The lexicon of grunge
In the early 90s, the mass media went crazy for anything "grunge," even going so far into finding out the slang of flannel-wearing kids in the northwest. And in typical Seattle fashion, they made a joke out of it.
“Why don't you just give me a word and I'll give you the grunge slang for it?”
In 1992, grunge was the "it" thing. Pearl Jam and Nirvana were global superstars. Seattle was the center of the music world. Flannel shirts, stocking caps and longjohns and other "grungewear" was all the rage. The grunge hype was at its peak, and the mainstream media couldn't get enough of it.
At some point the New York Times heard a rumor that there might be a “lexicon” and called Sub Pop Records to investigate. Eventually a Times reporter was connected with Megan Jasper, a Caroline Records sales rep and former Sub Pop staffer, hoping to learn more about this supposed new slang. Sensing an opportunity to mess with the mainstream media over their obsession with Seattle and grunge, Jasper proceeded to feed the reporter with a number of crazy words and phrases with ridiculous meanings, such as “harsh realm” (bummer), “tom-tom club” (uncool outsiders) and “swinging on the flippity flop” (hanging out).
It just showed how desperate everybody had gotten to do a piece on Seattle, that they’d print anything and wouldn’t even bother to see if it was true.Daniel House, C/Z Records
“I kept escalating the craziness of the translations,” Jasper said, “because anyone in their right mind would go, ‘Oh, come on, this is bullshit.’ I thought we would have a hearty laugh, and he would have to write it off as 15 minutes wasted, but it never happened, because he was concentrating so hard on getting the information right.”
On November 15, 1992, the New York Times printed a feature article about grunge with a "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code" sidebar, listing verbatim all the slang words and phrases Jasper had made up. "All subcultures speak in code," the sidebar noted, warning that the slang was "coming soon to a high school or mall near you."
The Lexicon of Grunge
- wack slacks: old ripped jeans
- fuzz: heavy wool sweaters
- plats: platform shoes
- kickers: heavy boots
- swingin' on the flippety-flop: hanging out
- bound-and-hagged: staying home on friday or saturday night
- score: great
- harsh realm: bummer
- cob nobbler: loser
- dish: desirable guy
- bloated, big bag of blotation: drunk
- lamestain: uncool person
- tom-tom club: uncool outsiders
- rock on: a happy goodbye
Others got in on the joke. Soon after the article was published, Daniel House’s label C/Z Records, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, printed "lamestain" and "harsh realm" t-shirts. “It just showed how desperate everybody had gotten to do a piece on Seattle, that they’d print anything and wouldn’t even bother to see if it was true,” Daniel House told author Mark Yarm in the book Everybody Loves Our Town. Members of Mudhoney even started randomly tossing in the made-up words during interviews.
The New York Times was not pleased to learn that they had been duped. Harsh realm, dudes!
Northwest Passage is an exploration of the music scene centered around Seattle in the 80s and 90s. This project looks at all aspects of the rock scene, not just the part that became known as the "grunge explosion." Learn more about Northwest Passage