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15 Phat Pieces of Clueless Slang

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Twenty years ago this week, Cher, Dionne, and their homies rolled into theaters, and we’ve been as if-ing ever since. Celebrate this modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma with these 15 colorful pieces of Clueless slang.

1. AS IF

“But Mr. Hall was totally rigid,” Cher says of her teacher. “He said my debates were unresearched, unstructured, and unconvincing. AS IF!”

While this adverbial phrase has existed since Old English times, as if as an expression of disdain and disbelief seems to have been popularized by Clueless. In the 1940s, the phrase as-ifness was coined by British philosopher H.H. Price, to mean, we presume, a state of as if.


While whatever as a scornful or indifferent response has been around since at least 1973, Clueless popularized the "Whatever!" hand sign.


“You been jeepin' around behind my back?” Murray asks Dionne. This term for, as Dionne puts it, "vehicular sex," may come from hip-hop and rap, says writer and director Amy Heckerling. As for the word jeep, that's 1940s American military slang and comes from G.P., “general purpose (car),” but was also influenced by Eugene the Jeep, who was first introduced in the Popeye the Sailor comic strip in the 1930s.


While it’s not exactly clear when “I’m outie” meaning “I’m leaving” originated, the phrase most likely comes from an older slang term, “I’m out of here,” which is from the early 1970s.

However, there might also be influence from the phrase, “I’m Audi 5000,” which is from Reality Bites, released a year prior to Clueless. The phrase plays on the infamous mid-1980s car model that was found to have “sudden unintended acceleration.”

Other meanings of outie include a belly button that sticks out, as well as South African slang for a homeless person, or someone who’s down and out.


“Wasn't my Mom a total betty?” says Cher. A betty is an attractive girl or woman and is often assumed to be 1980s surfer slang. However, according to Mr. Slang himself, Jonathan Green, the term actually comes from the 1970s and is based on Betty Rubble from the Flintstones.


Loadies generally hang on the grassy knoll over there,” Cher says dismissively of her high school's druggie clique. First used in the 1970s, loadie comes from loaded, which in the 18th century meant drunk and in the 1920s gained the additional meaning of being under the influence of drugs.


“Oh, that's good,” Cher says to Josh’s declaration that he’s growing a goatee. “You don't want to be the last one at the coffee house without chin pubes.” Pube as slang for a single pubic hair originated in the late 1960s. However, pubes referring to pubic hair collectively is over 500 years old: "In adolencie when Pubes was springing."


Phat!” Dionne says of the Shakespeare sonnet Cher cribs for Mr. Hall’s love note to Miss Geist. This term meaning excellent, fashionable, or cool, especially in regards to music, originated as African American slang in the early 1960s. Later, phat also came to be used to refer to a sexy or attractive woman.


A Cher original, surf the crimson wave means to have your period. Crimson Wave is also the (unfortunate) real-life nickname of the sports teams of Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting, Indiana. While the college was established in the 1950s, their athletic program wasn’t founded until 1999, four years after Clueless.


Cher and Dionne are delighted when Mr. Hall gets Miss Geist’s digits, or her phone number. This slang term has been in use since at least the 1980s with the first recorded reference in the 1989 LL Cool J song (ahem), "Big Ole Butt."


“Your man Christian is a cake-boy,” Murray tells an incredulous Dionne and Cher. “He's a disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy, know what I'm saying?”

While cake-boy in this context refers to a homosexual man, it could also mean a man who’s especially stylish, also known as a metrosexual. Cake-boy probably originated in the early 1990s or earlier, and was popularized by Sir Mix-a-Lot’s song of the same name.


“I was like totally buggin’,” Cher says. Bugging, or freaking out, is from at least the early 1990s and probably originated in rap and hip-hop culture. The word might come from an earlier meaning of bug, to annoy or pester.


“Cher, you're a virgin?” asks Tai. “The PC term is ‘hymenally-challenged’,” Dionne interjects.

Actually, the idea that an intact hymen is a sure indicator that a woman is a virgin is largely a myth. While in the womb, the hymen might protect female fetuses from bacteria, but by adolescence it's usually completely worn away, often by non-sexual activities.

The word hymen comes from a Greek word meaning “membrane,” and is only indirectly related to Hymen, the Greek god of marriage.


“She’s a full on Monet,” says Cher. “From far away, it's OK, but up close, it's a big old mess.”

Monet originated in the early 1990s as California high school girl slang for "good-looking from a distance." Claude Monet’s art is an example of Impressionism, a technique of which is using dots and short brush strokes to capture the essence or impression of a subject, rather than definitive lines for a more exact representation.


