Today the conversation is not about different meanings of words between countries. That would be boring. After all, I’ve already discussed most of the juicy ones. Today the topic is the different meanings of a single word, not by different societies, but by different generations. Here is the experience that triggered this moment of enlightenment.
This is an entire conversation that was held between Mr7 and myself as we were driving to an appointment together late last week.
Mr7 (looking out the window): There’s one of those sweet cars.
Me: Is it just sweet, or is it sick and sweet?
Mr7: It’s both. It’s sick and sweet.
Me: Fully sweet?
Mr7: Yeah, fully.
There you go. Ask any self respecting retiree what just happened there and they would just walk away shaking their heads and muttering “kids these days”.
It peaked my curiosity, so I had a bit of a one man brain storming session. Kids twisting words has probably happened for centuries. My personal memory only goes back roughly as far as Happy Days. Maybe a bit earlier, I watched La Bamba and know the true details of the events described in the song American Pie.
So my knowledge base starts around the time HIP stopped being a body part and started to be a descriptor of social standing. Followed in roughly chronological order by HOT, COOL, SWELL, AWESOME, RADICAL, EPIC, WICKED, GNARLY, FILTHY, THE SH*T, THE BOMB, SICK and SWEET. Some, like GROOVY, have been around the block several times.
Most of these words have a traditional meaning in English that my grandparents would be able to quickly and easily define. Many of those original meanings were of a bad or negative type. Awesome was scary. Wicked was bad. Gnarly was deformed. Filthy was dirty.
Let’s have a look at what they mean when spoken by a teenager of the relevant period. Hip, good. Hot, good. Cool, good. Awesome, good. Radical, good. Epic, good. Wicked, good. Gnarly, good. All of them seem to end up distilling back to "good". Think about it. Make a mental image of a 13 year old with their pants set below their cheeks in the mall today, or Richie Cunningham in his cardigan 40 years ago, or a girl with big hair and fishnet stockings ala Madonna. Now have that picture speak one very short, very simple sentence.
“He is _ _ _ _ _.”
Insert the appropriate word for your image. Richie Cunningham would say cool. Richie Valens would say hip. Mr7 would say sick or sweet (just like he did the other day). Madonna would say… most of them, she’s been at the business end of social influence for near enough to 30 years.
God, or Buddha, or Allah, or L.Ron among others, only knows what is awaiting us around the corner. What word will next be baptised into the thesaurus under the heading –
GOOD adjective (pop culture/slang/informal)?
It’s your call, what’s next?