Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble

One of my favorite slang terms is "Bogart," a verb which means "to hog." My favorite part of the word is its history. Sadly I don't remember exactly where I read this, but it's filed away in my brain as having come from a Reliable Source, so I'm guessing I didn't read it on Yahoo! Answers or anything. 
The term first shows up in the 50s or so, and it means, basically, to strong-arm, or rough somebody up to get them to give over the goods, or the papers, or the falcon, or whatever else it is that Bogey wants you to give over. I knew that the term later referred to the act of hogging the pot, as in "Hey, don't bogart that blunt" (see how hip I am with the lingo?). A pretty big shift, over a relatively short time, I thought.
Turns out, apparently, that the term "bogart" used to refer to hog the pot, has its very own etymology. It refers to the fact that Bogey was always smoking. Apparently, the two terms sprang up independently of each other. If, of course, the unnamed Reliable Source is as reliable as my mental filing systems seems to think it is.
So now I'm thinking about other folks whose names have been borrowed and verbed, if you will. There's Echo, of course, the nymph of myth whom Hera cursed by taking away Echo's voice, so that Echo could only speak to repeat another's words.
More recently, we've got the verb "MacGuyver," which means to improvise something brilliant with unconventional materials, as in "My bike was stolen, so we had to MacGuyver a new one together out of old parts and duct tape." This term is often used to mean "jury rig," but I think for an action to truly be a MacGuyver, you have to be making something, like an airplane, out of random crap, like duct tape and PVC piping, rather than repairing something that was broken.
Chuck Norris is on the verge of being verbbed, but his popularity is waning, so I doubt our kids will be using the expression "So I Chuck Norrised him into next Tuesday." The term "Chuck Norris" should only apply to roundhouse kicks, in my opinion.
Ninja doesn't refer to a specific individual, but I do like that "ninja" has become a verb lately, as in "My boss caught me playing online poker after he ninja'ed up on me." This probably first appeared in multiplayer online games, in which some folks would stand around while you fought the bad guy and then ran over and took the dead bad guy's swag before the victor could do it - this came to be known as "to ninja someone's loot." 

One of my favorite poems, appropriate for this occasion: 
Narcissus and Echo

by Fred Chapell

Shall the water not remember    ember
my hands slow gesture, tracing above  of
its mirror my half-imaginary    airy
portrait? My only belonging    longing;
is my beauty, which I take    ache
away and then return, as love of
teasing playfully the one being unbeing;
Whose gratitude I treasure   is your
moves me. I live apart        heart
from myself, yet cannot        not
live apart. In the water's tone,  stone?
That brilliant silence, a flower   hour,
whispers my name with such slight light:
moment, it seems filament of air      fare
the world becomes cloudswell.      well


Anonymous said...

Apropos to Ninja:

"Kung Fu" -- originally meaning effort/work over time in Chinese, it is now popularly used as a verb to mean beating someone up using martial-arts-like moves. E.g. Watch it, he's getting ready to kung fu your ass!

It's interesting to note that 'Pown', formerly of gamer slang, is now in the cultural lexicon thanks to Southpark.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

I didn't know that about Kung Fu. I thought that was just the name of the discipline.
Jeremy and I just had an extended conversation about the introduction of "pown" into the popular lexicon... I first saw it in lolcat form, and lolcats seem to have started out on gamer forums. I hypothesize that the original lolcats were sort-of caricatures of n00bs, hence the LOL!1! and PWNINg.
I haven't watched Southpark in years, though. Much like Ramen noodles, I haven't been able to stomach it since college.

Anonymous said...

The story is that some western missionaries went to China and happened upon some folks practicing Chinese martial arts. When they asked someone nearby what was going on, they go the reply "They are practicing Kung Fu", which literally meant that they were practicing hard. I think this vague answer was partly due to the fact that Chinese martial artists were traditionally very secretive about their art to begin with, and that during the early colonial times the Chinese were very reticent to teach foreigners their martial arts lest it be used against them.

It's also interesting to note that before Bruce Lee and the Shaw Brothers popularized Kung Fu movies, Chinese Martial Arts was mostly known under the umbrella term of Chinese Boxing (as in the Boxer Rebellion).