USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘slang’
Folk speech
Musical

Shed: Jazz lingo

Context:

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following excerpts/quotes are from a conversation with AB and some other jazz majors during the break of a music industry class. After class, I asked him to explain some of the jazz lingo that took place during the prior conversation. The conversation from which the quotes were taken was the most natural context possible, as the students – all jazz musicians – were simply having a conversation, and I was taking note of their use of lingo. Asking AB to explain the lingo after, he knew he was explaining to the readers of the collection and not to me, since he knows that I myself am a jazz major and am familiar with the slang.

 

Piece:

AB/Other students: “Yo, have you shed for your jury yet?”

“I’m gonna be hitting the shed all weekend, I haven’t even started learning my transcription.”

“Have you shed this Herbie Hancock album, The New Standard?”

Me (after class): In our conversation earlier, I heard the word “shed” come up a lot. What does that mean in this context?

AB: Umm, shed just means, like to practice something or check something out. Like if I say, “shed my scales,” it means “practice my scales,” or if I say “I’ve been shedding this album,” it means I’ve been listening to that album a lot.

Me: Do you know where this slang comes from?

AB: There’s a story that… ah fuck who is it…? I think Charlie Parker…? locked himself in a woodshed for months to practice after folding hard at a jam session. So some people say “hit the woodshed,” but most people just say, “hit the shed,” or just, “shed.”

 

Analysis:

As a jazz major myself, I know that the idea of holing up and practicing for hours, or even days, is highly romanticized. People often brag about how much they’ve been “shedding,” and there are a lot of legends and stories about the countless hours that the most famous jazz giants spent practicing without any social contact. Slang within any clique is a way of creating an exclusionary environment. Knowing and using jazz lingo that non-jazz musicians don’t understand creates a feeling of unity and cohesiveness within the community, as does the slang of any social group.

 

Folk speech
Musical

Vibe: Jazz slang

Context:

 

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following excerpts/quotes are from a conversation with AB and some other jazz majors during the break of a music industry class. After class, I asked him to explain some of the jazz lingo that took place during the prior conversation. The conversation from which the quotes were taken was the most natural context possible, as the students – all jazz musicians – were simply having a conversation, and I was taking note of their use of lingo. Asking AB to explain the lingo after, he knew he was explaining to the readers of the collection and not to me, since he knows that I myself am a jazz major and am familiar with the slang.

 

Piece:

AB/Other students: “Peter vibed me soo hard in my lesson the other day for not having my transcription written out.”

“Man, Aaron is super killing but he’s such a vibe.”

“I was at the mint jam session last night… It was hosted by the Monk Institute cats… I basically got vibed off the stage haha… it was dark.”

“The red vest over a t-shirt… that could be a vibe!”

Me (after class): I keep hearing the word “vibe” pop up in jazz conversation. Could you explain what that means?

AB: Sure. It’s kinda hard to explain. It pretty much means to condescend someone at a jam session, but it’s used pretty loosely now, like it doesn’t need to be exclusively in a musical context. Or if someone “is a vibe,” that means that they’re kind of a dick.

Me: That’s interesting, since most people say vibe to mean, like, positive vibes.

AB: Yeah, and it could mean that too. Like saying that something is a vibe could also mean that it’s hip. It depends on the context I guess.

 

Analysis:

As a jazz musician myself, I know from experience that “vibing” at jam sessions is a pretty big part of jazz culture. Jazz culture is very elitist, and jazz musicians like to maintain the somewhat cutthroat environment that you hear about in old jazz stories. Condescending people at jam sessions and letting people know that you know you’re better than them is one of the primary ways that this dynamic is maintained. Further, slang within any clique is a way of creating an exclusionary environment. Knowing and using jazz lingo that non-jazz musicians don’t understand creates a feeling of unity and cohesiveness within the community, as does the slang of any social group.

 

Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

Beautiful women have great allure – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“jalan mas un par de bubis que una carreta.”

