Monday, July 08, 2013

Blimey! It's slang time!

A couple of novels I've read recently have thrown up some slang terms that seemed worth a bit of a look into, so, to deploy a new gleaning from the Urban Dictionary, I won't ramp with you--I'll get right to it:

1 That word--"ramp"--is actually the first one, though not, it seems, used with any of the meanings offered by the Urban Dictionary. I encountered it in Malcolm Bradbury's wonderfully funny campus comedy Eating People Is Wrong (1959). A faculty member is irritated that coffee in the faculty lounge must be paid for by departmentally issued tickets, and she says, "Isn't it a ramp?" A colleague then reflects,
Treece admired Viola's indignations. She was always full of protest about ramps, and over charging, and overcrowding in houses, and lack of toilet facilities at the bus station: her principles were always directed against tangible objects, whereas Treece's, these days, could fix on nothing save unresolvable complexities.
So a "ramp" is a scam, perhaps? An irritation? A bureaucratic irritation? English readers--is this a familiar term and I've just never encountered it?

2 The second term was in Matthew Specktor's new novel of Hollywood, American Dream Machine, one of the best books I've read this year. (It's like a more realistic, less distanced cousin to Steve Erickson's Zeroville--whereas Erickson deliberately offered up a naive cipher as his protagonist, and let Hollywood roil around him almost like a fever dream, Specktor gives us a number of fully realized, convincing characters and shows what happens when dreams become business, rebellion gets rich, and every human relationship takes a backseat to questions of success and fear of failure. It's perceptive, smart, funny, and beautifully written, with an emotional honesty and intensity that makes the prose sing.)

At two points in the book, younger characters address each other as "holmes," as in, "Hey, holmes." Now, the word itself isn't new--I'm not hip, but I'm not that not hip. My surprise came from the spelling: I'd always assumed it was "homes," from "homeboy."

And according to the Urban Dictionary it is. "Holmes," however, is also correct--and here's where the Urban Dictionary shows its weakness: a real dictionary would explain which was the preferred, or more common usage. Instead, we're left on our own. Me, I'll stick with "homes." The other version just makes me feel like Watson.

3 I'll close with a locution that's not slang, but seems to fit today's theme nonetheless: "tailor style," used to describe cross-legged sitting, with the lower legs toward the body and crossed low on the ankle. It's one of Donald Westlake's favorite descriptive terms--if I remember right, a murder victim in Plunder Squad is even impaled on a sword while sitting tailor style. Aside from Westlake, however, I've only ever encountered it in the work of Lawrence Block--who, as a friend of Westlake, I thought might have picked it up from him (or vice versa).

Wikipedia, however, assures me that it's a common term. The entry for "Sitting"--good glorious god, there's an entry for "Sitting"--says it is found in several European languages (though the link to the Wiktionary entry does come up empty).

So now you have an assignment: Come up with a sentence that uses all three terms, and leave it in the comments. Don't let me down, homes.


  1. I'd begun to see it was a bit of ramp, that word "complimentary," since the poorly-dressed slob who greeted me at the door - sallow, bored-looking, maybe stoned - had followed a casual "What up, holmes?" with some mumbling about a "negligible service fee," then proceeded to chalk a hem mark on my trousers while sitting tailor-style on the floor, as there was no platform for me to stand on to make his position more comfortable, or mine less uncomfortable.

  2. andrea10:41 PM

    In the darkness, down by the pond, I could make out a small group of guys sitting around a fire, tailor style. I crept a bit closer, crouched behind some bushes and peered in. By the light of Petzl camping headlamps, they were sewing suede elbow patches on Harris tweed jackets and planning some kind of ramp. I watched them stab violently at the cloth and decided to beat it back to my homies, to tell them what I'd seen.

    (Oh, sorry, did you say one sentence?)