"Dude! I gotta comedy wood, chillin' ma-jor!" says comedian Pauly Shore, to enormous applause. It's one of the first things you hear on his new album, "The Future of America," and if you're fluent in Dude, you understand that he's saying he has a lot of jokes in store.
But if you're not fluent in Dude -- if you think "chillin' ma-jor" means Shore hasn't dressed warmly enough -- perhaps you ought to read on.
For instance, this is Shore's Dude-speak version of a parent telling the kids it's time for bed: "Look at you crusty dudes, chillin'. You're burnt and I'm edged, so if you don't cruise upstairs pronto, I'm gonna snap into my own and I'm 'onna tweak you in the melons." (Translation: "Look, you kids are tired, and I'm getting mad. So get to bed before I start knocking heads.").
Shore, both on MTV and in his nightclub act, plays this language gap as generational -- "I don't want to bum you out," he tells the oldermembers of his audience, "but I'm the future of America" -- which it surely is. After all, how many people over 30 are fluent in Dude?
And Dude is not the only new "slanguage" to become part of youth culture communication. Rap slang is also bustin' out everywhere, as homies drop the latest dope jams on their boomin' systems (that is, as people play the latest rap hits on their stereos). Even the latest Brit slang -- a favorite of punters and posers (rock fans and would-be hipsters) since the days of the Beatles -- is taking on new life.
Today's youth slang works a little differently than that of the past, however. Slang used to be a sort of private code, with the latest lingo known only to a handful of hipsters. But these newcomers -- Dude, Rap and Brit -- are media-disseminated, spreading the word through albums, movies and television.
Dude, for instance, was originally the local dialect of Valley Kids and young Los Angelenos. But between Shore's nightly spot on MTV and films like "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey," dudes across the country have adapted this most excellent slang.
Likewise, the rise of rap has also added a slew of new words to the average teen's vocabulary. Between albums, MTV and movies like "Boyz N the Hood," terms that otherwise would have only been understood by homies in the South Bronx are now tossed about by teens in Cedar Rapids and Boise.
"There are certain words which I've said a lot on my show that I've seen take off," reports Fab 5 Freddy, the host of "Yo! MTV Raps." As one who follows trends in Rap language -- his Rap dictionary, "Fresh! Fly! Flavor! The Words and Phrases of the Rap Generation," is due out this fall -- he's amazed at the speed with which slang is accepted. "Nowadays, with rap and with video, it can be pretty instant," he says.
Some slang, in fact, is practically created by the media. As Trevor Cralle points out in his book, "The Surfin'ary: A Dictionary of Surfing Terms and Surfspeak," bits of surf lingo have been filtering into the American mainstream since the Gidget craze of the late '50s. When surfspeak was filtered through the mall culture of the San Fernando Valley -- the inspiration for the Frank Zappa hit "Valley Girl" -- it began to mutate into an entirely new language.
OC "But as a special language confined to the San Fernando Valley,
'Valspeak' is a media myth," writes Cralle. "The particular accent and vocabulary associated with Valspeak can be heard among many middle-class teen-agers in other suburban areas."
As Surfspeak begat Val, so Val begat Dude. First personified by Jeff Spicoli, the Sean Penn-portrayed anti-hero of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," the typical Dude dude likes his music loud (classic Dude bands include Van Halen, Motley Crue and Aerosmith), his women fast (classic Dude babes think of thong bikinis as "formal wear") and his parties nightly. No wonder Dude caught on in a hurry!
Rap, on the other hand, has been around since the mid-'70s, and that has lent a different dynamic to its use of language. "It's funny," says Fab 5 Freddy. "If a certain crowd uses a word -- almost any particular word -- and they keep using it, it then can become slang even when it still has its literal meaning."
Take "fresh" -- rap for "cool" -- as an example. How did that get started?
"There was a group back in the late '70s known as the Fantastic Romantic Five MCs," he says. "As a part of their routine, they used to say, 'We're fresh out the pack, you gotta stay back/We got one Puerto Rican and the rest are black.' I would see the guys at shows, and they would go, 'Fab, man! Come to our next show, it's gonna be fresh out the pack!
"People around them began to pick up on that, but they dropped the 'Out the pack' part. So it was just, 'We're going to be fresh' -- and that grew into what it is now."
These days, though, "fresh" is kind of stale as Rap words go. After all, says Freddy, part of the fun of slang expressions -- and part of slang's appeal to teens -- is in being the first to use something.