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Jewish World Review Jan. 12, 2001 / 17 Teves, 5761

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Consumer Reports

Be cool ... be very cool -- KEEPING UP with the newest trends has never been important to me. Iíve just never felt compelled to run out and buy the latest brand of athletic shoes or dine at the hottest new restaurant in town. As a matter of fact, itís been my style to try and avoid what everybody else in the world appears to be doing at any given time -- I find it less crowded that way. But Iím not normal.

I realize there are people who, for whatever reason, feel that they absolutely must be a part of whatever happens to be the "in" thing at the moment. Trying to stay up to the minute on whatís hot and whatís not can be a full time pursuit and an awful lot of work, it seems to me. When it comes to being "with it" I find Iím much more comfortable being without it, thank you very much.

It certainly canít be easy trying to stay hip -- or be cool --or "with it" (or whatever the current expression happens to be regarding keeping up with the latest social trends). One thing that is absolutely essential for hipness, is to make sure you have your vocabulary up to date with plenty of contemporary slang words-- because you canít be cool if you say youíre hip if hip isnít a cool word. Are you all still with me? I told you this stuff wasnít easy.

Now, it happens to be a lexical fact of life that slang words, catch-phrases, and other fad terms come and go with every new generation (thankfully). Twenty-three skidoo, oh, you kid, banana oil, chicken inspector, and hot cha cha date back to the 1920s and are phrases that have lost virtually all meaning for anyone under the age of, say, eighty. Indeed, people who are under the age of thirty-five have probably never even heard of these expressions.

Iíve learned a lot of old slang from watching movies on cable television. It appears, for instance, that during the 1930s okey - dokey became a popular term. And even though there was a depression on, you might hear someone say, everything was jake. Or Gee whiz, would ya look at the swell gams on that gal!

Around the middle of the 30s decade, swing music gave birth to a whole new language called "jive talk". Teenagers discovered it was important for them not to be an ickie, or long hair. Oh, yes, it was much more fun to be in the groove, and spending time cuttiní a rug with some hepcats. And you hoped your girl friend wouldnít give you the brush.

The beat generation set the tone for hipster talk in the 1950s. Beatniks were the first to say things like: I dig it the most. Crazy, man, crazy. Donít be a square, daddy-o. Like, real cool, man. What a kooky chick. See ya later alligator -- after awhile crocodile. Back in 1956 no doubt this slang had a cutting-edge to it, now itís just quaint gibberish.

The catch-phrases of my generation (1960s - 1970s) sound ridiculously trite and hollow to my ears now. Expressions like Far out, sock it to me, that just blew me away, what a bummer, outta sight, do your own thing, and thatís not my bag have a dated silly ring to them today.

For some mysterious reason, slang of certain generations seems to hold up better than others. Expressions from the 1940s maintain a jazzy, boppy cadence that are still fun to say. Well all reet-well all root -well all right! Slip me some skin, Jackson. Oh, brother -- thatís murder! Hey there gate -- letís percolate. Címon, sister --letís swing it! Makes you want to get up and jitterbug, doesnít it? And donít forget, Kilroy was here and a slip of the lip will sink a ship.

Usually by the time a catch-phrase has caught on, it begins to wear itself out with lightening speed. And everybody is more than happy to see it go, having heard the particular slang expression day in and day out ad nauseam. Know what I mean, Vern?

The word, cool, (used as a description for something that is either wonderful, exciting or interesting) has been around much, much longer than it should have been, in my opinion, and it is really starting to annoy me. For one thing, just as in all contemporary slang expressions, unless you are under twenty-five years old or are a jazz or rock musician, you sound like a complete jerk saying it.

I cringe every time I hear someone around my age or older using what is basically kidís language to express a thought. And I really get sick when I hear myself talk that way. Thatís right, through no fault of my own, it has even happened to me. Although I diligently do try to avoid saying things like, "thatís really cool", sometimes the stupid thing just sort of happens -- like an automobile accident or an uncontrollable sneeze.

I can feel the words coming out of my mouth but before I can stop them, itís too late. They are out there -- out in the atmosphere for all to hear and ridicule. I imagine people in earshot thinking, "Just listen to that old fool trying to sound young and `with ití. Who does he think heís kidding? No doubt heís the type who must be one of the first to dine at the hottest new restaurant in town, or buy the latest athletic shoes. Next heíll probably be wearing a backwards baseball cap, an earring, and growing one of those little mustache/goatee things."

Completely disgusted with myself and regretting having used the catch-phrase, I make a solemn promise to rip my tongue out if I ever hear me speaking that way again. But will I? As if. Oh, Iím really sure! Well, DUH!! Yada, yada, yada. You dig, daddy-o? Cool!!

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Greg Crosby