Roots of the Language of Hip

A few words in this list like baby probably date all the way back to the Lost Generation of the 1920's (see Malcolm Cowley's book, Exile's Return). Many others probably came from the Black jazz musicians of the 1940's Since the Beats didn't have any rock and roll to listen to in the 1940's, they hung out in all the Black jazz night spots and picked up on the language of hip. This language probably stayed pretty much the same through the fifties, only to change about the time Kennedy got shot. It was about that time that the Beat Generation gave way to a new bohemian movement that didn't have a name yet. This was about the time all the surfing stuff was popular. Remember Beach Party and similar movies? The surfers had made a startling discovery, namely LSD. I think it started in Los Angeles, where doctors were treating patients with it, and then it somehow migrated up to perhaps Big Sur and finally San Francisco.

(All of this is really sketchy, because it hasn't been documented very well. One book that does mention it is Timothy Leary's Flashbacks autobiography (novel?) I checked it out with some older bohemians who were living in the area (Los Angeles) at the time in question (1962) and basically here's how the story goes: Some surfer cat got word that this square doctor cat was having a party and he also somehow knew that this doctor stashed the LSD he treated his patients with in his house. I think he treated his patients at his house because it was a fancy yuppie type house on a cliff overlooking the ocean with a fantastic view. Anyway, this surfer cat (actually, it may be more than one) decides to crash the doctor's party and steals all his LSD. (It came in ampoules, each containing 1 ml. of LSD solution, six ampoules to the box). From what I hear, they made off with a substantial amount of LSD, and many claim that it was at that moment that the LSD cat got let out of the bag, but that is neglecting the role of Kesey, Owsley and Leary.)

Also about this time (and I hate to keep using that phrase) rents went way up in North Beach, so all the bohemians had to find a new place to live. They found one just to the east of Golden Gate Park, which of course, was the Haight-Ashbury. When psychedelic drugs caught on, Blacks no longer felt comfortable with the movement and they dropped out and hip no longer was a universal language. Plus the bikers, such as Hells Angels, Gipsy Jokers, etc. had a third dialect of the language of hip. Where they picked it up, I have no idea, because they didn't start hanging out with us Hippies until August of 1965, when Kesey threw his famous Hells Angels party.

The use of psychedelic drugs produced many changes in the language of hip. Beside the changes caused by Blacks no longer being involved (I don't have room to go into that here, see Tom Wolf's Kool-Aid book), Hippies needed new words to describe the effects of psychedelic drugs. I haven't got all these words on my list yet, but I'm working on it.

That about brings us to the here and now. I don't know any college age bohemians and don't have any way of finding out what their language of hip is like. I hope one of them will document it so I can compare it with the words we used. Note that I pointed out all of the words the Beats used but the Hippies did not use.

Copyright © 1995,
Colin Pringle (