Recently in the Slang Category

Dictionary of hobo slang

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I recently read a novel set among Depression-era hoboes, which led me to look up some of the slang terms, which led me to an online dictionary of hobo slang. Good stuff.

vagina et alia

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The brouhaha over a Michigan state Representative being banned from speaking on the House floor after saying the word “vagina” has led to, among other outcomes, a spate of articles suggesting euphemisms for “vagina.”

For example, Naomi McAuliffe writes, in the Guardian:

Apparently, when discussing a medical procedure, it's not really appropriate to use medical words. Well not about lady bits anyway. It makes me wonder what euphemisms would be acceptable. “Will the representative get his hand out of the otter's pocket?” “Can the honourable gentleman refrain from trespassing in the lady cave?”

Otter's pocket! Apparently this is from the phrase “wetter than an otter's pocket,” which some people use to refer to weather (18-sec video), while others use it to refer to female (human) arousal.

Later in the same article, McAuliffe uses the terms “lady garden,” “fanny-fou-fah,” “fun tunnel,” and “growler.” All may well be in common use, but I don't think I'd heard any of them before. (I had heard “fanny,” but not “fanny-fou-fah” per se.)

Meanwhile, Sarah Ditum, writing in the New Statesman, mentions “tuppence,” her young daughter's made-up word “nooni,” “foof,” and “fandando.” (Along with several negative slang terms.)

Noreen Malone, probably joking, mentions “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.” (Along with a few other more common ones I've seen before.)

And Sarah Mirk suggests “squiggly bits.”

(Found all of those linked from a Detroit Free Press blog post.)

budgie smugglers

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Liz A, who is Australian, referred yesterday to Australian politician Tony Abbott and his “budgie smugglers.” When I asked what that meant, she explained that it's Australian slang for tight swim trunks for men, such as Speedos. I was very amused.

(I gather that many Americans don't know that “budgie,” short for “budgerigar,” means roughly the same thing as “parakeet.” Turns out “budgerigar” derives from “gijirrigaa,” from the Australian aboriginal language Yuwaalaraay, which Wikipedia says is a dialect of Gamilaraay.)

I now see that there's a similar term elsewhere: “grape smugglers.” But I like “budgie smugglers” better.



I turned on the radio during Talk of the Nation's Science Friday yesterday, in the middle of a segment about natural gas in water.

At one point (starting at 13:52 in the segment), the guest (Josh Fox, director of a documentary on the topic) said, fairly emphatically:

Chemicals in the fracking process are not supposed to be found in wells. [...] I happen to trust the citizens on the ground, who are saying, “Look, our water wasn't flammable before; they came and did a frack job; all of a sudden our water is flammable.”

And I thought, Wow, I had no idea that the term “frak” from Battlestar Galactica had gained such widespread acceptance. I heard it on Gilmore Girls once, but I don't think I've heard anyone else outside of sf circles say it; but here's a guy on the radio using it completely casually as a swear word, sounding like he says it all the time.

So I started to write this entry about it, but I had to go find the recording to get the quote right. And that was how I found out that the episode title was “New Film Investigates ‘Fracking’ For Natural Gas.”

Which made clear that I was misinterpreting something.

One quick web search later, I learned that hydraulic fracturing is a method of acquiring oil and natural gas, and that it's also known as “fracking.”

Which means that Fox wasn't swearing at all.

So instead of this being an entry about the use of a science fiction swear word in mainstream society, it's an entry about a word I hadn't previously known, and about the misinterpretations that can occur when you know a homophone for the word someone is actually saying.

Australian slang

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Recently encountered an annotated transcription of a podcast from 2007 covering a wide variety of Australian slang terms.

Recently happened across two useful online glossaries, probably while editing a story:


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The other morning, as I was waking up, it occurred to me that I pretty much never hear the word "nix," but I do occasionally hear the Pig Latin word "ixnay." Usually in the construction "ixnay on the [something in Pig Latin]." Like: "ixnay on the alkingtay."

I wondered whether "ixnay" is becoming an English word in its own right. Although come to think of it, I don't think I often encounter it in a non-Pig Latin context (like *"ixnay on the talking"), which seems to suggest it's not widely considered valid English.

And then I wondered whether people do still use "ixnay," or whether I've just seen it so much in older books that I think of it as common.

Anyway, I made a mental note to write an entry about this at some point, and then forgot about it.

And then a couple hours later, I came across the then-latest strip of the webcomic Darths & Droids, which used the "ixnay" construction.

And the strip's forum topic included some discussion of exactly my questions. And several of the commenters there said they've been known to use "nix" sometimes.

Also, MW11 doesn't list "ixnay" as a valid English word.

Anyway, partly I'm posting 'cause I think it's an interesting topic, but partly just because I was amused by the coincidence.

Language changes

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I'm reading a science fiction story published in 1958: "Eastward Ho!", by William Tenn. It posited a post-Collapse future in which white people live in low-tech poverty, while American Indians are redeveloping high tech.

And I just came across this line of narration:

All the same, the Indians were so queer, and so awesome.

And it's true that there are some awesome queer Indians. But somehow I don't think Tenn meant quite the same thing that I mean by those words.

Indian English

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I continue to be intrigued by the differences between British/American English and Indian English.

I also wonder regularly if some of the grammatical problems I see in submissions written by South Asian writers are merely examples of Indian English. Some day, I should sit down and read more published South Asian writing to try and get a better feel for Indian English.

(I've read a few novels by South Asian authors, but not enough for a representative sample yet.)

See also: the online Dictionary of Indian English; 108 varieties of Indian English; a 2004 paper from Language in India on linguistic majority-minority relations in India; and a page of audio pronunciations of English words in New Delhi.

That last, btw, is from the extremely useful-looking Accents of English from around the world website. I hope to spend some time poking around there and listening to pronunciations in the future.

Variety slang

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Variety has been using idiosyncratic and hyperbolic slang for about a hundred years now: ankle, biopic, boffo, chopsocky, helm, hoofer, nix, oater, percenter, scribbler, skein, sudser, terp, warble, whammo, yawner, etc.

It turns out that the official website now provides a glossary page explaining a lot of their terms.

Some of the terms listed are not specific to Variety, of course. But some words that have become common in everyday use—such as "sitcom"—were apparently coined by Variety.

thrupenny bits

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Just encountered a comment in an article on Britain's Got Talent that refers to "a dancer who was show[ing] her thrupennie bits to the world."

Thruppence, or the threepenny bit, was, of course, a British coin worth three pence.

And "thrupenny bits" turns out to be Cockney rhyming slang for "tits."

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