Boss To Cray: Teen-Speak Then & Now
By Bill Crandall
This is part of a series of essays to mark the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first American television appearance on CBS’s “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It culminates with CBS News Live Experiences’ “50 Years: The Beatles,” a live, interactive multimedia event at The Ed Sullivan Theater on Feb. 9.
“Oh, we like the Beatles. They’re gear!” quipped John Lennon to a reporter in January 1964, ironically using a favorite term of British teens. Less than a month later, when the Beatles came to America, British slang came with them. In fact, CBS interviewed a teenager named Adrian who used the term “gear” just like a Liverpudlian, but in her charming Brooklyn accent.
In 1964, as today, British and American teens had different words for nearly everything worth talking about. The Beatles not only brought about a clash of cultures, hairstyles and accents, but also of words.
Five terms British teens used in 1964:
Dolly: Girlfriend. Is your dolly coming to the club?
Gear: Stylish, excellent. The Beatles are gear!
Punch Up: Fight. We got into a punch up at the club last night.
Skint: Financially broke. I can’t go to the pub, because I’m skint.
Spot of bother: Trouble. He got into a spot of bother at the club last night.
Five terms American teens used in 1964:
Bent: Angry. The security guards at the airport were really bent.
Boss: Cool, fantastic. The Beatles are boss!
Gas: A spectacularly fun time. That party was a gas!
Square: Somebody not cool or hip. If you don’t like the Beatles, you’re a square.
Weeds: Cigarettes. Do you have any weeds? I’m all out.
Five terms British teens use in 2014:
Butters: An unattractive girl. That one on the telly is butters.
Bruv: Friend. You alright, bruv?
Peng: Sexy, hot. That new boy is well peng.
Safe: Confirmed. Are you coming? Safe.
Savage: Cool. Those boots are savage!
Five terms American teens use in 2014:
Cray: Crazy. That teacher is cray! (also “cray cray,” but that’s kinda last year).
Ooh Kill Em: Way to go! You got Miley tickets? Ooh Kill Em!
Ratchet: Messy, disheveled. Her hair is ratchet.
Ship: Endorse a romantic relationship. Ross and Laura? I ship it.
Swag: Everything’s OK. You’re driving? Swag.
Bill Crandall is a contributor to CBS News Presents and the former Head of Digital Content for Rolling Stone. A Beatles fan from birth (his middle name is Jude), Crandall once interviewed Sir George Martin about the making of each of the Beatles’ No. 1 singles.