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Pins And Needles: Sometimes On Pancakes

...Poet Carl Sandburg described slang as "a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.''

On the other hand, G. K. Chesterton, writer and literary critic said, "All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.''

Gloria MacKay ventures into the dense lexicological thickets to explore the ever-changing meanings of certain slang words - emerging into the light with a smile on her face.

Gloria broadcasts for a radio station in Everett, Washington State, USA, http://www.kser.org/

If it is true that words are weapons, as philosopher George Santayana declares, slang words must be the spit wads we bounce off each other.

Since lingo changes with the times, every generation concocts its own favorite food words to use for ammunition. Applesauce and boloney are quaint expletives from 'the old days' — times which also relished out of the frying pan into the fire, a hot tomato, a hot potato, and cool as a cucumber, the latter almost cool enough to say today but, alas, a dreaded cliché.

Cool is not a food word, of course (unless preceding a cucumber or followed by whip) but you can't have a discussion of slang without it. Students of the subject (who get college credit for this) at Cal Poly in California rank cool as the top slang word of all times. Trendy since the '40's (think jazz) and borrowed by both the French and the Germans, cool has always meant cool.

Would all slang be that easy to master. Money, for example, answers to a smorgasbord of food slang: lettuce, cabbage and kale in the 1920’s; bread, dough and bringing home the bacon during depression days. (Counterfeit? Sourdough, of course.) For a time, money was beans. These days, money is cheese. Cooler yet, cheddar, chedda or chips. Coolest of all? Money is CREAM. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me.)

Thirty years ago cheesy meant tacky. 'Her outfit is cheesy.' In a sense it still is, but because of inflation, when we do the math her outfit becomes 'cheesy times ten.'

To older folks, gravy is slang for a little bit extra. A bonus. Some overtime. Frosting on the cake, so to speak. To engage a young person in conversation. one has to adjust: gravy has come to mean 'things are good'. Mellow. All right.

'Are you pissed off?'

'Naw, it's all gravy, baby.'

Cracker is a tricky bit of slang. A cracker, to some, is a white person. 'Check that cracker trying to dance.' A saltine is a white person, too, but as square as... you get the connection. A crackerhead, on the other hand, is an idiot. Any time. Any shape. Any color.

The biscuit shift is a more obscure but very clever bit of lingo which means to be falsely modest. It alludes to those delicious biscuits grandma baked but always claimed could have been better.

'I hate this sweater. It makes me look fat.'

'Stop biscuiting!'

These kids aren't perfect, but they're smart.

The synonym for our midday meal has morphed so many times I have almost stopped saying lunch. First, it became the classic description of a dumb blonde: She’s out to lunch. Next we yuppified it: Let’s do lunch; They did lunch; I did lunch. Everyone was doing lunch with aplomb, until a new generation created a Dagwood sandwich of meanings. To lunch means to procrastinate: he lunched on his homework. It means to freak out: she lunched when she found out she had a chemistry test today. It is a gerund: I don’t want you to meet my mom right now, because you’re lunchin’. Recently, I heard some kid complain, 'No way am I hangin’ out with Billy. he’s a lunch box.' This is the generation that has turned food into the object of a preposition. 'We're going to Burger King to food.'

Getting back to a more traditional discipline, philosophy, poet Carl Sandburg mirrors his generation when he writes, 'Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.' On the other hand, G. K. Chesterton, writer and literary critic declares, 'All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.'

This means all slang is poetry? That's what I remember from my days in Philosophy 101. I can just imagine what our kids would say to that. Slang is poetry? Yeah, right! Sometimes on pancakes, which is just the new way of saying what the old folks have said all along. Applesauce!

George Santayana's 'words are weapons' metaphor concludes, 'It is dangerous to borrow weapons from the arsenal of the enemy.' I take this to mean members of an older generation should not help themselves to the lingo of the young. When an old codger tries to trick himself into thinking he is a stud muffin by referring to his chicken pie as a hot tomato, he's full of boloney.


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