The Compulsive Copyeditor

February 17, 2010

The Genius of Slang

Filed under: etymology,language evolving,slang — amba12 @ 9:26 am

This post is a showcase for brilliant examples of the wit and wisdom of the vernacular.

It was inspired by finding this one, never before heard:

“I’ll be 75 Oct. 6,” Willie says. “And still getting me some unda-yonda.”

That could be the best term for sex ever invented.  What else captures in a breath the way it’s at once low down and far out, humiliating and transcendent?  “Genius” is not an overstatement.

(Sex and its associated anatomy are of course among the greatest inspirers of these coinages.  Nookie is another goodie.)

The anonymous folk poets who coin these things are among my foremost culture heroes.  They salt and season the language, that bubbling Irish stew anyone can throw a little something into, that ever-evolving collective cuisine we all take into our mouths every day.

Please contribute your own examples.  Please live up to the high standard set by this one.

There are basically two categories:  new terms you’ve just discovered, and clichés reappreciated.  Every cliché is a fossil coinage that was so apt that it got swallowed by the language.  My kickoff example for that category is over the hill.  You don’t know how apt that one is until you get over said hill.  Only then do you realize how hill-like life is — an energetic, engrossing climb with your next steps in front of your nose and the summit in your sights, followed by an unanticipated and precipitous toboggan ride.

There may even be a third category for word-origin sleuths:  what were probably once lively slang expressions entombed in etymology.  Like the grandly dismissive Latinate  preposterous, which essentially means “ass-backwards” (which actually means “ass-forwards”).

Have at it.



  1. I like “get a little sumpthin’ sumpthin'” as a sexual metaphor…a corruption of “something” repeated for…emphasis? Or is the first one “modifying” the second one, even though it’s the same word!

    It was 20 year old Willie Mays in the on deck circle when Bobby Thomson (“The Staten Island Scot”) homered off Ralph Branca to win the 1951 pennant for the Giants in what is probably baseball’s most famous single game.

    Comment by Ron — February 17, 2010 @ 11:02 am | Reply

  2. The origin of the word “slang” itself is disappointing Link. I suspected that it be a combination of slovenly-language, but I was wrong. BTW, that website which is not known for editorializing strikes me as funny when they suggest that the term “slangwhanger” should have survived.

    Comment by El Pollo Real — February 17, 2010 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

    • Why, it’s simply the past tense of “sling (the bull)”!

      Comment by amba12 — February 17, 2010 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

      • You’re a pretty good slang slinger yourself. I’ve been watching your mint coining out new words and phrases: Mediafast, Moohlahs…

        Comment by El Pollo Real — February 17, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

      • I don’t think I coined “MediaFast,” I know I’ve seen “media diet” and I think I’ve seen “fast” too.

        Comment by amba12 — February 17, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

  3. One slang word for sex that I haven’t heard in some time is pluke. And I did not know until I looked it up that it came from Frank Zappa.

    Comment by El Pollo Real — February 17, 2010 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

    • “Pluke” might sound obscene but keep in mind that it also sounds like “pluck” which always reminds me of flowers. Does that help? :)

      Comment by El Pollo Real — February 17, 2010 @ 1:43 pm | Reply

      • “Pluke” sounds like an unfortunate combination of “pluck” and “puke.” It also sounds like a guitar player’s love word, though. Making love has to be something like playing one’s instrument (as opposed to just playing with it?).

        Comment by amba12 — February 17, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

  4. By the way, “they” are a longtime friend of ours — someone we have long known online, though I may not link his online persona to his real name.

    Comment by amba12 — February 17, 2010 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  5. I like your “over the hill” slang phrase. I will turn 50 at the end of next month. I could dread this. Instead I’ve been going to a gym and working out on a regular basis. I already feel much better and dare I say- feel younger?

    Comment by El Pollo Real — February 17, 2010 @ 1:45 pm | Reply

    • Happy birthday!!! My youngest brother turned 50 six months ahead of you.

      Working out is DEFINITELY, DEFINITELY the fountain of youth in every way — the only one there is.

      Comment by amba12 — February 17, 2010 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

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