William Safire November 28, 2004
Fo'shizzle, I'm going to get hella crunk tonight.'' The first slang word is a variant of ''for sure''; the second, hella, is an adjective meaning ''very, a lot, really,'' perhaps a clip of ''helluva.'' But the word that's sweeping the high-school playgrounds and college campuses is crunk, a blend of ''crazy'' and ''drunk,'' which has elbowed aside wasted, just as faded has replaced stoned. A hard drinker, loud but not yet a crunk, is a daunch.
The main interests of high-school seniors and college students include not just drinking, but also sex, reverse peristalsis, superlatives for handsome and ugly, sex, derogations of the stupid, bodily waste, fast automobiles and sex. Accordingly, they create words for these subjects that sometimes last up to three years before they are adopted by adults and then -- as the insider quality of the lingo is lost -- are hurriedly dropped by the originators.
Vehicles -- wheels, as they were once called -- are now whips. ''Have you seen Joe's new whip? It's a stretch Hummer.'' An ordinary car is called a ride, while a large passenger car out of style or otherwise low on prestige is not a whip, but a scraper. ''A vintage Buick -- or, as they call them in the Bay, a scraper -- pulls up, and all four doors pop open.''
What is the latest term for the old cool (including its emphasizer, too cool for school) and the more recent phat and rad? Try tight, which is making a comeback, as in ''Did you see his pimped-out ride -- it was tight.'' The meaning is extended to innocent intimacy with someone: ''Charlie's my boy. We're tight.''
The antonym to tight is not ''loose'' -- logic has no place in the coinage of neologisms -- but janky, also spelled and pronounced jinky or jainky. This slow developer (it started at least a decade ago) has picked up meanings ranging from ''substandard'' to ''weird.'' An expurgated citation goes, ''That janky camo boy got some stuff on the side of my ride.'' (Camo is fashion slang, short for ''camouflage,'' used to describe outdoorsy wear that blends in with jungle greenery. On the gripping post-election cover of The New Republic, the editorial cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty drew a crowd of recriminating Democrats blaming John Kerry for every possible campaign error, including ''He shouldn't have worn camo.'')
What are the current derogations of what used to be dorks? They are now dillweeds and dipsticks, the latter an instrument to determine the amount of oil in the engine. An obnoxious male showoff seeking to attract females is derided as a floss or as engaged in flossing, which may have a dental origin. The old to hit on of unwelcome flirtation has morphed into to mack. Contrariwise, what used to be ''a man's man'' and is now ''a guy's guy'' is called a bloke, a borrowing from British slang.
''Good-looking,'' male or female, is bangin'. At the top of the heap of desirability is the adjective blaze: ''that guy is blaze!'' means that he is exceptionally attractive. (In the canine world, a blaze is a stunning showing of white fur on the chest of a Bernese mountain dog. My own dog, Sebastian, has a magnificent blaze, much admired by my bitch, Geneva.) A cruel floss may derogate a young woman with an attractive figure but a less-than-appealing visage as a butterface, the term not a dairy derivative but from the phrase ''but her face.''
Superlatives coming on strongest are off the hook, which has topped the old ''wow''; uber, as in ''His whip is uber-fast'' (from the German for ''over, super''); and wooka, as in ''That movie is wooka-sweet.'' Lexicographic Irregulars willing to speculate on the origin of wooka are urged to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though the popularity of smoking pot seems to be getting stale, the lingo of aging Mary Jane (marijuana) maintains its freshness: dank, which in Standard English means ''disagreeably damp,'' in current slang describes the high-grade illegal product, and the adjective's meaning is extended to anything highly rated. On the other hand, the standard English noun stress is used as a synonym for the cheaper variety of weed: ''I'm not gonna smoke this stress.''
The state of excitement generates new verbs. The old pumped has lost its zip; stoked, from the poking of a fire, is a dying ember in slanguage. Amped, from amphetamine or ampule, meaning ''frenetic activity, perhaps drug-induced,'' is current, but this category could use a fresh volt.
I am going to cop out on the latest descriptions of copulation, which -- along with new phrases for excretions -- relentlessly spice up youthful slang. The old euphemisms for coupling -- from yesteryear's all-but-forgotten sleeping together to the last generation's more mechanical parallel parking to the more recent hooking up -- have been replaced by short, less imaginative verbs. The latest slang term for defecation, however, is dropping the kids off at the pool, which offers hope for a new generation of euphemistic suburbanites.
