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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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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]


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