Sixties Speak — then, and now

You’re going to laugh at this one! Perry Block of Havertown, Pennsylvania, has been listening to the language we use … and holding it up against the language we used to use. And wow, there’s a big difference … which is why he writes about Sixties Speak — Then, and Now.

I can’t exactly say that I’d like to go back and relive the era of the 60s.

Then again, right now I’m experiencing a different kind of 60s, and between the two I’ll take the first one — cannabis-stained knuckles, fingers, and hands — hands-down!


What many of us looked like back then …

It seems incredible that it’s been over 40 years since those days of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, and for me, well, two out of three wasn’t bad. Much has changed in our culture since then, including our language. Many of the old phrases are still around, but the meanings aren’t quite the same.

Ready, Baby Boomers?

Far Out! — Once an exclamation of excitement, wonderment, andradical possibilities. Now for many Boomers, a belt size.

Roach Clip — Once a tweezers-like holder for marijuana cigarette remnants. Now the realization that your exterminator has overcharged the hell out of you.

Right On! — Once a cry of solidarity and brotherhood. Now a shout-out that your chip shot on the 11th has managed to trickle up to the green.

Establishment — Once the power, the Man, the established order you had to fight. Now the hot corner bistro you can’t afford.

Oh Wow! — Once an exclamation of joy and exhilaration. Now an apt response when you open your cable bill.

Freak Flag — Once a proud spiritual badge that proclaimed you were a long-haired member of the counter-culture. Now a United States flag with 49 stars.

The Man — Once the government, the authority, the one calling the shots. Now the bride in the wedding you attended last week.

No. 9 — Once an enigmatic phrase in a John Lennon authored recording by the Beatles. Now the second and generally one of the weakest jokes in a Letterman Top Ten List.

John Lennon

John Lennon

Power to the People! — Once a cry for freedom, justice, and equality. Now the option to select your electricity supplier.

Getting Off Now — Once the pleasured sensation that a drug experience was about to begin. Now an exhausted goodbye to your co-worker as you exit the 6:15 out of Center City.

Heavy — Once a heart-felt designation of relevance and truth. Now just about anything we Baby Boomers try to lift.

In thinking back to the Sixties, much of the language we spoke was indeed self-indulgent and pretentious. But a bit of it was more like Yiddish; that is, able to express thoughts and feelings in a word or phrase that couldn’t be expressed effectively any other way, for which there was and is no equivalent in formal English.

Or anywhere else.

And with all its faults and foibles, there was and is no equivalent — and never will be — for the 1960s.

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    1. Yes, those were the days. We actually had a cause! Anyone who says we are “spoiled and self indulgent” should look at the changes that our generation brought such as civil rights, equal pay, women’s reproductive rights, clean air and water should consider all of that! We also didn’t have fancy electronics, and cell phones, and yes, many people did go to Viet Nam, and others protested. We believed in something outside of ourselves, and many of us still fight the good fight.

      1. Excellent comment, and part of the point I wanted to make. What was pretentious and false about the sixties and early seventies gradually melted away, but left behind was tremendous positive change which has greatly helped to shaped the present and will continue to shape the future. And it’s kind of fun to take a look back at the language. I still say “Oh, Wow!” and always will. ( And will never say or write “Woot!” or “Woo-hoo!”)

  1. I love this! The establishment part really had me going. Most of the time young c workers are clueless about phrases such as ” Right on” and “far out”! Miss those days, and still ” get off” on the music!

    1. And do you know young people misuse the term “letting your freak flag fly” to mean anyone acting in an unconventional manner? Very annoying! I don’t think Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Jimi Hendrix had the guy down the street who collects string in mind when they used the phrase. KIDS!

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