Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker

New slang unpacked

My latest slang column in the Malaysia Star explores some new-found slang.

Over the past few weeks in this space, I’ve shared old slang with you, but now it’s time to look at more recent slang, slang so new it has yet to prove that it will endure. 

From The Independent in London comes a bit of military slang that’s a head-scratcher (a puzzle) at first.  

In December, Jerome Starkey wrote, “Heat-seeking Javelin rockets designed to hit T72 tanks tearing across Europe are very good at finding insurgents cowering in compounds. Marines call it ‘throwing a Porsche at them’, because the missiles cost 65,000 a pop.” 

The expression throw a Porsche at someone has one of the hallmarks of slang: a bit of humour. Of course, the British soldiers are not actually tossing an expensive sports car at the enemy. They are, however, firing missiles that cost just about as much as a high-end sports car such as a Porsche. The slang comes about via metaphor. 

By the way, to say something costs a certain amount of money a pop, means it costs that much for every single one that you buy. You could also say, “Every time I ride the bus, it costs me two dollars a pop.” 

Another metaphor was used to invent the expression Q-tip cruise. This one takes a bit of unpacking (that is, explaining) in order to make it comprehensible.  

Q-tip is a brand name of a type of short stick that has very small tufts of white cotton on the end. They’re sold mainly in North America and are used for putting on make-up, daubing wounds with antiseptic, or cleaning out your ears (although the official advice is not to use them that way because you could do damage to your ear drums). 

The Q is capitalised because “Q-tip” is a proper noun, although it is close to becoming generic in the United States, the same way that the brand name Kleenex is now widely used to mean any tissue paper on which you can blow your nose. The existing generic name of the Q-tip product is “cotton swab.”  

Cruise in Q-tip cruise refers to a pleasure trip aboard a large ship.  

Now, the metaphor comes into play because many of the passengers on Q-tip cruises are senior citizens or just seniors. That is, old people who have white hair that resembles the cotton on the ends of Q-tips. 

Here’s another bit of new slang: to swede. Sweding is a particularly interesting word from a new movie called Be Kind, Rewind. Created by French filmmaker Michael Gondry, the plot revolves around two men who work at a video rental store in which all of the videotapes of movies are accidentally erased.  

So the two men decide to swede the movies themselves, meaning to re-make all of the movies with a home video camera and the barest of props and plots. In use outside of the movie, Gondry and the website for Be Kind, Rewind say that to swede a movie is to insert yourself into it, to make yourself a part of the action. 

Another bit of new slang is to jock. It means to steal, or, in other slang, to bite. Bite and jock are especially used this way on the Internet, where they might be used in sentences like, “Don’t jock my pages!” or “He didn’t write that! He bit it from me.” 

In politics, a slang term that has caught my attention is hispandering. It, too, requires some unpacking before it’s easy to understand.  

First, it’s a blend of the words Hispanic and pandering. Hispanic is an adjective that refers to people from Latin America. In this case, because hispandering is a political term, it more specifically refers to illegal Spanish-speaking immigrants. 

Pandering isn’t slang, but instead is a long-standing English word meaning to give in to the wishes or desires of someone else, especially when those wishes or desires are vulgar or common. It comes from Chaucer’s play Troilus and Criseyde with help from Shakespeare’s version, Troilus and Cressida

Where these two words come together is in the middle of the debate over illegal immigration in the United States. Some Americans believe the country should grant amnesty—a period during which the immigration law will not be enforced—to illegal immigrants who have shown that they are hard workers and taxpayers, especially if they have children, since any child born in the United States has the right to be an American citizen, even if their parents are not. 

Those people who disagree with the idea of amnesty, therefore, believe politicians who do support it are pandering in order to get more votes from people who think the amnesty is a good idea. Voilà, Hispandering

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Grant Barrett