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When people politely ask me how I am, I frequently answer, “I’m groovy!” The most common response is, “I haven’t heard that word in a while.” It also brings a smile to their lips. Which, of course, is why I say it. People know what I mean, even if the word has essentially gone out of use. But, what’s wrong with preserving a perfectly good, and fun, word like groovy?
It may surprise you to learn that groovy has been a part of the English language since the 1920s, and referred to music from a recorded disc which was played by a phonograph needle in its grooves. Back then, it meant that you were stuck in a groove, just doing the same old thing. It resurfaced in the 40s to mean something great, and has maintained that definition ever since. For most of us, though, the word conjures forth memories of the swinging 60s.
Back in the 60s, when groovy was a common part of our cultural lexicon, we had a lot of words and phrases which described feelings of pleasure, peace, and happiness. These reflected a generally hedonistic, but also positive, outlook on life. It was the lingo of the hippies, and it swept into our daily lives like a constant breeze, fed by celebrities, music, and the media. And while that breeze has blown by us, some of the vocabulary lingers on, gone but not forgotten.
The quintessential slang word of this period is probably cool, which comes to us first from the world of jazz, as does so much of our slang. It was certainly embraced by the beatnik crowd in the late 50s, and it now sits firmly in our everyday vocabulary. However, in the 60s it wasn’t enough to be cool, man. You had to be way cool, man, which was much better than just cool. Superlatives accentuated much of the language of the 60s.
If something was far out, it was great, if it was out of sight, it was awesome, and if it blew your mind, it was absolutely amazing!
If you flipped out, you were angry and emotional, but if you freaked out, you lost all control.
If something was serious or thoughtful, it was heavy.
If it was unpleasant, it was a bummer and a downer.
If it was fun, it was a blast. If it was really fun, it was killer.
If you agreed with something you’d respond by saying, “Right on!” If you disagreed, then you would tune out.
If somebody had something to say, you’d tell them to, “Lay it on me.” But, if they were going to be blunt and tell you something you might not want to hear, then you’d say, “Sock it to me.”
If you weren’t having fun, then you were uptight.
If you were exciting to be around, you were fab, but if you were dull, you were square.
Your boyfriend, male lover, or husband was your old man.
Your girlfriend, female lover, or wife was your old lady.
What you liked to do was your bag. Whatever you were especially interested in was your thing.
In many respects, these idioms, terms, and phrases have remained with us. Old movies and songs that we still watch and listen to, as well as books, television shows, and films seeking to recreate the time period have kept them alive. Slang isn’t as ephemeral as we might imagine. Once they find a place in our culture, particularly now that we have so many different means to revive and reference them, words like groovy will hopefully always be with us. And I think that’s just nifty!