases that do not refer to specific individuals, such as concern for the elderly, a home for the elderly, etc. In other words, describing a person as elderly is bad form, although the generalized category “elderly” might not be offensive. (Suggested substitutions include “older adult” or simply “man’’ or “woman” with the age inserted, if relevant.)
Avoid patronizing terms like: “senior citizen” (where are the “junior citizens” homes?), “feisty,” “spry,” “feeble,” “eccentric,” and “grandmotherly.”

Also demeaning: Calling someone “80 years young.” (Man, I've always hated that one!)

And of course, forget about “biddy,” “codger,” “coot,” “crone,” “fogy,” “fossil,” “geezer,” “hag,” “old *art,” “old goat,” “prune,” “senile old fool” and “vegetable.”

Yeah, those words are all wack.

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