Transliteration:

Pull more a pair of boobs than a two-wheeled cart

Translation:

Beautiful women have great allure

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

 

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 71-year-old female from Guadalajara, Mexico. I asked my informant if she knew any proverbs and she responded the ones she remembered were due to their humorous nature. She then said to me the proverb, “jalan mas un par de bubis que una carreta.” I asked where she recalled this saying from and she claims to have heard it at a rural town where her family owned a countryside home, El Rancho Platanar. The town is called Plan de Barrancas in Jalisco Mexico. Her family was accustomed to driving up from the city they lived in, Guadalajara, to the house and spent weeklong holidays there when she was a young girl. When they were staying at the house, she would visit the local town with her siblings and that is where she first heard the saying. My informant remembers walking down the street with her sisters when she noticed a couple of workers that were doing construction on the road were staring at her and her sisters. She claims one of the men even whistled. Then another worker that had just joined the ‘viewing’ said the phase, loud enough so my informant and her sisters could hear. The informant says the phrase means a beautiful woman is more distracting, and draws attention in a greater quantity, than the amount of weight a wagon can carry.

The language employed in the phrase is slang. The verb ‘jalar’ is not commonly employed to mean a rhetorical pull and in more formal language it literally means ‘to pull’. The phrase is comparing the rhetorical quantity with a literal quantity.  This slang type of language is often heard around rural towns and used by working class people. The context the phrase was used in is very informal and even crude. The phrase can even be considered a form of street harassment, commenting in a sexual manner on the appearance of young women as they walk down the street. The informant shares she did feel a bit uncomfortable in the situation as she did not know how to respond, and her older sister told her to look down and keep walking. I don’t believe this phrase has a specific meaning and its purpose is likely to comment on the allure of beautiful women. In the proverb, women are compared to the weight a two-wheeled cart can carry because the phrase is employed by construction workers, and a cart is an object that is often utilized in their daily lives to transport materials from one place to the other.

Digital
Folk speech

Wombo Combo

Context:
Playing Super Smash Bros with some friends at my house and one of my friends, S, keeps shouting “Wombo combo” while beating us all. S is a 20-year-old male from California who plays Super Smash Bros a lot.

Piece:
S: *hits me and another person in the game rapidly* “WOMBO COMBO BABY”
Me: “Did you come up with that or did you hear that somewhere?”
S: “Aw nah man, LumpyCPU said it in an old YouTube video but it’s hilarious.”

Discussion:
The video is only 49 seconds and it is clear why S appreciated its value; it’s hilarious. It sounds like two young men getting over excited about their victory in an older version of the game and screaming at the top of their lungs “WOMBO COMBO”. It is clear in the video that other people appreciated the new slang and it created a sense of unity amongst players of this game. It also is a good way to get people around you to laugh by screaming a nonsense phrase that clearly demonstrates excitement.

Reference:
The original video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pD_imYhNoQ4

Digital
folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Where We Dropping?”

Context:
While discussing familiar folklore in class I sat with a few young white male peers and the conversation of video game folklore came up. It was clear that all of us were familiar with Fortnite and we realized how much slang has been created from the game. One student, Chris , exclaimed that we would all be familiar with the phrase “where we dropping?” but, most people, especially those who do not play the game, would not understand what this means.

Piece:
A few of us were circled around discussing folklore when Chris said “yeah and ‘where we dropping’, you guys all know what that means! We are going to Tilted Towers hahaha, but if I said that to my mom she would think that I am dropping something from my hands. It’s definitely only something people who play Fortnite would understand.”

Discussion:
This is a commonly used phrase when playing the game Fortnite because everyone playing the game starts out in the sky in a flying bus and, when you play with a team you all want to drop from the bus and land in the same place. Thus, everyone will ask each other “where are we dropping?” It’s a strategic term that millions of people understand because of the mainstream culture of this game but, not everyone in the world knows, and it is certainly not taught in a textbook.

Folk speech

Baseball Slang

Abstract:

This piece is about different phrases or words that deal with baseball slang.

Main Piece:

S: The first one I’m going to talk about is like when someone is pitching if they hit the dirt, like if it goes short of the plate, like a low pitch, you call it a worm killer.

C: A worm killer? Why?

S: So baseball is this very mental game, it is more mental than any other game because if you let something affect your mind, you’re going to play worse. Like it is one of those sports, I was actually talking to my boss about it the other day, they’re directly correlated to one another. Your mental and physical performance. And I truly believe that a lot of the slang comes from trying to jab the other players.

C: Get in their head?

