Doing a solid

From John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!” (“A journey to the flip side of Disney”), in the New York Times Magazine of June 12, p. 29:

An anonymous person, evidently the veteran of a staggering number of weed-smoking experiences in the park, had done a solid for the community and laid out his or her knowledge in a systematic way [on a website]. It was nothing less than a fiend’s guide to Disney World.

I understood the slang nouning in do a solid (for someone), as having solid ‘favor’ (nouned from the adjective solid), and felt vaguely that I’d heard it before. Syntactic note: do a solid has the same syntax as do a favor, with the alternative argument structures:

do a N for someone, do someone a N

and the possibility of modifying the N with an adjective (big, huge, serious, etc.) and of determiners other than a (from New Partridge, 2006: “Come on Steven, hook me up. Do me this solid.” in Kids, 1995). Finally, solid can be pluralized, just like favor:

Oh, do me a couple of solids: Punch your cousin Jay in the face as hard as you can, and never back down from him. Find out what makes Mom tick and write it down. Last thing; be careful not to get stuck in the Streets bullshit. (C. Fausto Cabrera, excerpt from “Letter to a Young Me”, in From the Inside Out: Letters to Young Men and Other Writings (link)

Semantic/pragmatic note: some commenters on the net treat solid simply as a stylistic variant of favor — and a few consequently deride it as needless slang — but some people see a subtle difference between the two, with favor suggesting reciprocity (do me a favor, I’ll do one for you) and solid conveying a commitment without expectation of payback. Historical note: The use is specifically American and is associated with the young and hip. New Partridge has cites back to 1973 (in Connie Eble’s compilation of UNC college slang). Some sources suggest that the origin of solid ‘favor’ lies in drug use (from solid ‘drug in resin form’, presumably truncated from solid dope or solid hash). Here’s one potential example of solid in a drug context:

“Say, you like sick, like you need a fix / Perhaps I can do some solids for you.” (Dennis Wepman et al., The Life, 1976, cited in New Partridge)

New Partridge has this under solid ‘favour’ but it seems more likely to be a drug use. The semantic development from ‘solid dope’ to ‘favor’ is hard to work out, and solid could easily arise as a nouning by truncation independently in different contexts: from solid N (N = dope, hash, etc.) in a drug context, from something like solid favor in other contexts — and, indeed, from solid pipe in still other contexts and from solid N (N = dope ‘information’, information, etc.) in still others:

[solid pipe] You need solid for everything, but I would definately use it for Axles. But for the yoke, you can use hollow pipe to load plates on since they will not be making direct contact with the ground. (link) [solid information, straight dope] Hey Lisa I was wondering if you guys have now gone to a heavier bullet for the UltraRapTORs? I’ve seen messages anywhere that range from 28 to 36. The last number I heard was 28Gr but your PDF says it’s a 32Gr. What’s the solid on this? (link) [FiveseveNForum: The #1 Resource for FN Weapon Systems]

My proposal is that solid ‘favor’ is a nouning by truncation, around in U.S. slang for about 40 years (at least). But it’s surged in the last 20 years, almost surely through the influence of the tv show Seinfeld. From “The Jacket”, first broadcast 2/6/91:

(Enter Kramer) KRAMER: Hey. Hey, would you do me a solid? JERRY: Well, what kind of solid? KRAMER: I need you to sit in the car for two minutes while it’s double-parked. I gotta pick up some birds. JERRY: Birds? KRAMER: Yeah. A friend of mine, he’s a magician. He’s going away on vacation. He asked me to take care of his doves. JERRY: So take a cab. KRAMER: They won’t take a cage full of birds. JERRY: I can’t. I’m on my way out. There’s no way I can do it. KRAMER: George, do me a solid? Two minutes. GEORGE: Well, I’m going with him. I’d like to, I’ve never done a solid before. KRAMER: Alright.. yeah.. alright, have a good one. (Kramer leaves)

(Note “What kind of a solid?”) This is almost surely where I heard it first. The doves still crack me up. Then it diffused throughout American popular culture. The Urban Dictionary entry for do me a solid reports uses in the movies Half Nelson and Juno, and the tv shows South of Nowhere and Degrassi: The Next Generation. (And see the quote above from the 1995 movie Kids.) Then last year, in “Mac Fights Gay Marriage”, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Season 6 Episode 1 (2010), we have:

Mac: I am about to do you guys a huge solid. (link)

Solids are done all the time in pop culture these days.

Added 6/6/15: On ADS-L yesterday, Dan Goncharoff suggested a somewhat different source for a nouning by truncation: do me a solid service (rather than favor) from 1963, in The Autobiographical Ana of Robley Dunglison, M.D., Volume 53, Part 8 of Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.

Jon Lighter added a 1964 occurrence of the truncated version, from HDAS files:

Wepman, R. B.Newman, & M. Binderman The Life (U. of Pa. Press), 55: Perhaps I can do some solids for you.

But of course that doesn’t tell us what was truncated — and in fact the truncated material isn’t necessarily unique.

One Response to “Doing a solid”

  1. Steven Meyerson Says:

    I first heard “do me a solid” on the tv show The Mod Squad back in the sixties or early seventies. It was used by the young, hip undercover cops Pete and Linc. I always thought the origin was a conceptual metaphor. Just as up is good and down bad, solid would be an important favor of some consequence and difficulty, not something trivial or “soft”.

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