Wednesday, January 05, 2005


In the early 90s I played bass in a sort-of alternative, post-punk, industrial-lite band with a couple of other guys. These two had been friends since grade school, so they shared a lot of similar speaking quirks. One of the most noticable was their incessant use of the word "dude" to mean absolutely anything whatsover. This was pretty common at the time, but these two were the dude-ers I had the most contact with. I blame the media saturation of all things grunge just before this.

I was reminded of them today when I saw this Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon. And then this discussion of said cartoon (scroll down) and finally this strange analysis of how many times people use the letter "u" to spell the word for emphasis. The third link is a wonderful example of dry language geek humor. At least I thought so, but then again I'm a language geek m'self. The cartoon's from 1994, which is a little after the initial "dude" heyday. Probably about when it entered mainstream culture.

In his book Time Pressure, set in a hippie commune in the early 70s, Spider Robinson creates a wonderful scene where some people similarly use the phrase "far out" to also mean absolutely anything whatsoever.

So I'm wondering, are there other examples of a linguistic "wild card" out there? How many generations or subcultures have had their own "wild card" shibboleth?

Such a wild card should be able to express a wide range of emotions and concepts, from simple greetings to more complex things like, "Isn't this wonderful," "Please pass the chips," "I'm very sorry for your tragic loss," "Your behavior is socially unacceptable," and so on.


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