Chris Uggen's Blog: is cool no longer <i>cool</i>?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

is cool no longer cool?

i just got word from my informant at a juvenile detention center that the word "cool" has fallen out of favor -- and that staff are subject to derision for using it today. i thought "cool" was everlastingly and indelibly cool, or at least that it had been cool since the jazz age.

when i asked said informant what had replaced it in the lexicon, she offered a couple candidates: (1) tight, which i like, though it carries myriad other connotations (e.g., cheap, drunk, and uncomfortable); and, (2) fo' sho', which has become a hip-hop staple, though it cracked me up when i first saw it written on a lynyrd skynyrd lyric sheet in 1979 (ya got that right? just gimme three steps). personally, i prefer "hip," though hip hasn't been cool or tight since 1961.

did the boomers kill cool by oversaturation? do we have other viable candidates? i currently close tough meetings by asking "OK, we cool?" now i'll have to work up a new bit, or maybe cultivate a completely different vibe altogether ("OK, are we satisfied that we've reached a mutually satisfactory arrangement and that our future interactions will be neither contentious nor awkward nor inhibited as a result of the difficult conversation that we have just concluded?). if nothing else, cool was coolly efficient.

13 Comments:

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous sarah said...

Ok, this cracks me up because I have actually been mocked in the past by my young, urban JD clients for saying things like "cool," "awesome," and "groovy." All right, so maybe I should have seen it coming with "groovy" - that was a retro-stretch even when I used it in high school. I try to stay as "hip" as I can given my interest in this population. As an example, I watched Hustle & Flow the other night. Very good flick. See? Flick? Who talks like that? Anyway, in moments of stress since that viewing, I've found myself singing lyrics from one of the protagonist's hit songs: "y'know it's hard out here for a pimp, when you're tryin' to get the money for the rent..." It's quite catchy.

 
At 7:37 AM, Anonymous ryan said...

I don’t think the boomers (or their less hip children) overused ‘cool.’ Maybe each generation, in part, has to define itself against the preceding one. Fo’ sho’, to say ‘cool’ would not be ‘tight’ because the less ‘hip’ elders also say it. That’s why I didn’t say ‘groovy’ as a kid. As for me…I’m sticking with ‘cool’ to the end. As the ps punk once rightly stated to the author of this wonderful blog (quoting a soon-to-be classic film), there’s nothing worse than an aging hipster. My advice to the Uggens (and we ‘wanabe’ Uggens) of the world…stay with ‘cool’! If we start saying ‘tight’, then the new gen might change it again, and in this unhip guy’s opinion, from ‘groovy’ to ‘cool’ to ‘tight’ is a downward trajectory. Maybe we can go retro?

 
At 9:36 AM, Anonymous chris said...

sarah and ryan, i agree that there's nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster, but i can't help myself! my sixth-grader's arty crowd now uses "groovy" approvingly, though they'd giggle at "flick." my worst offense was saying "rock on" to three girls with guitars in my basement. totally humiliating, though they still felt comfortable using my amp.

my ninth-grade lad does not express approval. more precisely, he does not approve of anything, so "cool" would only be used in an ironic sense. i once heard him characterize something as "filthy," which meant it was very good indeed. similarly, his favorite coach is "the biggest asshole," which translates loosely as "man among men" in torspeak.

 
At 10:20 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

This reminds me of an Onion headline a while back that read:
"Teenagers: Are they laughing at you?"
The fact that they of course ARE and that it rattles us "adults" to know this is what makes the headline uncomfortably funny. However, the fact that I long-suffered under the absence of cool during my adolescent years (and, yea, into adulthood) does not deter me from fascination with the adolescent process of determining what is or isn't cool/tight/filthy, etc. in the quest for selfhood. I only hope my fascination lasts long enough to see my own progeny through it!

 
At 12:05 PM, Blogger Kim said...

"He's so unhip, when you say 'Dylan' he thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas (whoever he was). The man ain't got no culture."

2 hip points to the first person to identify the song, artist, and date, sans Google.

 
At 1:29 PM, Anonymous chris said...

no clue, but i thought it might be a countrified hippie thing. my first guess was sweetheart of the rodeo-era byrds or michael nesmith from his pretty much your standard ranch stash days. couldn't have been more wrong. plus, i couldn't resist googling, so i guess i lose two points...

 
At 3:34 PM, Blogger Jessica said...

interestingle, i just read this:

http://www.poststar.com/story.asp?storyid=208745

 
At 6:15 PM, Anonymous chris said...

wow, jessica. thanks! i thought that cool had been pretty durable, but didn't know the history. here are my favorite quotes from the article:

"Cool is certainly a charter member for the slang hall of fame," says Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of popular culture. "Cool just sits back and keeps getting used generation after generation and lets the whole history of the language roll off its back."

Peter N. Stearns, a social historian at George Mason University and author of the book "American Cool," said cool exploded in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s because society needed a word to express attitude without anger.

"We were dealing with a culture that was placing an increasing premium on controlling emotion, particularly anger," he said. The hippies in the 1960s used the word to "promote the notion that they were relaxed and not angry," Stearns said.

thanks!

 
At 12:16 AM, Blogger Woz said...

Weak-ass use of that article and even weaker to be even having a debate on whether the word "cool" is still "banging"(and I'm well aware that "banging" is no longer cool...it was just used to further mock those who are still trying to figure out if cool is still cool). You know, the younger kids have been all over this cool debate for quite some time now. It's so 10 days ago.

Sigh...every time the old people try to have a conversation about what the kids like these days, it does nothing more than both reinforce the fact that they are not at all with it while eventually devolving into something along the lines of "well, you know those damn kids these days, with their music, and t.v., and electric pajamas..."

Meanwhile, as always the best indicator that maybe your conversation is getting a little bit weaker than it would've been 20 years ago, Grandpa Simpson chimes in with the same opinion as Chris.

 
At 8:11 AM, Anonymous chris said...

take heart, woz. this just means that kids in detention centers are reading your blog. you're an opinion leader...

 
At 1:40 AM, Anonymous David said...

I laughed when I saw this on CNN:
A word too cool to go cold
So I guess, according to the AP at least, cool is still, well, cool.

 
At 8:33 AM, Anonymous chris said...

another article gives a vote of confidence to cool, eh? either cool is here to stay or the kids at the detention center are way ahead of the curve. maybe this is like coaching pro sports, where the vote of confidence can signal weakness. or it might be like the stock and real estate markets -- you know the boom is over once strangers and acquaintances start giving tips and telling you how much money they are making.

 
At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Erik said...

Forget cool. Forget tight. I've always tried to be on the leading edge of slangs. Viya! is still the greatest comeback (it's Fijian and still gets laughs out of kids in Suva). There are, alas, a couple that haven't quite caught on yet:
Baggy - The opposite of tight. (e.g., 'That music is just baggy. Let's put on something that at least approaches good.')
Niked - Rhymes with 'biked.' I still haven't figured out what it means exactly but I think I'll use it in a classroom discussion next week when somebody else has a really good response to a student ("ooh, you just got niked!")

 

Post a Comment

<< Home