Frankly, if I were to accost a young person and say, ''What's the current term among your contemporaries for 'desirable, attractive'?'' the likely response would be, ''Filthy, Gramps.'' This would follow slang's frequent linguistic pattern of semantic reversal, with ba-a-a-d meaning ''superb,'' with shut up meaning ''tell me more'' and junk no longer pejorative, instead updating the meaning of ''awesome.'' The word sexellent, for ''awesomely sexy,'' strikes me as a strained coinage, but as a silverback, I would not inspire trust in the young interviewee. (Although silverback is defined in the O.E.D. as ''a mature male mountain gorilla,'' current slang uses it to mean ''old man.'' It strikes me as more dashing than geezer, but it's not easy swinging from trees.)
Therefore, I sought intermediaries who have close rapport with users of current youthful slang. These include Pamela Munro, professor of linguistics at U.C.L.A.; Connie Eble, professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the Cassandra Report, published by Youth Intelligence; and Grant Barrett, editor of ''Double-Tongued Word Wrester'' on www.doubletongued.org.
Though chill out, meaning ''relax,'' is still in use, it is warming up to marinating, a culinary term that has gained the sense of ''taking it easy.'' Anything tasty is apple sauce, and ''money'' is cheddar. Totally time to clip. Gotta bounce.
by James Surowiecki - MARCH 28, 2011
Even if Japan’s nuclear crisis is contained, its earthquake and tsunami now seem certain to be, economically speaking, among the worst natural disasters in history, with total losses potentially as high as two hundred billion dollars. In response, fearful investors sent the Nikkei down almost twenty per cent on the first day of trading after the tsunami, and it’s still down more than ten per cent. Yet, while the fear is understandable, this may turn out to have been an overreaction: history suggests that, despite the terrifying destruction and the horrific human toll, the long-term impact of the quake on the Japanese economy could be surprisingly small.
That may seem hard to reconcile with the scale and the scope of the devastation. But, as the economists Eduardo Cavallo and Ilan Noy have recently suggested, in developed countries even major disasters “are unlikely to affect economic growth in the long run.” Modern economies, it turns out, are adept at rebuilding and are often startlingly resilient.
The quintessential example comes from Japan itself: in 1995, an earthquake levelled the port city of Kobe, which at the time was a manufacturing hub and the world’s sixth-largest trading port. The quake killed sixty-four hundred people, left more than three hundred thousand homeless, and did more than a hundred billion dollars in damage (almost all of it uninsured). There were predictions that it would take years, if not decades, for Japan to recover. Yet twelve months after the disaster trade at the port had already returned almost to normal, and within fifteen months manufacturing was at ninety-eight per cent of where it would have been had the quake never happened. On the national level, Japan’s industrial production rose in the months after the quake, and its G.D.P. growth in the following two years was above expectations. Similarly, after the Northridge earthquake, in 1994, the Southern California economy grew faster than it had before the disaster. A recent fema study found that after Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston, in 1989, the city outpaced growth predictions in seven of the following ten quarters. And the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, despite its enormous human toll, may have actually boosted the economy’s growth rate.
These were all monumental catastrophes, and yet, a couple of years after the fact, domestic growth rates showed little sign that they had happened. The biggest reason for this, as the economist George Horwich argued, is that even though natural disasters destroy physical capital they don’t diminish the true engines of economic growth: human ingenuity and productivity. With enough resources, a damaged region can reconstruct itself with surprising speed. Although the Northridge quake demolished the Santa Monica Freeway, it reopened after just sixty-six days. Healthy economies are by definition adaptive: in the case of Kobe, other Japanese ports picked up the slack until it was back on line. And, because governments generally flood disaster areas with money, there’s no dearth of cash for new investments.
