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The Man in The Gray Suit

Posted By Michael McMonigle On May 12, 2019 @ 3:20 am In Folk speech | Comments Disabled

Interviewer: Do you have any slang or terms from growing up surfing?

CW: Yeah have you ever heard about the man in the gray suit?

Interviewer: No I have not what does that mean?

CW: It’s a term, surfers use at the beach if they see a shark to warn everybody else to get out of the water.

Interviewer: why do people use that term and not just say shark?

CW: People use it because it is a lot more of a calm thing for someone to hear when they are in the water with a shark. It helps to avoid people panicking but if your in an area where people are surfing, which is where it is used, then everyone knows that means shark and it helps them be more calm while getting out of the water. 

Interviewer: Have you ever used this warning or had it used for you?

CW: I’ve never used it but I’ve been on the beach while people yelled it out to surfers. But since I’ve grown up surfing I’ve known to react to the term and have known it for most of my life. 

Interviewer: Is this a term used at specific surf spots you got to or from your knowledge do all surfers know and use this term?

CW: From my knowledge, this is just a term I know is used in Malibu and Santa Monica. I’ve surfed in other places like San Diego and Hawaii but I’ve never heard the term mentioned in those places. 

Interviewer: Is there any other terms you have heard or learned of that do the same function of calmly warning of a shark?

CW: Yeah in Hawaii they use the Hawaiian word Manu. 

Context: My informant is an eighteen-year-old student at USC. He was born in raised in Malibu California. He has surfed nearly his entire life, primarily in Malibu but also in Santa Monica, Hawaii, and San Diego. This folk term was explained in person in the informant’s dorm.

Analysis: This is an interesting piece of folk language used by surfers in Southern California. I have never been a surfer and assumed the appropriate way to warn people of a shark would be by exclaiming that a shark is in the water, but this term seems to be a great way to keep people calm so they can get out of the water in a safer manner. It also is an example of how surfers in Southern California have unique folklore. 

 


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