By Maria Peltekova
One of my goals within this blog was to find some patterns in the formation of slang terms that explained why certain expressions were created and why they stayed. The decades previously covered had enough in common that despite their iconic differences, there was a sense that many of the phrases were coined by the younger members of society. The original expression may have been unearthed within a newspaper article, an old adage from across the world, or from a political speech, and yet it was intrepid people in their early years who made the expressions popular. This is especially evident in the last three decades (20s, 30s, and 40s), and it is reasonable to expect it again in the 50s.
Surely phrases like “the bomb” or “break it down,” which took on their modern meanings in the 50s had to have been derived from a fresh generation of party-driven teenagers. Yet looking at the origins of popular slang in this decade suggests that there was a more specific group of people that was creating this new language, and it was namely jazz and jive musicians. Naturally, many of them may have been relatively young; however, the intense amount of music-related terminology hints at a new pattern in the English vernacular.
Slang words like “boogie-woogie,” which was a type of piano blues, had sexual overtones, presumably because it was first used for African-Americans in the South during the 19th century as a reference to secondary syphilis. “Jazz” itself was initially somewhat of a taboo word, also having sexual connotations around the time it was formed. Similarily, “juke” came from the phrase “juke box,” which meant a brothel to Southern African Americans, and “swing” was used for many years as a synonym for copulation.
There hasn’t been a particular region that has given so much new slang terminology in such a short period of time as the South, and specifically from African American people. New divisions of music became popular in the early 20th century, and with it, new language. I expect this trend will continue with the emergence of rock in the 60s and the development of music, as well as a stronger embodiment of diversity of race in theUS.
50s Slang Words: http://wwwinfoworld.com/50sslang.htm
Etymology of Jazz: http://www.apassion4jazz.net/etymology.html
Writers Dreamtools: http://www.writersdreamtools.com/view/decades/default.asp?Decade=1950#slang