Broadcast: December 1, 2004
AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: college slang.
RS: When Tom Wolfe was doing research on college slang for his new novel, "I Am Charlotte Simmons," he consulted some experts. One was Connie Eble, the author of a book called "Slang and Sociability: In-Group Language Among College Students."
AA: Connie Eble is an English professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
CONNIE EBLE: "One day I came to my office and there was the flashing red message light, and when I picked up the phone to retrieve the message, there was this very friendly voice introducing himself as Tom Wolfe and telling me who he was -- and of course I knew who he was, but I thought that was very nice -- and telling me what every author wants to hear, music to my ear, that 'I was reading your book, and I had some questions.' [laughter] And he said he would like to talk to me, and so I returned the phone call and he said he was coming to North Carolina for purposes of research on a novel he was writing, and could he set up an appointment to see me when he came. And that's exactly what he did."
AA: "Some of the slang terms, or I guess a good number of the ones that I've read so far in Tom Wolfe's book, we couldn't say on the radio, so let's stick to some that maybe we can. What are some slang terms that are current and that catch your ear?"
CONNIE EBLE: "Well you know, to tell you the truth, not many catch my ear because students don't use slang around me very much. For the most part, when they talk to me they use informal language with me, but they rarely use slang, because that's not the point of it."
AA: "So how do you collect your information?"
CONNIE EBLE: "I have a very simple-minded -- and not particularly good in terms of research design -- way of doing it. Once a semester I ask the undergraduates in the same class to bring into class on a specific day ten items that they consider good, current campus slang. And in April in this one class -- you have to remember it is just one class, and they were not necessarily volunteering ones that would be shocking -- the most frequent term that was turned in was to 'bounce,' meaning to leave. Students for at least 30 years have had different slang synonyms for leaving. So, you know, 'this party's lame, let's bounce.'
"They also commented that they would use 'bolt,' b-o-l-t, 'let's bolt,' or 'let's jet' -- those were the three that they reported to me last spring. Another one that was fairly frequent last spring is 'whack,' 'that's whack,' meaning silly or stupid or strange."
AA: "And that's w-h-a-c-k?"
CONNIE EBLE: "Well, who knows how it's spelled. Some of the students spelled it w-h-a-c-k and others spelled it w-a-c-k. Also, lame. Now lame has been around for a long, long time. It means basically the same thing as whack -- something is silly, stupid. So anything that could be negative just about you could call lame or whack."
AA: "So whack, lame -- what was next on the list from April?"
CONNIE EBLE: "Bling-bling. Now that one is straight from rap music. It means jewelry. Now it also can mean wealth. For example, the students reported that you could look at someone's engagement ring and say 'I'd say your man's got the bling-bling,' meaning that he's wealthy enough to buy you a large diamond engagement ring. And then 'tight.'
"Tight, of course, has been around for years meaning drunk. But now it means trendy or impressive or interesting. And then the next word in terms of frequency of submission is 'banging' [pronounced bangin']. And banging I think also comes out of the whole hip-hop culture and the lyrics to rap music. It means great or good or awesome or whatever."
AA: "So do your students think you're pretty bangin' for doing this?"
CONNIE EBLE: "No, they just think I'm some ancient woman who is somehow off in her own world. And so they help enlighten me once a semester."
RS: And for helping enlighten Tom Wolfe, University of North Carolina Professor Connie Eble gets credit in the acknowledgements of his latest novel.
AA: And that's all for Wordmaster this week. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and all our segments are online at voanews.com/wordmaster. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.
MUSIC: "She Bangs" from the album "Inspiration" by William Hung (a University of California, Berkeley, student who became a star by mangling the Ricky Martin song "She Bangs" on the TV talent show "American Idol.")