How To Speak Hip

For Kerouac, beat meant “beatitude”and the saintly life of the bum roaming America with no ties, no responsibilities, and endless time and space to find spiritual enlightenment. To the media, it meant black berets, black turtlenecks, black jeans, black shades, and a good excuse to poke fun at the new teen movement emerging in the ’50s.

How To Speak Hip

A watershed moment came with the publication of How to Speak Hip (1959) an LP by radical comedians Del Close and John Brent, where an earnest journo attempts to unravel the slang of a cool beatnik. Even Tony Hancock got in on the act with 1961’s The Rebel. Play those bongos, man!

  • The Nervous Set Theatre PosterBABY: One’s paramour, and also one’s chum, acquaintance, a¬†general form of greeting etc. Presumably also an actual baby. Free love, eh?
  • BENNIES: Benzedrine, aka speed. It’s not easy staying up all night, reciting bad poetry and playing the bongos, you know. One needs a little pick me up. Or several. To be fair most of the audience were on them as well, so you can only imagine the sound of gnashing teeth over the finger clicks.
  • BEATNIK: The aforementioned black-clad existential non-conformist. Eastern religions. Bad poetry. Kerouac. Coffee houses. Greenwich Village. That sort of thing. The “Nik” came from Sputnik (naughty, lazy journalists), and the beat is cf. below.
  • BEAT: Kerouac = beatific, enlightened. Everyone wearing black and/or carrying a copy of On the Road = the beat, beaten down, avant-garde. Kerouac not only walked the walk and talked the talk, but he wrote the book AND if Threadless had of existed he’d have worn the t-shirt too. It’s about spiritualism, people. Not bongos.
  • BLOW: One’s essential ability with an instrument in the horn section (especially jazz) and thus a high compliment. If you could blow in whatever happened to be your chosen field, then you were really good at it.Of course, later on blowing would mean being really bad at something or referring to something a tad, ahem, sexual. We feel that this is an unfair dig at jazz. And we dig jazz, and you blow. Make of that what you will, kids.
  • CAT: A chap who was really rather cool, perhaps an artist or a jazz musician that you admired. Or perhaps he actually really was a cat, in which case he’d be in the Parisian loft in “The Aristocats”. Cool.
  • Beat Beat Beat Book CoverCITY: Like “ville” in Jazz Speak, city is a suffix that intensifies and makes good on the word proceeding it. Wham-bam, thank you, ma’am.
  • DADDIO: The cat with the city, the beat with the most. Daddio is your daddy but with an o! He’s gone! He’s wild! He’s your daddio, daddio!
  • GONE: Really really really out there.In a good way. Because when you’re gone – you really go. You dig?
  • HORSE: Heroin. Not a good thing. Heroin City. Definitely not a good thing. Way too many talented jazz musicians rode that horse to Nowhere. Bad news and sad face.
  • LAY ON: Nothing to do with beds, rugs, or duvets. Instead, giving it to someone, or telling it like it is. Lay it on me, man. Give me the goods. The cheque’s in the mail, daddio.
  • SQUARE: People with sharp and pointy edges are so crunchy and nasty, no? Be smooth. Be sleek. Let’s not be L7 – let’s be cool!
  • WAIL: Rather like blowing (cf. above), a jazz term meaning that you could do something really really well. Like really. Interestingly enough your baby wails. You see? It all makes sense in the end.
  • CRAZY/WILD: Jolly good stuff! An excellent time! Dan Ackroyd and Steve Martin! Huzzah!

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