Yesterday I was thinking about it being the new year and all, and the following popped into my head: “Have a cool yule and gear new year!” That’s how the Beatles said it to the members of their fan club back in the very early 1960’s. They also used to send the members of their fan club little 45 records back then.
I think the words fab and gear are arguably the two words most associated with the very early Beatles. Those terms were part of Liverpudlian dialect (a dialect also referred to as scouse). Fab is easy to figure out. It’s probably short for “fabulous”. But I wasn’t sure about “gear”. I mean, for a while everything was gear. “Wow! Heather’s party was really gear!” “That concert was so gear!” I looked it up in an etymology reference and it gave the following information:
Gear: adjective: excellent, absolutely right, first-rate. An ephemeral vogue word that spread with the popularity of the Beatles and the ‘Mersey sound’ from Liverpool in 1963 to be picked up by the media (a fact which incidentally marked its demise as a fashionable term).
Evidently there is some debate about the real derivation of the term. One theory is that it came from the French expression de rigueur, meaning “necessary according to etiquette, protocol or fashion.” So “gear” meant properly fashionable and would have then evolved to mean “really great.” The other origin given for the term is that it came to Liverpool, a seaport city, via the sailors and solders who traveled through that place. Evidently the term had been in usage since at least WWI and is even referenced in a British collection of military slang where it states “enthusiasm painted anything that had given great pleasure as the gear.”
By the way, I smiled at the last part of that definition I gave you a couple of paragraphs above where it says the fact that the term was picked up by the media marked its demise. Its usage did decline rather quickly. I use it now and then for fun, and the occasional New Years Day blog post, but unlike words such as “cool”, “gear” just didn’t have staying power. Should one ponder the slang of one’s youth, it’s not long before one realizes that a lot of things you used to say haven’t been said, or even heard, for a long time. If you think on what that means as far as how quickly the years have flown by, and how old you might be getting, it may make you feel more than a bit grotty!
That thought leads me now to inviting you on a little trip back to my groovy teen past to share a few examples of some slang I remember that has come and all but gone (thankfully gone in some cases). We’ll start with the obvious one.
Groovy: It was out of use for a very long time but it has made a bit of a comeback. I was thinking recently about how it didn’t seem to work well in songs. For some reason they always seemed to end up sounding contrived and ultimately dated—except in two cases where I think they still work to this day: Feelin’ Groovy by Paul Simon, and the Phil Collins remake of Groovy Kind of Love by The Mindbenders.
Heavy: As in, “Wow…heavy man.” Really sad, painful or sobering.
Bogue: Two meanings for this one. The first was mean, rude, gross or alarming. Interestingly enough I have read that it is considered largely a Michigan term when used this way. The second meaning was as a shortened version of bogus, as in “unreal, a lie.” “That was a totally bogue story.“
Far out: Really cool. If you said it in an awed and amazed way it worked. Unfortunately, when John Denver started saying it in his gosh, shucks, drawn out, country spud way, it sounded really corny. I really do think John single-handedly killed far out. (Sorry John, you did write some really good songs though.)
Taid or Tait: A cigarette. “Can I bum a taid off ya’?” I’ve only ever heard this term at my alma mater, Rogers High School, in West Michigan and was surprised years later to find that people from outside our school district were unfamiliar with it. I can find no reference for it elsewhere but the term was used all the time by myself and my peers back in the 70’s. I don’t know its origin.
Truckin': Leave, go, move on. “Keep on truckin”, dude.” Back in the day, my buds and I used to cruise up and down 28th Street from Rogers Plaza in Wyoming, Michigan, to Woodland Mall in nearby Kentwood. Many of our friends would be doing the same and we would meet in the parking lots and hang out in groups, standing by our cars and having a lot of laughs. It was fun. We called that truckin’ too!
Well, I’m sure I could go on and on but this seems like a good spot to stop for now. That was a nice reminisce though. Oh! And “grotty”? That was a bit of manufactured slang. The script writer for the Beatles movie, Hard Days Night, made the word up (short for “grotesque”) and wanted George Harrison to use it on film. George didn’t like the idea much but he did say it. The word didn’t have staying power though. Probably because there was a much better word for grotesque on the horizon. “Grotty” was just too… well…gross!
What are some slang terms you remember from your past? In what era were they first popular? Are any of them still used? Here’s a fun excerpt from Hard Days Night that features George Harrison. You’ll get to hear him say grotty. By the way, the movie really is worth a look if you can find the DVD. Fun film and well written. -Wyatt