S: Yeah, get in their head. I think it is the most mental game out of all the major sports, because it’s all chatter. Like worm killer, you’re going to yell it to make fun of the pitcher for sucking. I say a lot of things like, well I don’t know how you would transcribe this, so when someone is batting and you’re on their team, and the player is batting, you kind of say gibberish almost. Like “um-nam-um-nam-um-nam.” You kind of just keep going. It’s kind of like, the main basis of it is “come on now.” if you can kind of hear it in there. So everyone is just doing that in the dugout like that Spongebob episode.

C: That’s funny.

S: Yeah, so there’s that and there’s “get off me ball.” It’s what you would say if the pitcher hits you, then it’s like check that ball. Make sure it’s okay or the player’s okay. There’s “wear it.” Wear it means like if you’re a batter and a pitch comes into the batter’s box, but you like turn away to get out of the way, your own team will yell wear it. So you can get on first base.

C: If it hits you?

S: No if it doesn’t hit you, but you like get out of the way of the ball. People would say “wear it” like you should have gotten hit. Which is obviously kind of hard, like you don’t want to sacrifice your body, but you know there’s that. Another thing we’ve been screaming is “Is he a diamond back because he’s rattled.” So if the opposing pitcher is pitching and we are getting hits on him.

C: So he’s doing bad?

S: Yeah so “is he a diamond back because he’s rattled” like rattled would mean he’s all screwed up in the mind. That means we really got to him. These are the funny ones. I mean there’s actual baseball lingo that is kind of serious. Like “dinger” means homerun.

Context:

The informant is a 20 year old student from Bentonville, Arkansas. He has played baseball since he was 9 years old and continues to play on the USC Club Baseball team. He has picked up this lingo and slang from years of playing on different teams and learning about the customs.

Analysis:

I think the informant was right about the purpose of this particular slang. Baseball seems to be all about what goes on behind the scenes, this slang included. Getting into a player’s head seems to be key in how well you play as well. I think one aspect of this slang that was not touched on in this piece was how it affects your own head. The informant described how to get into other players heads, but it would be interesting to learn if there were methods players took to block out distractions.

Folk speech
Humor

Loony Bin

Main piece: In mental hospitals or treatment centers, patients will sometimes refer to their hospital or program as the “Loony Bin.”

Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head out-of-state to college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. The informant remembers this slang specifically because when they first walked into their room at the hospital, their new roommate exclaimed, “Welcome to the Loony Bin!” Funnily enough, S and their new friends ended up naming their group chat “The Loony Bin” after discharging from the hospital. While S sees the humor in the phrase, they’re wary of it, because “it reinforces this idea that mentally ill people are crazy – or ‘loony’ – when in fact we’re just normal people trying to get our brains to work correctly.”

Personal thoughts: The informant’s point about the phrase “Loony Bin” brings up complex questions of whether a harmful word or phrase can ever truly be “reclaimed.” If someone who has never experienced mental health difficulties referred to a mental hospital as a “Loony Bin,” many patients of mental hospitals might feel ridiculed or offended. However, when a patient themself uses the term (like with S’s example), the connotation is different – that person is most likely saying “Loony Bin” in a fond or humorous or exasperated way, as the phrase itself sounds silly. It brings lightness and childishness to a dark, serious situation, which can often be a relief for many patients. Additionally, the casual, humorous phrasing of “Loony Bin” somewhat de-stigmatizes mental health treatment, as “mental hospital” sounds taboo to many. Even if S is right about the phrase reinforcing that patients are “crazy,” there can be strength in normalizing looniness. What is so bad about it? Wouldn’t a “loony” person feel life more intensely and freely despite the circumstances they’re in? These are all important things to consider when asking whether the reclaiming of a phrase would be more beneficial than harmful.

Folk speech

Hebrew Slang: סַבַּבָּח (Sababa)

Genre: Slang, Folk Speech

 

Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hebrew

 

Hebrew: סַבַּבָּח (read right to left)

English: Sababa (suh-bɒ-bɒ)

 

Abstract: סַבַּבָּח (sababa) is a Hebrew word meaning “cool” or “got it.” It is a way for someone to acknowledge what someone said in one slang word. In Israel, it is considered hip and marketed to the population as such.

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was heard and seen all over the streets of Israel. KP can not trace its origin, but describes it as a word that is very common and that is often one of the first words taught to non Hebrew speaking visitors.

