Frank De Blase on Jive, Jargon, and Sematics

Frank De Blase

Just ask anybody; I’m voraciously loquacious, on par with the parlance and voluminously versed in the vernacular. I dig jive, jargon and semantics, I sling the slang. Words are my monkey bars and I talk a lot. Ya dig?

The Oxford English Dictionary lists just over 250,000 distinct words in the English language that when mixed with slang, regional dialects, words assimilated from other languages and words that have dual meanings, tops out around 1,025,109.8. There is a new English word created every 98 minutes. You can thank teenagers and pharmaceutical companies for this.

But there is a stigma attached to some words, a shift in definition, if you will; words I want to re-work into my vocabulary, words that have been co-opted and modified to mean something entirely different. Among those are two that affect me directly. I’m talking about “gay” and “hipster”.

You see, I’m gay — in the classic, happy sense — and I am a hipster despite the negative connotations of those tattooed, cooler-than-thou bearded, shoe-gazing latte lappers the word now brings to mind. I’m a gay hipster, which translates loosely back to “Happy cool guy.” And who doesn’t want to be known as a happy cool guy? Sounds like a Japanese game show, huh? The Super Terrific Happy Cool Guy Hour. But I can’t storm into a room, my hands on my hips and proclaim loudly “I’m a gay hipster, ya’ll.” Maybe, if I wore a cape …

Growing up, as kids, gay meant awkwardly lame, fashionably clueless in one’s name-calling arsenal, and when we got older it took on more negative, hurtful qualities. Both were mean, inaccurate applications. But the word and its currently accepted definition by homosexuals has proved rather flexible over the years. It has changed and endured. And I want it back. At least I want to share. We share “fruit,” “fairy” and “queer” just fine, though I don’t claim to be any of those.

Taken from the French word “gai” in the 12th century, the word was defined as “Joyful, full of mirth, carefree, bright and showy.” Cool …

By the mid-17th century it shifted toward prurient practice to mean “Addicted to pleasures and dissipations.” Again, that’s something I can get with.

The 19th century definition kept with the salacious tack and defined gay as a female prostitute or a man who slept with a lot of women. And in my younger years on the prowl, not a totally inaccurate assessment.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that the meaning shifted toward homosexuals and by the 1950s it was official; gay was, well gay.

But in this era of sharing and tolerance, can’t we just share it? We can treat it as, a-hem, a homonym, with its context being your guide. So when I come sailing into a room in my cape proclaiming I’m gay, you won’t think I’m gay.

Now “hipster” doesn’t have the far reaching roots or history of gay but it stills sparks heated debate. Just by simple inflection, hipster can mean a with-it, contemporary, well-read, free-thinking, and compelling individual who digs Miles Davis, or on the other hand, a pretentious douchebag.

Hipster arose in the early 1960s from “hippie” (which was seriously overrun by the end of the decade to mean something else entirely) which came from “hip” which originated from “hep” in the jazz age. When I think hipster, I lean toward Kerouac, Kaufman, Coleman, Heron, Spillane, Waits, and DC Comics. As far as fashion, it seems that every ten years certain aspects of whatever I wear — stovepipe jeans, gabardine shirts, Wayfarers, and fedoras atop a greasy mop, etc. — come into fashion. I don’t begrudge it, I just find it more difficult to find my size during these periods of hipster enlightenment. The fact that a lot of people adopt a certain look or political stance or start exposing themselves to outsider art and culture is testimony that it’s appealing and cool and it’s hip, baby.

People are confusing these flannel shirttail riders with the real deal. But real hipsters don’t care if you’re not a hipster. Real hipsters aren’t exclusionary. You don’t have to know everything, but if you think Bukowski is a hockey player, we’re gonna have a problem. Take it from me, a gay hipster.