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  • Natalie Taylor



Over the past few months I’ve come across several articles with strange terms that have puzzled me. Without knowing the meaning of the terms, I drew a complete blank. The lack of knowledge of these urban words and phrases shows that I am not part of the younger generation. But it made me realize there must be many in my age group who are just as clueless when it comes to some of these terms. What I found interesting is that many of these slang terms incorporate the name of an animal, so I set upon searching out those specific ones.

There are many associated with the verb “to fish,” which has been part of English since the 16th century; then, as now it means an attempt at collecting information—often by surreptitious methods. But lately there’s been a proliferation of terms appended to “fish.”

Catfishing: It means tricking someone into an online relationship with a fake identity. Its first use was in a 2010 documentary film named Catfish, and the word became quickly popular online.

Blackfishing: This term was added to the Open Dictionary in late 2018. It refers to the despicable practice of pretending to be Black.

Hatfishing: The term appeared around 2013 and refers to bald men, who hide the fact online by appearing in hats all the time.

Kittenfishing: Another form of deception, first noted in 2016. A single person pretending to be much better than in reality. Maybe posting a picture from 20 years and/or 20 pounds ago, or claiming to be much taller than they are, wealthier, more educated.

All-the-other-fishing: There is an entire gamut of prefixes added to “fishing,” all dealing with ways to deceive potential dates online. The prefix usually is sufficient to figure out what the term means—whitefishing, toothfishing, nosefishing, etc.

And let’s not forget another fishing term: “Phishing,” which has been around for a while. If you are not familiar with this, it means sending emails purporting to be a reputable company in an attempt to induce an individual to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

Mammals and birds inhabit the urban-slang world as well. Some of them go back many years, others have crept in recently.

Cat: The word "cat" refers to a person, usually a man, considered to be "cool." The term came from African-American vernacular in the 1920s and was used specifically for jazz enthusiasts.

Cow: An old term, around since the 1690s, used disparagingly and offensively to describe a woman.

Dog: This has been around for a while and the meaning has, and still is, “being unattractive.” It’s gender-indiscriminate because it can apply to men or women.

Dogg: Add an extra g at the end and you get a totally different meaning—in current lingo it means “friend.” So when you are at a party and point to someone who’s just come in and tell others that this is a friend, make sure you pronounce the double g properly!

Elephant: Most of us are familiar with the term “the elephant in the room,” referring to something obvious that is not mentioned. The origin of the phrase goes back to 1814 when Ivan Krylov wrote a fable entitled “The Inquisitive Man.” In the story, a man visits a museum and notices all kinds of small items on display; but he fails to see an elephant. Fyodor Dostoyevsky used the phrase in one of his novels mentioning a character who was apparently “…just like Krylov’s Inquisitive Man who didn’t notice the elephant in the museum.”

In Australia, however, calling someone an elephant would only be derogatory if it were untrue. Down Under it is slang for drunk.

GOAT (All caps) is the acronym for “Greatest of all time.” The term moved from slang to official word in the 2000s because, as explained by Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of Merriam-Webster, it met the three criteria. 1) It is used by many people and places. 2) It is used consistently and increasingly. 3) It is used with the same meaning. When that happens, a term leaves limited usage and enters the general vocabulary.

The origin of this term seems to go back to Sept. 1992, when Muhammad Ali’s wife incorporated G.O.A.T. Inc. as an umbrella for all of the former boxer’s intellectual properties.

Groundhogging: This refers back to the movie Groundhog Day, in which the protagonist gets caught in a loop that makes him relive a particular day over and over again. By extension, “groundhogging” is similar—being caught in an eternal dejavu—but it relates to dating; a person who always becomes involved in the same type of relationships.

Hog: Back in 1884 Mark Twain used it in “Huck Finn.” It means to selfishly keep or use all of something foroneself.

The phrase “go the whole hog” goes back to 1828 and appears to be the option offered by butcher shops to buy the entire slaughtered animal at a discount.

But there is an earlier use of the phrase. William Cowper, 18th century English poet wrote an allegorical poem about a group of Muslims, forbidden by their faith from eating certain parts of the hog. They debate which part it is, and come to the conclusion that the entire animal ought to be exempt from prohibition.

Had he the sinful part express'd,

They might, with safety, eat the rest.

But for one piece, they thought it hard,

From the whole hog to be debarr'd

And set their wits to work, to find

What joint the prophet had in mind.

Lovebird: The reference is to a small species of West African parrots that display great attention to each other. It began to be used as a figurative term for “lover” in 1911.

Magpie: A glossy black and white bird with a loud and jarring voice; they can also be taught to speak. The term, therefore, has come to mean “someone who talks on and on.” The birds were simply called pie in the 13th century until Mag was appended. This nickname for Margaret, had long been used to characterize someone who engages in "idle chatter.”

Party animal: The term was included in the OED in 2005, defined as “exuberant reveler.” But it seems to date back to 1978 when it was used in a Saturday Night Live episode. A similar term, “party hound” was in use as of 1978.

Roach: A 20th century term meaning the butt of a marijuana cigarette. One source suggests that it was inspired by the folk song “La Cucaracha,” which implies that coming to the end of a marijuana joint and not being able to get high, is like a roach missing a leg.

Roaching: Coined at the start of the 21st century, roaching is when a new partner hides the fact of still sleeping around with other people, generally early on in the relationship. If, during “the talk” when you both commit to being exclusive with each other, you find out your lover has been sleeping with others at the same time without telling you, then you, my friend, have been roached. Roaching comes from the theory that when you see one cockroach, there’s a lot more cockroaches that you don’t see.

Roadhog: A driver of a vehicle who obstructs others, especially by occupying part of another's traffic lane. Hogs have long been associated with greed and selfishness, and to "hog" something means to take too much of it. The use of road hog, in the sense of a greedy driver, dates back to the late 1800s.

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1 Comment

Feb 23, 2022

Love your article. A lot of research went into it.

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