The Words We Used Were Both Gross and Cool

Recently I heard someone say that something was both “gross and cool.”

Back in my youth the words gross and cool were commonly used and were opposite in meaning. So, hearing them together seemed weird.

Every generation wants to have its own parent-tolerated words for good things (cool) and bad things (gross). Synonyms for cool from other times included “keen,” “neat” and “nifty.” Synonyms for gross included “crappy,” “scuzzy,” “ishy”, “icky” and the exclamation “ewwww!” I’m sure you can think of many more. “Corny” was used for less-gross things unless maybe it was so corny it was “off the cob.”

Sometimes cool is pronounced like “kewl.” I’ve even seen it spelled that way on social media. Sometimes the ending is dropped so it sounds like “coo.” Rather flippant usage, I think. Maybe because my daughter does this.

There were a number of years I didn’t hear those words used much, if at all. I’m sure they were still part of the local slang; I just didn’t notice. Maybe nothing was gross or cool during that time.

The Return of Cool

Then one day, a guy I was working with in Eagan was describing something that was “really cool.” I was startled and chuckled to myself. I hadn’t heard that word for years. Then I remembered that the guy who said it grew up in Red Wing. Coincidence or conspiracy? You decide. But, hey, it was cool.

Since then, I hear it all the time. Gross, not so much anymore. Maybe because gross just sounds gross, even when using it to designate 12 dozen of something. So, I started to wonder what other terms and phrases from my past have been relegated to the world’s history dumpster, the internet. I quickly found out.

There are lists of every kind, focused on trivia for decades back. Here are some I remember from my formative years in the 60s and 70s.

A “greaser” was a guy who greased his hair into various sculptures, who wore dark clothes, drove hot rods and smoked fags. The hot rods were often raked, with skirts over the whitewall rear tires. There weren’t many greasers left when I was young. We were fast approaching blow-dry hair days anyway.

My older brother Bruce was part of the greaser era, so I automatically learned a lot of terms relating to cars. That was how a boy could gain respect from older boys (including brothers and dads). I was well versed on things like “punch it,” “burn out,” “burn rubber,” “spin donuts,” “three-on-the-tree,” “pop the clutch” and dozens more. But I never developed a need for speed and power. Dad’s cars guaranteed that.

For awhile, the term “fink” was in vogue, used to call someone a tattletale, as in “he finked on me.” We could use the word around the folks because they had heard it used on TV which made it acceptable. It wasn’t long before it became just another derogatory term. Then it was gone.

You Don’t Say

There were many words we didn’t dare say around the folks. We were careful to limit use of words that started with “sh” just in case they came out wrong. Even saying “shucks,” or “shoot,” could be dangerous.  We whispered words like “snot,” “boogers” and “poop.”

Another long list of historic terms was specifically related to being impaired. Apparently, it was important to know them. People could be “blitzed,” “jagged,” “loaded,” “wasted,” “cooked,” “toasted,” “fried,” “baked,” “bagged,” and “shorted out” depending on what they were drinking, smoking or ingesting, and how much.

Getting high was a term adults used with any and all illicit drug use. This didn’t include alcohol because alcohol consumption was legal for adults. To them, getting drunk was decidedly different and more forgivable.

Beer was a way older kids measured costs as in, “Man, I bet those new shoes cost about five 12-packs.” This would make one pause to determine if the shoes were a good deal or not.

Many terms and phrases we used back then came from TV shows like Laugh-In, which rode the hippy fad train and where I learned what a Walnetto is. We learned terms like groovy, far out and mod – more synonyms for cool.

Some more recent terms used in place of cool show my age, I guess, because I don’t use them. Words like “gnarly,” “boss” and the much overused “awesome.”

I also am tired of “perrrrfect” and “sounds good.” And if I hear, “How were your first bites?” at a restaurant anymore, the tip I leave will be to stop saying that. That also goes for, “How may I make you smile today?”

Word usage and their meanings change all the time, making language almost an organic, living thing.

And I think that’s cool.