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.
7. CHIN PUBES
“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.
9. SURF THE CRIMSON WAVE
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).