You can try to paint an entire generation with the same brush, but we who call ourselves Boom Zero, those born between 1945 and 1950, have relatively little in common with Boom Lite, people born in the 1960’s, after I had started high school. I’m pretty sure they didn’t spend hours listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio, didn’t buy savings stamps in school, didn’t wear coonskin hats, didn’t have to “duck and cover” in the classroom, didn’t play games like “Rich Uncle” or “Mystery Date”.
I’m sure their lives have been rich and full, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t really speak the same language. They probably wouldn’t say they had it “made in the shade”, and I never felt even remotely comfortable using the word “groovy”. Did their parents worry that their children would become “greasers”, “JDs” (Juvenile Delinquents), “hoods”? Did they use Vapo Rub to make sure their DA (Duck’s Ass) stayed firm in high winds? Did they use Vapo Rub? If they were on the road to perdition, did they use a “church key” to open a Blatz, a Rheingold, A Piels, a Schlitz, a Ballantine, a Carling Old Style? Did they go to “sock hops”? Did they think Shelly Fabares and Paul Peterson were just dreamy?
We think not.
All of this comes to mind as my daughter, still horse-crazy after all these years, will be spending the afternoon doing what she likes best, riding a bunch of different horses to make sure they are exercised and generally pampered. This job, if in her case it is a job, is called hacking. Hacking is also used to mean something like pleasure riding, a perfectly acceptable, even gentlemanly, occupation. In my earlier days however, at home and at school, hacking around meant acting without purpose, larking about, essentially goofing off. Hacking around with friends was virtually all we had to do in a town that had an intellectually ambitious bookstore but no pizza place, movie theater, or Dairy Queen. So, that was good hacking, but the term was used with different impact by my teachers who described lackadaisical, attitude impaired clowns in the classroom as hackers. We hackers, we happy few, formed a band of brothers we thought forever branded by the term, and yet, the disapprobation appears to have disappeared almost entirely.
Say, one was committed to a life of academic lassitude, happily hacking around in mindless schoolboy distraction. What to do when called to account? How to survive the slings and arrows tossed by cranky teachers and coaches? One, and you know who that one most certainly was not, might hang one’s head, vow to do better, and buckle down from time to time , just to stay out of the line of fire. Or, counting on invention and charm, one could attempt to spin a tale so compelling that the admiring teacher was simply swept away, forgetting to drop the well deserved hammer. A much less taxing enterprise.
We called that artful distraction a “snow job”, by which we meant that somehow the combined weight of charm and tangentially possible although certainly dubious information might bury the listener as if he had wandered into an Alpine avalanche. We also used the term “snow” to indicate a semi-reputable con job, such as convincing a
sucker friend to buy the car we knew to be near its sad end by touting features that had nothing to do with its performance. “You’ll never see a car with a tint job like this baby again.”
The avalanche metaphor was also appropriate to the more genteel use of the word “snow” to indicate headlong, helpless, relatively sudden, and probably impermanent infatuation. My recollection is that we were first snowed somewhere in the late middle school years and remained capable of being snowed into our college years, or at least, into my college years. Being snowed was a more intense form of infatuation, more mature than puppy love and less creepy than obsessed. I suppose there were instances in which someone who had experienced being snowed could become love-sick, but the first stage carried no whiff of pathology. Being snowed was great with no real expectation of sustained relationship.
Have a crush on? No, crushes were cultivated like courtly love, emotional but in the abstract. Smitten? Closer, but being snowed did include the sensation of being swept away. It doesn’t matter now; that phrase too has been swept away.
There’s idle nostalgia at play here, obviously, and fun with words, but there’s also the recognition that language shapes experience as much as experience shapes language. Kidspeak, slang, lingo, reveals something about the time in which it appears. We were, I was, trying to differentiate our experience from those of the generation holding sway. They had their words; we had ours. There were a lot of us, seventy-six million born between 1946 and 1964, so our voices and our sensibilities probably lasted longer than those of previous generations. And yet, we’d be appalled to hear the creaky phrases we used so happily a half century ago. Yeah, and no one ever really said “groovy” with a straight face.