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Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Thomas Dorgan was an American cartoonist who died in 1929. According to his obituary in the NY Times, he introduced many slang terms into the popular culture.

Among them were some that are gone and some that lasted.

When you said something was the cat’s pajamas or the bee’s knees, you meant it was quite special. Dumbbell and for cryin’ out loud you already know.

There are many explanations for the term 23 skidoo.

One involves the 1901 film What Happened on 23rd Street. A woman steps on a subway ventilation grille that blows her floor-length skirts to knee height, greatly to her horror and “much to the amusement of the newsboys, bootblacks and passersby.” A similar scene featured Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 film, Some Like It Hot.

Hipster was used in the 1940s to describe someone trendy, but the original hipsters were people who surreptitiously carried hip flasks during the prohibition era, from 1920 to 1933.

In the 50s, no teenager would be caught dead using any of those terms, because they had their own rock and roll language. Fat City was a great place to be. Cool and boss were used to describe anything exciting and enjoyable. On the flip side, the first documented use of nerd was in 1950 in a Dr Seuss book, If I Ran the Zoo.

Beatniks were bohemian types who rejected conventional society. The first one I ever saw was the fictional Maynard G. Krebs, played by Bob Denver, who some of you will know from Gilligan’s Island . Beatniks lived in pads, which later became cribs.

The 60s gave us mod, gear, fab from England and from the States, groovy, far out, bummer, and bogart, used as a verb to describe a non-sharer. Surfers had their own lingo: hodad, grungy, bitchin’, and many more.

The 70s gave us psyched, chill, boogie, can you dig it, and yo’ mama.

So when you hear a hipster snobbing a nerd for not knowing the latest lingo, be the wise one who recognizes some of these terms will stay with us, some will go away, and some will be recycled.


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