Slang change

Yesterday Mark Liberman posted on this Doonesbury cartoon:

Rich in material. The main thing I want to note (as Mark did) is a sense development in the slang verb rock, from an older sense, around at least since 1990 (‘impact strongly’), to a newer sense, the one in the cartoon, around since at least 2007 (‘wear or display conspicuously or proudly’); this is a change from a more objective sense to a more subjective one, such as Elizabeth Traugott has repeatedly discussed.

(On the cartoon: it’s from 1/18/13 and was posted, and discussed, on Slate (here) on 2/8/13; apparently, many readers didn’t get the sense of rock in it.)

Further remarks:

in the first panel, the clipping do for hair-do from Joanie Caucus’s grand=daughter Alex;

in the second, the snowclonelet X queeni in make-over queen, from Joanie;

then from Alex, “way to rock the snark but so not you”, with the new sense of rock, plus the slang noun snark (apparently a portmanteau of snide and remark) and GenX so (discussed many times on this blog) in so not you.

Note the explicit comment on generational differences in slang use.

(In the original posting, I had Alex and Joanie exchanged.)

4 Responses to “Slang change”

  1. eric zwicky Says:

    the first time i heard the term “snarky” was from a canadian boss i had 14 years ago. i thought it was a canadian slang term. i never figured it out that it was a portmanteau.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      No evidence that I know of that it’s specifically Canadian. It does seem to have spread relatively recently.

      • Robert Coren Says:

        I have the vague impression (based on nothing at all) that it’s British in origin. I also wonder what, if anything, it has to do with Lewis Carroll’s elusive monster.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Laura Michaelis-Cummings on Facebook:

    Arnold, it looks like the sense of ROCK that you gloss as ‘wear or display conspicuously or proudly’ has actually evolved into simply ‘wear’. A couple of years ago I overheard a young man in American Apparel, as he was trying on a pair of skinny jeans, address the following question to the salesperson, ‘What would I rock these with? Boots?’.

    A natural sense development.

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