Opinion: Do not resurrect dead slang

While wasting time on … I mean, while doing some vitally important research on the World Wide Interweb Thingie, I recently came across a list of eleven slang words and phrases someone thinks should be reintroduced to everyday language.

This strikes me as a bad idea on several levels. About eleven of them.

While I am by no means opposed to slang – I sling slang with the best of them – I do think that it has a shelf life, and that slang used after its expiration date sounds … oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Ah, yes. Stupid.

I hate to trot out my Old Dude credentials yet again, but to illustrate I must set the Wayback Machine for the time when the Beatles first arrived in America and suddenly we were awash with American kids using what they were told was English slang. Things that used to be “great” became “fab” and “gear.” “Girls” became “birds.” And underwear became “winkle-pickers.” Okay, I made up the last one.

The point is, if you ran around today saying that birds were fab, people would think you had slipped a gear.

So, about this list. Here are the words and phrases that author Yagana Shah thinks should come out of storage:



Radical. (In the surf-dude sense, not the political crazy person sense.)


Neat. (Not as in tidy, but as in gear. Or fab. I think Ms. Shah should also have included its offspring, Neat-o, but maybe I’m being too picky.)


The bee’s knees.

Cool beans.


Hot to trot.


Now, of these, there are a few that I hadn’t realized were out of circulation. Scram, for instance. I use scram all the time, usually when talking to a cat who is casting a covetous eye toward my cereal bowl, or a dog who hovers too close to the table, hoping that a morsel of Human Food will suddenly leap from my plate and fly off in his direction.

I also find the word “neat” sneaking itself into my conversation occasionally, and have been known to use funky both in my life as a teacher of music history – how else are you going to describe James Brown? – And to describe the smell of my basement after a rainstorm.

But bee’s knees? Tubular? Swell? Groovy?

No, no, no and no. Also, no.

“Cool beans” is an expression I’ve never understood. “Cool” I get, but where do beans enter the picture? Are cool beans somehow superior to beans at other temperatures? Did someone once use the expression “warm beans” and find that it just didn’t work? I wish someone would explain this one to me. No, I don’t.

Now, as I said, I am no stranger to slang and I am not opposed to it at all. Dealing with students, I have to keep my ears attuned to it. I must admit, though, it took me a long time to get accustomed to the idea of something being “sick” as good. I think I finally got it, right around the time it went out of style. Which, I believe, is where most antique slang should stay.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Winkle-pickers are actually a style of shoe with an extremely pointed toe. They are the cat’s pajamas.

Mike Redmond is an author, journalist, humorist and speaker. Write him at mike@mikeredmondonline.com. For information on speaking fees and availability, visit www.spotlightwww.com.


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