Etymology -- the study of word origins. It's interesting how word usages have changed over the years and new phrases, words or expressions have come into colloquial usage out of the old. Cool. Chill. Psyched'. These are words which meant something totally different than when they were initially used.
As quickly as some come in, others go out, Sputnik, bee's knees, cat's meow. Try using those on a Millennial and see how much head scratching goes on.
Technology has added to our vocabularies as well: snail mail, USB, Tweet.We communicate in shorthand too. Who hasn't used TTYL, NSFW, ROFL? NE1?
I'm working on a screenplay that is a period piece, from the '60s. So, I needed to immerse myself in a bit a research about words and slang of the time. And there were a lot of words used there that if I used them today, Laffy would surely get on my case and caution me to be careful. That word or phrase might offend. And she would be right. But sometimes knowing how something came into being allows you to understand why today they're PI (Politically Incorrect - Thank you Bill Maher) and maybe 50 years ago that term wasn't considered offensive.
So I thought I'd share some basic etymology with you, from my research for the upcoming film. I have to thank Huffpo for bringing some of these to me.
Whether referring to a person or to a lifestyle, using "ghetto" as an adjective is meant to indicate "low class," and along with it, obvious racist origins. Aware or not, the user is essentially implying that minorities are low class.
A home for hecklers," usually used in a joking manner -- what comedian hasn't asked an unruly audience to keep it down in the peanut gallery?) Formerly though it referred to the upper balconies where African-American people sat in in segregated theaters.
Hip hip hooray:
Boy, I hadn't seen this one coming. It's derived from the German "hep hep," which was originally a shepherds' herding cry, so the origin itself was not racially charged. However, during the Holocaust, German citizens began using it as a rallying cry while hunting for Jewish people in the ghettoes. (see,that word ghetto again, but this time as a noun.)
Call a spade a spade:
It just depends on the era in which you used this. The phrase, essentially meaning "to explicitly call something by its rightful name," entered the English language way back in 1542, (no, I can't remember what day or month) and initially had absolutely no racial connotation whatsoever (that I do remember).
It wasn't until the late 1920s that "spade" changed from referring to the gardening tool to being a slur towards African-Americans (its first public appearance as such was in Claude McKay's 1928 book "Home to Harlem").
He Gypped Me:
The word "gyp" now means "to cheat or swindle." It is essentially a condensing of the word "gypsies," who throughout history have been stereotyped as a group that cheats and swindles people.
And finally one I'm sure I used as a kid and surely would not use the same way now:
A common utterance to indicate someone was light, breezy, fun and exciting. Though it may still mean that to some from older generations, it, like Virginia Slims, has come a long way, baby.