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Boning Up on the Down Slang

July 21, 1999|SOREN BAKER

If you overhear someone say, "Man, that's a cold shirt," it doesn't mean the shirt wouldn't keep you warm. He's saying it looks good, cool.

Slang evolves at a furious pace, with key words dropping in and out of favor quickly, sometimes within seasons. Obviously, it's usually the "cool" people--from teens to musicians to students--who coin such terms.

But how do words get incorporated into slang?

"There's usually not a whole lot of logic to it, except that the people who coin these words use them as a way of excluding others--the uninitiated--or empowering themselves," says Jerry Cline-Bailey, associate professor of linguistics at Xavier University in Cincinnati. "If I can use language to befuddle you, then I have power over you."

With that in mind, check the following timeline for history's rendering of coolness.

1950s: boss, neat, hip,

early 1960s: gear, mod, groovy,

late 1960s: far-out, heavy, trippy, outta sight,

1970s: rad, superfly, funky

early 1980s: def, froody

mid-1980s: awesome, chill

late 1980s: funky fresh, hot, smokin'

1990s: dope, cold, fresh, fly, tight

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