Monday, January 12, 2015

Cool and Awesome

We wandered onto the subject of cool when one of us noted its longevity among us.  

Cool has been in our vocabulary forever, it seems, as a handy filler and describer of things. 

Al and I agree cool was around when we were young. We've used the word cool since we learned (at about fourteen) that we weren't cool but there was hope that someday we could be. 

In the meantime, looking around, recognizing the coolness factor wasn't with us, there were obviously those who were cool, and many diverse things too, which did fit the cool bill.

To be considered cool was coveted then and it's the same today. But cool means more than being utterly enviable and having the world figured out. 

Cool signifies whatever you want cool to be. That's the genius part of cool.  It doesn't get much easier than that. It describes something suitably enough and you move on. No wonder cool hangs around.

We chuckled at the coincidence of timing. Shortly after commenting on cool's staying power cool made it into the daily comics. 

It was in Baby Blues that cool appeared. It's in a scene showing Hammie (my favorite comic strip little fellow ) and his grandpa. They're in the backyard and you get the impression the grandpa is at Hammie's house for a visit.

Hammie says to his grandpa something like this: "So then we're agreed. The only word we have in common is cool." 

That seals it as far as I'm concerned. Cool still reigns. A six year old gives cool his stamp of approval for millions of comic strip followers to read.

This led us to think about slang we picked up when young. These were the words popular around us. We learned these words or phrases from older siblings, or from peers far savvier than us, and ahead of the curve in fads, or through TV which was continually tossing out catchy phrases. 

Likely we ran our slang words into the ground. It must have driven our parents batty to hear phrases whose cool factor they couldn't see repeated all day long.

Interestingly, very few of those then cool words have stayed with us we find. Searching around, I came up with "it was a blast." Everything was a blast in those days as a statement of having fun. Another recalled  phrase was "far out"  - like in "far out, man."

For years "neat"  had the same connotation as cool. Then it sort of disappeared, or has withdrawn a bit. 

There we drew a blank until Al recalled groovy. We grew hilarious over that, so out of our heads has that word been.

Groovy was our generation's pet word for ages it seems. When we exhausted its freshness it evaporated into thin air. It got shelved with other former hard hitters like 23 skidoo. 

That pat phrase of the 1920s - the flapper generation's buzz line - merely drew guffaws from us as young folks when we heard it the first time. Groovy no doubt will have the same impact on those younger than us and we give them that, let them laugh.

Coming out of the era in which "sweet" as slang has had its dominance the handy bywords of the newest generation are now establishing themselves. We hear them most, and hear them best, at restaurants when we eat out and where we're served by a young wait staff.

Their words get served up along with the food and drinks for us to chew over. Give your order and the response is "awesome." Tell the person who tends your table that you've enjoyed the meal and "perfect" is the sure-to-be reply, In any restaurant, in any place, these stock responses are mechanically trotted out. You can bet on it.

Slang is the simple (some might say mindless) phrases that indicate we're in the conversation even when sometimes we actually aren't.. It lets us be friendly, noncommittal and connecting all at the same time. There's something comforting about a word so ready to work so generously for us and that's why slang is apt for most situations.

Frequently used phrases repeated by many catch a cultural moment. For what they're worth they help define us and our times. 

Whether we look on something as groovy, cool, awesome, sweet or perfect we're in the game. We use these words to nimbly keep up because in the end, no one wants to be left behind.

Ro Giencke - January 12, 2015

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