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SCOTT HARRIS

Val Gal Is Cute but Not Culturally Correct

June 11, 1996|SCOTT HARRIS

The letterhead on the fax said Newsweek. What followed was not a job offer.

Dear Mr. Harris,

I greatly enjoyed your column about B. Drummond Ayres Jr. and the Val Gals. Unfortunately, your thesis was off. Ayres didn't make up the term. Even on deadline he's not that imaginative.

Nexus tells me that prior to Ayres' using it, "Val gal" saw print fully 40 times. Four of those mentions come in your own paper. I attach copies for your mortification.

Besides, my Encino-born wife uses the term. In fact, she seems to prefer it to "Valley girl." "It's Val gal and Val guy," she declared this morning. "Valley girl is demeaning. Who is this guy?"

Now, I normally favor inter-city rivalries (whatever happened to Not Yet New York?), but I hate to see two gray ladies fight. Why not compromise? Let each Times amend its Stylebook. On first reference, use the full and formal "Valley girl." Save "Val gal" for subsequent mention. That should make you both happy.

Don't thank me.

Sincerely,

Andy Murr

But gee, Andy, wouldn't your wife be upset?

Andrew Murr is an L.A.-based correspondent for Newsweek. Leave it to a New York-based news magazine to come to the defense of the New York Times and one of its L.A.-based correspondents.

Still, Murr has a point. A small one.

He's right that B. Drummond Ayres Jr. did not invent the phrase "Val gal" in his recent piece on Valley secession. Then again, I never suggested that Ayres did. In a recent column chiding Ayres for his terminology and description of the San Fernando Valley's famous female icon, I suggested that, according to my trained ear and my local panel of experts, Valley Girl and Val are the proper terms. (I respectfully prefer to capitalize both the V and G.)

OK, so maybe it was a tad extreme of me to suggest that Val Gal should never be used. Despite riots and earthquakes, we L.A. types are too laid-back to lay down strict rules. Still, you'd think the New York Times would be more sensitive. It's true that Nexus notes four previous L.A. Times usages of Val Gal, but then we live here and can put our feet up on the coffee table now and then.

As a student of Valley Girlology, I pursued Murr's line of research. Well, actually, Ron the Librarian did. The search covered 1982 to the present, a period in which, as Andy Murr notes, Val Gal appeared 40 times. In that same period, Valley Girl comes up in more than 4,000 stories.

Now, of course, many of those stories may have had nothing to do with our Vals; the computer just searches out the words. But when you take a closer look at the stories cited by Andy Murr, the case for Val Gal gets even thinner.

Those "fully 40" examples includes a Fresno Bee story about a girls' basketball squad called Val's Gals. And here's an advice column from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that uses "Val-gal, or -guy" as a synonym for a valued gal or guy. "VAL'S THE GAL!" shouted a Scottish Daily Record headline about one Valerie Campbell modeling for charity. And here are several more fashion stories. Did you know Sophia Loren was a Val Gal? That was the Toronto Star's clever way of saying she wore a gown designed by Valentino at the 1993 Academy Awards. Indeed, fashion writers use variations of Val Gal in six stories involving Valentino.

By my count, there were fully 29 bonafide Val Gal references before Ayres' piece--an average of about two per year since 1982.

Here's my theory of Val Gal etymology: Valley Girl and Val are clearly indigenous and original. Val Gal was perhaps developed and promoted primarily, but not exclusively, by writers who needed synonyms and struck upon this cute rhyme, as well as headline writers working with limited space. It ultimately spilled over into the spoken language. Hey, whatever. Still, as Nexus shows, Val Gal really wasn't all that catchy, was it?

This leaves me with the question of how to deal with the testimony of Andy Murr's wife, the woman who finds "Valley Girl" demeaning. In rebuttal, I am delighted to present another viewpoint, one that was printed neatly by hand on lined notebook paper.

*

Dear Scott Harris,

I read your article "Val Gals? Only to a Southern New Yorker." I thought it rocked! I am (and proud to be) a Valley Girl . . .

Back to this talk of Val Gals. If a fellow Cali (Californian) called me a Val Gal, it would be fine, you know, it takes one to know one. But this term coming from an East Coaster, especially when used as an incorrect term, is derogatory and offensive. I take pride in my Valleyness, being born and raised here. Yes, my hair is naturally blond, and no, I'm not a bimbo. In fact, I got a scholarship to Louisville High School, a Val school in Woodland Hills.

Being a Valley Girl is in my blood, it's my culture. Of course, there are some true stereotypes of us. I do Rollerblade in a bikini, and I participate in an annual ritual known as "Memorial Day Weekend Sales!" But obviously, I'm not 100% val yet. That happens when I turn 16 and can drive myself to the mall.

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