The following story was published by “An Humble and Sometimes Literate Senior” in the March 24, 1929, issue of PAW.
Keeping Up with Joe Gish*
The Present Condition of the Vocabulary of the So-Called Average Undergraduate, with Translations of Various Slang Expressions Lately Added to the Campus Vernacular
*Gish was a fictitious Princeton undergrad whose exploits were familiar to students and alumni in the 1920s.
“Hi kid, how about getting on the ball and fiving me the cold dope on this con interp racket?”
“Say, lissen, dopeless, that’s a gut. They aren’t going to lay you an egg, are they?”
“Geest, I hope not. They got me running, though.”
“Ah, don’t be a dope all your life. Get wise to yourself. No prof is going to stick out his neck by flunking a Senior. You oughta lay off the books for a while. I got an idea. The wife’s got a pretty swell babe down. How about us going around and doing a little high-class wolfing?”
“Nope, I couldn’t do it. I gotta study ’em up.”
“Ah, come on, we’ll toss off a few and then smooth ’em up.”
“Can’t do it; and besides your roommate’s a toughie.”
“Say, if he opens his mouth, I’ll cream him.”
“Nope, chase yourself, I gotta pound books.” ·
“Oke, see you at the game tomorrow?”
“Oke, by me.”
Thus of an afternoon two serious-minded youths who ornament Phi Beta Kappa keys might hold forth. Their phrases, it is to be noted, are heavy with the rich, luxuriant growth of four years of concentration on the liberal arts. Words are but the dress for the high thoughts they express.
As even the conventional strong, silent man of the cinema must now admit, conversation is an art. The words used should be colorful, vigorous, and vital, reflecting the spirit of the speaker. As earnest etymologists eagerly point out, the classics of today are but the argot of yesterday. And so the undergraduate in introducing striking, vivid, and sometimes amazing words in the speech of the day is performing a valuable service in the English language from an unwholesome lapse into crystallized stagnation.
It is hardly possible to catch the shades and nuances of meaning that reside in certain phrases; perhaps it would be safer not to try to determine the full significance, but in any event we offer the following glossary as of possible value to visitors to academic climes. Naturally the essence of the vernacular is its closeness to the soil of its birth. It would be dangerous, and well nigh impossible, to try to use the same words in the same sense at one end of Prospect Street as at the other.
Geest! — This mellifluous word is without doubt the most essential part of the undergraduate vocabulary. However orthodox and academic he may be, the student must occasionally Geest or he will become a social leper. It is the first bit of local color that visiting English students acquire, and, it is to be hoped, the last that they lose on their return to the homeland. It is used customarily as an introductory exclamation to set the tone for what is to follow. The word may flame with anger, shine with joy, weep with sorrow, glow with enthusiasm, shudder with disgust. Geest, what a word!
Oke — An expression of one syllable of great popularity with certain members of the community, it connotates approval or agreement. The word, of course, is a condensation of the more ponderous O.K. There is a sonorous note about it that has made its vogue immense. Among the elite, in fact, it has almost completely ousted the once familiar the nuts.
Toughie, Smoothie — Those to whom these appellations may deservedly be applied are distinctly persons. Not necessarily mutually exclusive, the titles indicate enviable superiority. The toughie is the man of the hour when the policeman’s whistle blows. It is always nice to be close to him when the riot calls are turned in. There are at Princeton a number of respectable toughies, the delights of Coach Roper’s heart. Smoothie, on the other hand, indicates savior faire, a certain je ne sais quoi, an indefinable something. Clothes do much to make the smoothie. When one is entertaining a young lady, it is always well to avoid a smoothie, lest he try to smooth ’em up. Occasionally there comes a rare genius who beneath the polished exterior may boast an arm of iron. Then we have the rare toughie-smoothie combination, not unlike a stick of dynamite in a platinum case.
Softie — One who lets his studies interfere with his education. He does not smoke, he does not drink; does he make his own dresses? Softie indicates lack of sufficient energy, imagination, or ambition to get on the ball in any way. The term is unjustly applied by the unthinking undergraduate to anyone who writes for the Nassau Literary Magazine, takes part in Hall forensic activities, works with the Theatre Intime, or is registered with the Art Department. As a matter of fact, anyone doing all these things and nought else would probably qualify. Unfortunately it takes all types to make a University.
To cream is a delightful verb that is an essential part of any toughie’s vocabulary. Its various synonyms are to knock cold, to cool, to beat up on, to take, and so on almost indefinitely. It may be applied to an individual, an exam, almost any thing that one dislikes heartily. A thing or a person when creamed has been treated successfully with considerable violence.
To wolf, to chisel, is to poach on what one should consider sacred to one’s neighbor. Usually it refers to the depredations committed by a stag at a prom at the expense of a man who is entertaining a young lady. To set out with the purpose of doing some high-class wolfing is to plan with malice aforethought to lure some alluring female from the protection of her official escort.
A babe now has risen in the social scale so as to be any beautiful and dumb member of the female sex introduced to the campus for the sake of bringing joy and gladness to the hearts of the denizens thereof. It is the custom of certain morons on seeing a lad and lady strolling by to lean out the window and shout in loud tones, “Babe, Babe.” The ultimate in the sex is honored by the words plenty nutsy babe.
Wet — Still the all-embracing term used to damn anything that does not meet the approval of the Princeton gentleman. Ideas, persons, things may fall beneath this blighting adjective. Applied to an undergraduate, it is a fighting word unless accompanied by a smile.
To be laid an egg is the sad fate of one who has been completely crushed, outwitted, defeated. Its most popular use at present is to describe the condition of the individual who has through the evil machinations of his companions been led unknowingly to consume a too generous quantity of forbidden beverages.
A gut — A rapidly disappearing relic of the days when an education was absorbed instead of wrought out of unyielding materials. It refers specifically to a course requiring and receiving little time or thought. When the happy undergraduate discovers such a course and registers in it he is accused of hopping a gut. If the gut proves to be no gut, then it is said to have back-fired and the professor is proved no gentleman.
To threaten to get on the ball indicates a determination to undertake persistent effort along any line. Speaking scholastically, it is considered better to say pound the books, study ’em up.
To stick out one’s neck is to commit an unpardonable error, to lay oneself open to criticism, usually that of being wet. It is a dopeless thing to do. A persistent offender should wise up on himself.
Wife — A room-mate. The term flourishes in freshman and sophomore years, in a few cases hangs on until graduation.
To snap a butt — An elegant euphemism for smoking a cigarette. In some circles a weed passes for a cigarette.
READ MORE: David Galef ’81’s essay on campus slang
To toss off a few, to drink ’em up refers to a quaint but flourishing custom that plays a part in most undergraduates’ education.
Racket — A term for which the recent flood of underworld movies must be blamed. Used for any plan, subject, proposal, etc.
That seems to conclude the list of monstrosities now at large on the Princeton campus. It is to be noted, though, that the old Anglo-Saxon monosyllables still flourish.