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!
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.
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.