In the summer of 1870, the press in the North Country went on the warpath against boys and girls who talked like “rowdies and loafers.” “Don’t talk slang” screamed an editorial in the July 28, 1870 issue of the Malone Palladium. “It lends no force to a sentence, it is neither witty nor smart, it disgusts rather than pleases, [and] it sounds ill bred and vulgar.”
What specific “coarse expressions” was the newspaper condemning? They included: “Bully for you,” “Can’t see it,” “You bet,” “Not much,” “Not for Joe,” “Darn it,” and “Golly.”
All the phrases are probably familiar to most 21st century readers, except perhaps “Not for Joe.” It was used when a person did not intend or care to do, or have, anything requested—in short, it was a contemptuous refusal. There are several explanations about the origins of “Not for Joe.” One was that the expression arose during the Civil War when one soldier refused to give a drink to another. A second said “Not for Joe” originated in the refrain from a song that was popular in the 1860’s. It went:
Not for Joseph,
If he knows it;
Oh, no, no!
Not for Joe.
Nineteenth century concern about the corrupting influence of slang was not confined to the North Country. Years before the Palladium’s editorial blast, a book reviewer in The New York Times criticized the recently released Worcester’s New English Dictionary for including too many words he considered “sewerage of speech.” Among them were: “jiggumbob” [something strange, peculiar or unknown], “scrimption” [a small amount, a pittance], and “fiddle-de-dee” [an exclamation of impatience, disbelief or disagreement, nonsense].
Today, some people continue to be offended by the use of slang by youngsters—but what words are they using, and what do those words mean?
Test your knowledge of today’s slang by defining the following six words without looking at their definitions below: 1) “derp”; 2) “hundo p”; 3) “yolo”; 4) “scrilla”; 5) “cray”; and 6) “photobomb.”
DEFINITIONS: 1) a reply to an ignorant comment or action; 2) one hundred per cent sure about something; 3) an acronym for “you only live once”; 4) money; 5) crazy, wild; and 6) an otherwise normal photo that has been ruined or spoiled by someone who was not supposed to be in the photograph.