Litet coolt lexikon med genuin hipsterslang

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År 2000, långt innan det blev högsta mode att håna hipsters, köpte jag en liten bok i Lund, som jag har haft mycket glädje av: Straight From the Fridge Dad. A Dictionary of Hipster Slang (No Exit Press). Det är inget konventionellt vetenskapligt lexikon, snarare är författaren och artisten Max Décharné, som har sammanställt boken, genuint intresserad av äldre subkulturer.

sweden 1998
Max Décharné på turné

 
Den slang som vi förknippar med 60-talets hippiegeneration har i själva verket rötter som går tillbaka till tiden före andra världskriget, ofta är orden och uttrycken direkt hämtade från jazzens och bluesens innovativa gatuslang, som ofta har med drickande, droger och sex att göra. Men orden och uttrycken är hämtade från alla möjliga källor – gangsterfilmer, hårdkokta deckare, pulp fiction, jazz-, blues-, rock- och countrylåtar med flera. Boken är eklektisk på ett mycket tilltalande sätt.

Ofta är slangen, som ju ofta är ett slags gruppspråk, för att markera tillhörighet och för att utestänga svenssons och polisen, kodad, så att man inte omedelbart ska förstå den. Uttrycket i bokens titel, ”straight from the fridge”, är ett lite mer omständligt och raffinerat sätt att uttrycka att något är coolt. På svenska skulle det kanske kunna heta ”direkt från kylskåpet”? Och så här kunde en beställning av en svart kaffe låta: ”A shot of java, nix on the moo juice.”

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Nedan ställer jag först några frågor till Mr. Décharné. Sedan plockar han och jag ut några exempel ur boken, det är tveklöst roligare att läsa den än att läsa om den. Och sist och slutligen gör jag ett litet quiz, om du är med i det kan du vinna ett exemplar av den senaste utgåvan av Straight From the Fridge Dad. A Dictionary of Hipster Slang (No Exit Press).

What are the main reasons for using slang?

Much slang starts out as a kind of low-level guerrilla warfare directed at straight society, designed to keep out the squares, or annoy them, or both, and is then abandoned by the group which originated it once the words have become common currency. Some groups, such as criminals and beggars, have used it as a way of disguising their speech in front of straight society, while other slang is adopted in certain circles purely as a way of defining a group identity. If you know and use particular slang words, you’re part of the gang. Apart from that, sometimes it’s just amusing, such as instead of saying ”fingers”, calling them ”biscuit-snatchers”.

Your book is very dear to me. Every now and then I read it to remind myself of how inventive and rich this linguistic tradition is. It’s very inspiring. The books, films and music referred to was once regarded as throwaway culture, now regarded as a vital part of our heritage. Can you please tell us a little bit about how you became interested in this kind of hipster slang?

I learned a lot of traditional working-class English slang from my father when I was growing up, and also there was a lot of slang used at my school in Portsmouth, particularly among the tough kids. I got a lot of slang from the music I was listening to – early rock’n’roll, early punk, pre-war jazz, and people like Marc Bolan and David Bowie always used a lot of it in their songs.

Then at the start of the 1980s I found a reprint copy of Captain Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, originally published in 1785, which is the great dictionary of everyday London speech in the 18th century. That’s still my favourite slang dictionary of all time. Finally, I’ve been reading pulp crime fiction for the last forty years – mostly stuff published from around 1910-1970 – and those books are a wonderful source of slang material.

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Slang is, I think, a little bit like fashion – it spreads like a virus, wither away and disappears. But then, suddenly, a word or expression becomes hip again. What I find fascinating with your book is that it makes the continuity very clear. A lot of the words and phrases in the book were revived during the golden era of hip hop, for instance. How does the cycle of slang expressions and dissemination work? Do you know if slang often survives within subcultures, when it withers away in mainstream culture?

I trace a lot of the spread of slang in my new book, Vulgar Tongues – An Alternative History of English Slang. As you say, some words used in hip-hop are much older than people think. Terms such as ”fly”, ”crib”, ”posse” and even ”rap” were all in use among working class Londoners in the 18th century, with exactly the same meanings as today. Many of those words made it over to America before the 1770s when criminals were sentenced to be transported over to the US from England as a punishment. The language moved with the people. Other terms spread by means of music – the classic example being jazz. Jazz fans in England in the 20th century wound up hearing pure New Orleans or Harlem slang on the records they bought by Louis Armstrong or Cab Calloway. Some slang seems to never die, but other times it withers in a group because the mainstream have got hold of it, so the original people who used it don’t feel it’s hip anymore and they move on to different words.

Many of the words and phrases in the book are genuinely cool. They could easily be incorporated in contemporary language. Others are more humorous than cool, some of them are hilarious, and some are charming and kind of cute. I’m compiling a little list (below) with a few excerpts from the book. Could you help me to pick the first two? The first, a really cool one. The second, a more humorous one. Thank you.

OK, for the genuinely cool one, I’ve always liked this:

Only if you wanted to wear your face backwards for a while 

Philip Marlowe tries to be reasonable, responding to a question with George Grosz’s favourite tactic, ­ a small yes and a big no. From the film version of Farewell, My Lovely, 1944, with Dick Powell as Marlowe.

As for humor, my book is named after a slang phrase for ”cool” used in a British film shot in 1959, Beat Girl, where someone says, ”great, dad, great, straight from the fridge”. Obviously if something comes out of a fridge, it’ll be cool rather than hot. However, I nearly gave the book a different name, because one of my other favourite terms is a 1950s one:

It fries my wig

Which is a variant on the old jazz phrase, ”it blows my mind”.

Ett varmt tack till Max Décharné. Här följer fem ord och utttryck som jag tycker sticker ut lite på ett eller annat sätt:

All steamed up like a pants presser

”Sexually excited”

Cat clothes

”Hipster thread – serious clothing, not for the squares”

Know your groceries

”To be hip, aware, alert to the situation, to do things well, be accomplished. Peter Cheyney has a variant on this in his 1943 novel You Can Always Duck: ”The guy who threw this Chez Clarence dump together knew his vegetables.”

Grab some air

”Put your hands up, I have a gun”

Fish wrapper

”A newspaper”

Och så slutligen ett litet quiz för dig som vill vinna ett ex av Straight From the Fridge Dad. A Dictionary of Hipster Slang. Tävlingen är stängd. Rätt svar är X, 2, 1, 2, X. Vinnare är Per Norin. Grattis!

Chicago piano

I. Självspelande piano
X. Maskingevär
II. En ovanligt stor flygel

Lacquer crackers

I. Italienska ostkex
X. Steppskor
II. Grammofonskivor

Hum Dum Dinger From Dingersville

I. En riktigt snygg brud
X. En riktig skojare
II. En riktig dumbom

Going steady with Mary Jane

I. Att kila stadigt med någon sedan high school
X. Att ha en älskarinna
II. Att röka marijuana regelbundet

Cuban candles

I. Dynamitgubbar
X. Cigarrer
II. Sällsynt välsvarvade ben

Ola Wihlke

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