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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Boffo Lenny! Socko Lenny!

Why in the heck was I thinking about the word boffo today? I know that I was thinking about the word because I wrote it on my hand. I tend to do that, write words on my hand when I want to remember to look them up and blog about them. It makes for interesting conversations, along with far less interesting conversations that begin "Why did you write that on your hand? Why not a piece of paper?" The answer, of course, is that chances are that by the time I found the paper, I'd have forgotten what it was I wanted to write down. And even if I hadn't, I'd then have to remember that I'd written something down, where I'd written it down, and so forth. But I digress more than usual.
So boffo means very successful, as in "Transformers movie inexplicably boffo at box office..." According to the good folks at the Online Etymology Dictionary, this word is "probably echoic of hit." Then I had to look up echoic, which means onomatopoetic. Who in their right mind would use a word like echoic when they could be saying onomatopoeic? Sociopaths, I'd imagine. So boffo, like similar words socko and slammo are examples of what folks sometimes call Variety Speak, or terms either coined by or made famous by Variety, the show business trade paper. 
According to this NPR story, the Oxford English Dictionary attributes twenty words to Variety, words like, according to Variety editor Tim Gray, strip tease, soap opera, and payola. They also coined biopic and d.j., according to Variety's "slanguage" dictionary over here. Which I highly recommend you visit, especially if you have several minutes of time you weren't planning to use for anything.
But Hollywood's penchant for introducing new words to our vocabulary doesn't begin with Variety, according to Bill Bryson's Made in America. Our language is full of words coined by the motion picture industry, words like flashback, documentary, and movie star. Seriously, flashback? What did they call flashbacks before they were called flashbacks? My sources won't say. I suppose flashback is quite a modern-sounding word when you think about it, so it might have occurred to me before now that it hasn't been used since the birth of flashbacks, but it hadn't occurred to me, so there.
The neatest etymology I've got for you today comes not from film, but from the stage. Ever wondered why someone who over-acts is called a ham? Ham is short for hamfatter, a reference to the fact that certain performers were so unsuccessful that they had to use ham fat, rather than cold cream, to remove their makeup. That according to Bill Bryson, although some have other suspicions. Because seriously, that just sounds made up.

Sorry for all the YouTube videos lately. I just got a new computer and haven't gotten around to organizing my photo files in their new home. You'll have to settle for the Animaniacs instead.

1 comment:

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