“Okay, okay, so he is kind of a Baldwin,” Cher says of Josh. Coined by Heckerling, a Baldwin is a good-looking guy and is named for the Baldwin brothers (Alec and William, we presume).

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Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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Beyond “Buffalo buffalo”: 9 Other Repetitive Sentences From Around The World
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Famously, in English, it’s possible to form a perfectly grammatical sentence by repeating the word buffalo (and every so often the place name Buffalo) a total of eight times: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo essentially means “buffalo from Buffalo, New York, who intimidate other buffalo from Buffalo, New York, are themselves intimidated by buffalo from Buffalo, New York.” But repetitive or so-called antanaclastic sentences and tongue twisters like these are by no means unique to English—here are a few in other languages that you might want to try.


This sentence works less well in print than Buffalo buffalo, of course, but it’s all but impenetrable when read aloud. In French, le ver vert va vers le verre vert means “the green worm goes towards the green glass,” but the words ver (worm), vert (green), vers (towards), and verre (glass) are all homophones pronounced “vair,” with a vowel similar to the E in “bet” or “pet.” In fact, work the French heraldic word for squirrel fur, vair, in there somewhere and you’d have five completely different interpretations of the same sound to deal with.


Eo can be interpreted as a verb (“I go”), an adverb ("there," "for that reason"), and an ablative pronoun (“with him” or “by him”) in Latin, each with an array of different shades of meaning. Put four of them in a row in the context cum eo eo eo eo quod eum amo, and you’ll have a sentence meaning “I am going there with him because I love him.”


An even more confusing Latin sentence is malo malo malo malo. On its own, malo can be a verb (meaning “I prefer,” or “I would rather”); an ablative form of the Latin word for an apple tree, malus (meaning “in an apple tree”); and two entirely different forms (essentially meaning “a bad man,” and “in trouble” or “in adversity”) of the adjective malus, meaning evil or wicked. Although the lengths of the vowels differ slightly when read aloud, put all that together and malo malo malo malo could be interpreted as “I would rather be in an apple tree than a wicked man in adversity.” (Given that the noun malus can also be used to mean “the mast of a ship,” however, this sentence could just as easily be interpreted as, “I would rather be a wicked man in an apple tree than a ship’s mast.”)


Far (pronounced “fah”) is the Danish word for father, while får (pronounced like “for”) can be used both as a noun meaning "sheep" and as a form of the Danish verb , meaning "to have." Far får får får? ultimately means “father, do sheep have sheep?”—to which the reply could come, får får ikke får, får får lam, meaning “sheep do not have sheep, sheep have lambs.”


Manx is the Celtic-origin language of the Isle of Man, which has close ties to Irish. In Manx, ee is both a pronoun (“she” or “it”) and a verb (“to eat”), a future tense form of which is eeee (“will eat”). Eight letter Es in a row ultimately can be divided up to mean “she will eat it.”


Como can be a preposition (“like,” “such as”), an adverb (“as,” “how”), a conjunction (“as”), and a verb (a form of comer, “to eat”) in Spanish, which makes it possible to string together dialogues like this: Como como? Como como como como! Which means “How do I eat? I eat like I eat!”

7. “Á Á A Á Á Á Á.” // ICELANDIC

Á is the Icelandic word for river; a form of the Icelandic word for ewe, ær; a preposition essentially meaning “on” or “in;” and a derivative of the Icelandic verb eiga, meaning “to have,” or “to possess.” Should a person named River be standing beside a river and simultaneously own a sheep standing in or at the same river, then that situation could theoretically be described using the sentence Á á á á á á á in Icelandic.


Thai is a tonal language that uses five different tones or patterns of pronunciation (rising, falling, high, low, and mid or flat) to differentiate between the meanings of otherwise seemingly identical syllables and words: glai, for instance, can mean both “near” and “far” in Thai, just depending on what tone pattern it’s given. Likewise, the Thai equivalent of the sentence “new wood doesn’t burn, does it?” is mai mai mai mai mai—which might seem identical written down, but each syllable would be given a different tone when read aloud.


Mandarin Chinese is another tonal language, the nuances of which were taken to an extreme level by Yuen Ren Chao, a Chinese-born American linguist and writer renowned for composing a bizarre poem entitled "The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den." When written in its original Classical Chinese script, the poem appears as a string of different characters. But when transliterated into the Roman alphabet, every one of those characters is nothing more than the syllable shi:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

The only difference between each syllable is its intonation, which can be either flat (shī), rising (shí), falling (shì) or falling and rising (shǐ); you can hear the entire poem being read aloud here, along with its English translation.


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