#4. "Raspberry" Meant "Fart"
"Your daughter just blew a raspberry at my son. How cute."
"Your daughter just blew a raspberry, are you sure microwave burritos are good for a two-year-old?"
Here's something you might have wondered: Why, when somebody blows through their lips to make that farting sound, do we call it a "raspberry"?
This is a deadly serious fruit.
For that, you can thank Cockney rhyming slang, a type of speech used by the London working class that's been around since the mid 19th century. As we have mentioned before, it's the reason for a lot of the nonsensical slang we use today, such as why some people call money "bread."
Unlike a lot of slang, there's actually a set of rules to it. First, you must be dressed as a chimneysweep. Then, you think up a word you want to say without others understanding you (for example, money). You then think up a phrase that rhymes with all or part of it ("bread and honey"). Finally, you shorten the phrase, so that outsiders can't guess what you mean when you say "bread."
"Give me all your bread or I'll barbecue grill you. And get me a sandwich, I missed lunch."
So, you might have heard somebody say "Put up your dukes!" when telling you to raise your fists to fight them. Back then "forks" was slang for fingers, they'd rhyme forks with "Duke of Yorks", and then just shorten it to "dukes."
We're playing our trap card, the Duke of Connaught. He has the eyes of a killer.
Which brings us to "raspberry." In its original form, it was "raspberry tart," which rhymes with "fart." Gradually, it became associated with the farting sound you can make with your tongue, because "tongue-flatulence" just doesn't have the same ring.
#3. "Deep-Six" Meant to Toss a Rotting Corpse Into the Water
"My robo-warrior home business development plans were deep-sixed by my parole officer."
"Let's deep-six these buccaneer corpses off the side of the boat, in accordance with their pirate faith."
"Deep-six", like lots of words you use today, comes from old sailor and pirate lingo. You can also thank them for inventing terms like cooties (their word for body lice), Slush Fund ("slush" was the discarded fat from the ship's kitchen, which they sold for extra money) along with manhandle, ass and cockpit, which are the exact kind of things you'd expect a group of lonely men who spend months at sea without modern hygiene to come up with.
"Argh, I got so bored I set my hair on fire."
As for "deep-six", if someone drops dead on a ship in the middle of the ocean, you can't just bury them in the backyard like most of us do when an inconvenient corpse pops up. It's even worse when you're going to be at sea for a while: You know that the body will sit there, creeping everyone out with its dead eyes, perhaps getting stolen one day for a cruel prank involving a foggy night and some hidden rigging. So back in the day, sailors would simply throw the body overboard with as much solemnity as the occasion could manage.
"And so we commit this body to the sea, and see if we can skip him across the water. The record is five hops."
In this nautical slang, throwing a body overboard was known as deep-sixing. The "six" might have come from six fathoms, the minimum depth required to bury someone at sea. This was also known as the "if you can see it washing up on the shore, you're probably doing it wrong" rule.
"He had a message rolled up inside him. It says, 'send women.' "
#2. "Geek" Meant Sideshow Freak
"Dave is looking at another website about photocopiers shaped like spaceships. What a geek."
"We found out that it was Dave who's been eating all those rats. What a geek."
Whenever you refer to yourself as a "computer geek," "movie geek" or "backyard missile-testing geek," you are in fact using carny lingo, a secretive dialect once used by the migrant workers who ran carnivals and circuses. Carnies used this language to isolate themselves from the outside world for when the weird peanut smell just wasn't enough. They'd also use it to test whether the aspiring job applicant or waitress they were talking to was a true fellow carny. If they responded with a glazed, frightened stare, chances are they weren't.
Just like normal people when cornered by a Starcraft geek.
Up until the 1950s, geek was carny talk for a sideshow freak who bit the heads off live animals. Back then, "geek rage" didn't mean what happens whenever a studio grittily reboots a film made in 2007. Instead, it consisted of toothily decapitating chickens, rats and snakes, which the geek would then sometimes eat alive. This, apparently, was what audiences had to make do with before pictures of people falling into holes became available on YouTube. The geek's line of work was so disgusting that even the other freaks shunned them.
She doesn't strike us as a picky eater.
By the mid-century, "geek" had escaped its carny restraints and become a term for a general misfit or outcast. These soon became the geeks we all know from 80s teen movies, who had advanced from eating animals to building computer-generated sex slaves. Today, those too young to remember the fact that phone handsets were once connected to things probably aren't even aware that the word was once a genuine insult. But geek is not the only word we can thank those wacky carnies for: they also gave us beatnik, ballyhoo, shill, scam, grifter and jerk.
#1. "Discard" (and Lots of Other Words) Was a Gambling Term
"I discarded the audiobook when it did not, in fact, teach me to seduce any woman in 10 minutes."
"In order to win the game, I discarded some of the cards in my bad hand by pretending to yawn and then eating them."
This one seems kind of obvious once you hear it -- before it got its current, wider meaning, discard was a 16th century word meaning "get rid of a card while gambling." It does have the word "card" right in there. But considering that gambling is frowned upon as a hobby, a shocking amount of our language comes from the old underground gambling world.
Especially the foul.
Sure, there are the obvious slang terms like wild card, at stake, showdown and up the ante. But other, everyday words also came from the poker table -- for example they came up with the word luck. Likewise, hazard comes from a word meaning "play the dice." Bluff was invented by American poker players in the 19th century. Even the word "deal" was used in its poker context before it ever was used to mean "a business agreement." When people talk about stocks or young athletes they call the good ones "blue chip", aka the high-value blue discs used in poker (we can also thank these chips for "when the chips are down" or "let the chips fall where they may.")
Or "don't sweep up those chips, they're good eating."
So apparently if you put enough people together in a dark room and keep them there long after their families have abandoned them and the homemade liquor has erased all memories of the outside world, they're going to start making up new words. And the rest of us will start using them.
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For more lessons in linguistics from Cracked, check out 9 Words That Don't Mean What You Think and The 10 Coolest Foreign Words The English Language Needs .
And stop by Linkstorm to learn about how L33T Speak will soon be our native tongue.
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