Category Language

Hi there. I'm a Partner at Undercurrent, where I lead a team focused on helping ambitious organizations operate in ways that are beneficial to all their users.

Age of Slang, Idea and Design

A couple years ago, my friend Don and I had an idea while spending way too long debating the origin of a piece of slang.

The idea:
A crowd-sourced slang dictionary that would let you browse your way back through the history of language’s oddities, define terms, and otherwise waste away a workday. Think Urban Dictionary, but for word-nerds. Here’s my designs of how it would work (click images to see full-size).

This would be the screen you would see at the site, which would be called “Age of Slang” or perhaps “Slang Ages”. The latter of which lends itself to being said as “Slangages”. Give it a try, it’s fun to say. Worth noting on this view are the ability to skip between words (of a similar type? age of creation? letter? who knows), and the ability to add words before and after the word you’re examining.

This is the screen that shows one parent. The phrase “Word” perhaps came from “I Concur”, noting agreement. That’s probably wrong, but it’s just to illustrate the design.

Here I’ve added some interface features:

  • View date of “creation”
  • Close word (eliminates from view if the “stack” gets too high)
  • View descendant/ancestor (not “child” or “parent” which was deemed to be too, well, child-like…)
  • Add descendant/ancestor

Hopefully you can see now how this might work out.

If you click the word (it’s underlined, so it’s got to be a link, right?), you get to see the definition.

And here’s what it would look like if you wanted to add a slang word or phrase. Note the somewhat “angry hipster” instructions.

And here’s the second screen, if you wanted to take credit for your addition to the database.

And I even went so far as to create a footer, with search and a dedicated “add phrase” button.

And explained the joke about “Web Two-Point-Greg”, which Don and I came up with after being annoyed over people saying “Web 2.0″ too frequently. Probably a little too far.

So hey, digital friend! Want to help me out? Care to help build this thing, or at least help me make it real? I think it’s something that the world should have. Urban Dictionary is hardly the proper repository for the world’s slang.

Lovely New Words

Provo Salem

Well, not new words. Words that are new to me.

I’m really enjoying the following words:

Hirsute – adj: 1. Hairy; shaggy. 2. Botany, Zoology. covered with long, rather stiff hairs. 3. Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of hair.

How I came upon it: Kirsty. Also… [Origin: 1615–25; < L hirsÅ«tus rough, shaggy, bristly; akin to horrid] Vexillology – n: The study of flags.

How I came upon it: Looking at the Chicago Municipal Flag Wikipedia entry after reading Russell’s blog. City flags seem to be the ugly step-children of the flag design world. In for a laugh? Look through the City Flag study done by the North American Vexillogical Association (NAVA). There’s some really bad design in there, but it’s great.

Portmanteau – n: 1. A case or bag to carry clothing in while traveling, esp. a leather trunk or suitcase that opens into two halves. 2. A new word formed by joining two others and combining their meanings; `smog’ is a blend of `smoke’ and `fog’; `motel’ is a portmanteau word made by combining `motor’ and `hotel’.

How I came upon it: Looking at the UNIQLO Wikipedia entry. UNIQLO is a portmanteau of Unique and Clothing.

Wikipedia Pimp

I was cruising around the ‘pedia for a while today looking at New York entries. I made my way from entries on the Queensbridge Houses to an article about Bedford-Stuyvesant to Streetball, Rucker Park, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Walt Frazier, Blaxploitation and finally: Pimp.

There’s some entertaining stuff on Wikipedia but “Pimp” has got to be one of the best entries.

Some nuggets:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the origins of the word “pimp” are unknown, but it is thought to be related to the sixteenth century French verb pimper, which means “alluring or seducing in outward appearance or dress”. Nowadays, the French adjective “pimpant” is used when talking about something which draws attention due to its flashy or clean look.

In 1949, the United Nations adopted a convention stating that prostitution is incompatible with human dignity, requiring all signing parties to punish pimps and brothel owners and operators, and to abolish all special treatment or registration of prostitutes. The convention was ratified by 89 countries, non-signatories included Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and the United States.

Amazing. An anti-pimpin’ UN convention. That’s awesome. Also awesome that we wouldn’t sign any regulations against pimpin’.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet some contend that the word fishmonger (someone who sells “fish”, a modern euphemism for vagina perhaps in use at the time) was in turn a euphemism for a pimp.

Who knew?

On Language

It’s always bugged me that there was no official name for the weird patch of fur that some guys keep under their bottom lip.

Until now. Merriam-Webster released a sampling of the 100 new words admitted this year into its offical record of the English language. Soul Patch was among them. Some of the others: mouse potato, ringtone, spyware, avian influenza, biodiesel, gastric bypass, soul patch, supersize, labelmate (including the Label Baby Junior?), drama queen, and unibrow.

What’s the point? Language is part of our identity, and having “official” words to describe who we are, what we do and how we interact are essential. I just finished reading a piece by David Graeber. that I found on Language Hat that details a strange custom in Madagascar. Apparently–and I believe I’ve read about this happening in other post-colonial places–the native language is used to communicate while the colonial language, French, is used to command. Highly recommended, and a quick read. Find the whole thing here (PDF). The idea is that language is used as an instrument of power, both socially and politically. Think of the way language is used in propaganda posters (not the BK/CP&B ones below). Think of the way the single word–accompanied by an image with innumerable emotional associations–galvanized an entire nation.


In advertising, language is our currency. The words we choose in a creative brief, the words, themes and inspirations that go into and come out of our advertising, the words spoken by a customer service representative…all vitally important. So thank you, Merriam-Webster, for these new words. Not that we wouldn’t have made up new ones on our own.