In a study of eighty-nine countries, the economists Mark Skidmore and Hideki Toya, after controlling for every variable they could think of, found that countries that suffered more climatic disasters actually grew faster and were more productive. This seems bizarre: it’s close to the broken-windows fallacy identified by the nineteenth-century economist Frédéric Bastiat—the idea that breaking windows is economically useful, because it makes work for glaziers. But Skidmore and Toya argue that disaster-stricken economies don’t simply replace broken windows, as it were; they upgrade infrastructure and technology, and shift investment away from older, less productive industries. (After the Kobe quake, the city’s plastic-shoe factories never returned.) In Horwich’s somewhat ruthless phrase, disasters can function as a form of “accelerated depreciation.” Something similar often happens on the level of the individual consumer: homeowners rebuilding after a disaster take the opportunity to upgrade, a phenomenon known as “the Jacuzzi effect.” In ordinary times, inertia keeps old technologies in place; it may be easier to make dramatic changes when you have to start from scratch.
Still, the impact of any given disaster depends on a variety of factors. Skidmore and Toya have found that geological disasters don’t seem to have the same effects on growth rates as climatic disasters. And growth rates seem to be resilient only for relatively wealthy, well-run countries, which can raise money easily and administer reconstruction funds efficiently. In poor countries, by contrast, disasters are doubly disastrous: they often do more damage to begin with, since infrastructure is in such woeful shape, and the damage is harder to repair. Haiti’s economy has shrunk more than eight per cent since the earthquake last year, and much of the country remains in rubble.
Furthermore, it’s important to remember that even cities that do successfully rebuild still lose enormous amounts of capital. In that sense, the biggest economic effect of disasters is to redistribute resources rather than create them. Disasters redistribute money from taxpayers to construction workers, from insurance companies to homeowners, and even from those who once lived in the destroyed city to those who replace them. It’s remarkable that this redistribution can happen so smoothly and quickly, with devastated regions reinventing themselves in a matter of months. But that doesn’t make the devastation any less real. Modern economies are good at recovering from disasters, but it’s a tragedy that they’re getting so much practice.
Taken from The NewYorker: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2011/03/28/110328ta_talk_surowiecki#ixzz1bZXcTUbn
by Stephen Jay Gould
The basic attack of modern creationists falls apart on [general principles] before we even reach the supposed factual details. First, they play upon a vernacular misunderstanding of the word "theory" … In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"—part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus creationists … argue: evolution is "only" a theory…Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things.... Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered….
Our confidence that evolution occurred centers upon three general arguments. First, we have abundant, direct, observational evidence of evolution in action. This evidence ranges from countless experiments on … fruit flies subjected to artificial selection in the laboratory to the famous populations of British moths that became black when industrial soot darkened the trees upon which the moths rest. (Moths gain protection from sharp-sighted bird predators by blending into the background.) Creationists do not deny these observations; how could they? Creationists have tightened their act. They now argue that God only created "basic kinds," and allowed for limited evolutionary meandering within them. Thus toy poodles and Great Danes come from the dog kind and moths can change color, but nature cannot convert a dog to a cat or a monkey to a man.
The second argument—that the imperfection of nature reveals evolution—strikes many people as ironic, for they feel that evolution should be most elegantly displayed in the nearly perfect adaptation expressed by some organisms.... But perfection could be imposed by a wise creator or evolved by natural selection. Perfection covers the tracks of past history.
Evolution lies exposed in the imperfections that record a history of descent. Why should a rat run, a bat fly, a porpoise swim, and I type this essay with structures built of the same bones unless we all inherited them from a common ancestor? An engineer, starting from scratch, could design better limbs in each case. … This principle of imperfection extends to all historical sciences. When we recognize the etymology of September, October, November, and December (seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth), we know that the year once started in March, or that two additional months must have been added to an original calendar of ten months.
The third argument is more direct: transitions … in the fossil record. Preserved transitions are not common, but they are not entirely wanting, as creationists often claim. The lower jaw of reptiles contains several bones, that of mammals only one. The non-mammalian jawbones are reduced, step by step, in mammalian ancestors until they become tiny nubbins located at the back of the jaw. … How could such a transition be accomplished? the creationists ask. … [Yet] paleontologists have discovered two transitional lineages of therapsids (the so-called mammal-like reptiles) with a double jaw joint—one composed of the old quadrate and articular bones (soon to become the hammer and anvil [of modern mammals]), the other of the squamosal and dentary bones (as in modern mammals). [Or take for example] the oldest human, Australopithecus afarensis, with its apelike palate, its human upright stance, and a cranial capacity larger than any ape’s of the same body size but a full 1,000 cubic centimeters below ours…
Font: Stephen Jay Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory," Discover 2 (May 1981): 34-37;