 

KP: It means okay, cool, yeah. Or if you want to hurry someone up so they stop talking you say “okay sababa yeah yeah” like stop it I get it.

S: Do older people use it too?

KP: No, not really, just like my age and below.

 

Examples:

 

Person 1: Want to go eat?

Person 2: Sababa.

 

Person 1: Do you understand? Do you get it? Can you get it done? You sure? Okay, you really sure?

Person 2: Sababa sababa.

 

Interpretation: When first hearing this word and definition, I almost immediately compared to the word “bet” which has become popularized to mean “alright” or “you got it.” Once again, there is an understanding in millennials of America that, even though not the traditional meaning of the word, “bet” is a word used for multiple things, in almost the same exact way, like sababa. One thing that KP showed me was a pair of boxers that had the word “sababa” written on them, as well as, marijuana leaves imprinted around the word. Israeli shops are taking advantage of/utilizing the younger culture and generation with the word sababa to make money. The appeal of the younger Israelis and tourists to be cool and in the know is making vendors money. The reason young people tend more to this word than older people is because of the pressure to appear cool. Sababa has a vibe attached to it that means “I’m cool, I don’t really worry about anything. Everything is okay with me.” It has the type of connotation that brings a certain swagger and cool factor to a person’s vocabulary.

 

Folk speech

British Slang: “Berk”

For presentations in one of my classes, we had panels grouped by subject. Our instructor titled the panels, and tried his best to make them clever. One title is “Becoming Berk-men in The Squid in the Whale,” which is playing upon the fact that the characters’ last name in The Squid and the Whale is Berkman. The informant is NB, and the following exchange happened on a classwide basis. It was afterward that I asked the informant’s permission to put this in the folklore database.

NB: So now, we have “Becoming Berk-men in The Squid in the Whale” [He emphasized the word “Berk”]

Everyone in the class exchanged confused glances and made confused noises, such as “huh?”

NB: What? You don’t get it? I thought it was quite clever. Do you guys not know what a berk is?

Various people responded no, asked him to explain

NB: Ohh, it must be a British thing! Really? You don’t use “berk”? Huh, wow. You know, it’s someone annoying or rude or… Like you might say, “That guy’s such a twat–”

Student: Like “jerk”? (Other classmates agreed)

NB: Oh, yeah sure, whatever.

At a later date, the following exchange occurred.

PH: Oh, for my folklore project I need to know where you’re originally from!

NB: I’m from southwest Exeter, but the things I’ve said haven’t necessarily been specific to that area
It was interesting that the informant was not aware it was a solely British slang word, and that when trying to explain it, he once again used a distinctly British slang word, as opposed to an American one. It is also interesting to me that students’ attempt to relate it to an American word chose a word that rhymed, as if there might be a connection. Based off of the informant’s synonym of twat, the word jerk isn’t an accurate synonym, but I think he just wanted to move on with the class. The informant does not know the origins of this slang word, but it is documented on various websites.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Mexican Slang – El Huevon Trabaja Doble

Do you have, umm… like a saying, or a riddle, from when you were growing up?

 

“One of the popular ones there that came, comes to mind right now is, uhh… Whenever you use, somebody entrances you to do something, uhh… umm… almost of any kind, any kind of task, and uhh… you just, uhh, careful, you’re careless, you just want to finish something like right away, you just say, uhh, you just do it, you know, really fast, kinda shoddy, so… they send you back to do that kind of thing again, they say, ‘El huevon trabaja doble.’

 

Which is, uhh, pretty much like, lazy people have to do double the amount of work, because they don’t do it carefully in the first place.

 

So it’s an old saying that everybody knows this, it was applied so frequently when I was growing up, and you know, so, it was in a way it was a message for you to do things right the first time.”

 

So it’s kind of like the English saying ‘measure twice, cut once’?

 

“There you go! Very, very similar to that.”

 

Analysis: This is a very straightforward proverb relating to laziness. It essentially proclaims that laziness doesn’t pay dividends, as the lazy man will inevitably need to do more work anyway to make up for being lazy. Proverbs like this, and their equivalents in English, are very common in more rural areas like that which the informant hails from, and it seemed very well-known to the informant years later, implying its frequent use. It is also worth noting that the Spanish word ‘Huevon’ is a very derogatory term for someone who is so lazy that they are incapable of holding their testes above the ground.

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