Contemporary Slang Words That Might Be Older Than You Think


It’s a known fact that the English language is constantly evolving, and words can take on new and different meanings from month to month, not to mention year to year or even century to century. Recently, we stumbled across this great thread at MetaFilter discussing current-sounding phrases that have been around for much longer than we think, so we did a little digging of our own to see which of our most everyday, contemporary slang words are actually rebranded anachronisms from the good old days. Click through to read a few of our findings, and if you’ve got the inside scoop, please be sure to add to our collection in the comments.

Tricked out — According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “trick” was used in the 1500s to mean “to dress, adorn,” which would give the phrase “tricked out” pretty much the same meaning as it has today — dressed to the nines — and indeed, you see it used that way all over. Interestingly, the dictionary notes that this may have been an entirely different word (in terms of origin) than the more standard meaning of “cheat, deceive.”

Scrub — Your working definition of “scrub” might be “a guy that thinks he’s fly, and is also known as a buster. Always talking about what he wants and just sits on his broke ass,” but its usage to denote a “mean, insignificant fellow” (which is basically the same thing, right?) dates all the way back to the 1580s.

Legit — Sure, this generation thinks they invented the casual abbreviation, but people have been calling things “legit” since 1897. Originally, the term referred to “legitimate drama,” that is, drama with literary merit.

Cool — This is one of those words that never gets old, and it has what seems like a million slightly different connotations. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, its earliest slang meaning dates to 1728, to describe large sums of money, a usage still in circulation. It started to mean “calmly audacious” in 1825, and “fashionable” in 1933.

Fly — Though this term is already a little passé, it does go back way further than we ever thought. One MetaFilter user clocked it in the O. Henry story “The Moment of Victory,” written before 1910: “”Hello, Willie!’ says Myra. “What are you doing to yourself in the glass?” “I’m trying to look fly,” says Willie. “Well, you never could be fly,” says Myra, with her special laugh…” Burn.

Beef — You’ve got beef with that? The term first turned up as slang in 1888, meaning “to complain.” By the 1930s, it was also used as a noun, meaning “argument.”

Bang — Though the official line is that “bang” used to mean “have sexual intercourse with” was first recorded 1937, we have heard reports that it goes back to at least 1677, in a play by Aphra Behn entitled The Rover: “We’ll both lie with her, and then let me alone to bang her.”

Hanging out — The colloquial usage of this extremely common contemporary term has been recorded as far as 1811.

Psyched — “Psych” has long been short for “psychology,” used by students in that way since 1895. In 1934 the phrase “psych out” came into parlance, and in 1968 one was finally able to get “psyched up.”

Spill — Girl, you better spill. The word has been used to mean “divulge” since at least the 16th century (From Edward Hellowes’ Guevara’s Familiar epistles, 1574: “Although it be a shame to spill it, I will not leaue to say that which… his friends haue said vnto me”). The phrase “spill the beans” is often suggested to come from a voting system in ancient Greece, but the earliest modern examples of the phrase come from the beginning of the 20th century.

Nookie — Though the word seems a little dated to us now, it seems ’90s dated, not 1928 dated. But indeed, that’s when the word’s first usage has been recorded, perhaps from the Dutch word neuken (“to fuck”).

Puke — Here’s one of Shakespeare’s invention, which first popped up as a verb in the “Seven Ages of Man” speech in Shakespeare’s c.1600 As You Like It, probably an imitative form of the German spucken, “to spit.” It wouldn’t become a noun until 1961.

Scoop — As in, “if you’ve got the inside scoop.” Apparently, the term originates from 1850, when it meant “appropriate so as to exclude competitors” — that term evolved to “news published before a rival” by 1874.