LAST week, if you wanted to use the latest slang to tell a friend he was cool, you could have called him “Obama,” as in: “Dude, you’re rocking the new Pre phone? You are so Obama.”Yeesh. If you risked it before, go ahead: risk it! You seem pretty un-risk-averse. Chez Althouse, we've been thinking it's amusing to say, whenever anything's not quite right: Why did Obama let that happen? Or just — with a tone of sad disappointment: Obama.
This week? Best not to risk it.
But anyway, "Obama" as an adjective for cool/hip? The point is that it didn't last:
The life of slang is now shorter than ever, say linguists, and what was once a reliable code for identifying members of an in-group or subculture is losing some of its magic.... whose slang credentials include being a founding member of the doo-wop group Sha Na Na... Ha ha. I like to think his linguistics scholarship focuses on the meaning of nonsense syllables in doo wop songs. (Because, really, WHO put the bomp?)
The Internet “is robbing slang of a lot of its sociolinguistic exclusionary power,” said Robert A. Leonard, a linguistics professor at Hofstra in Hempstead, N.Y., whose slang credentials include being a founding member of the doo-wop group Sha Na Na, formed in the late 1960s. “If you are in a real inside group, you are manufacturing slang so that you can exclude the wannabes.”
And that becomes harder, he added, as the whole world has access to your language.
Nowadays, everyone can check Urban Dictionary. The exclusionary game is up.
And what's the #1 entry over at Urban Dictionary for "Obama"? With 7468 up votes and 2099 down:
No real definition for this word is possible at this time. Check back in 4 years by then a consensus by have formed. Each person projects his personal beliefs and values onto this word, and a standard meaning isn't possible at this time.Hey, did it suddenly become hip and cool to be all clear-headed and rational?!