Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hoodie Handie Blowie Boobie Movie Talkie

When I was a kid, a lot of people wore navy blue hooded sweatshirts. It seemed like they were popular for decades. Some had zippers down the front, and some you pulled over your head, but just about everybody had one. They had a sort of pouch thing for your hands in front, and on the pullover ones you could stick each hand in one end of the pouch and clasp them together inside.

I always thought that was sort of cool, and so did most other kids. Not amazingly cool, but cool nonetheless. And much cooler, for example, than the hood with the drawstrings that people rarely used. As a matter of fact, the hood, as I recall, was not considered particularly cool at all.

So it's with some amusement that I observe that hooded tops today are referred to as "hoodies," as if the hood were somehow the most interesting feature of such garments. But beyond that, "hoodie" is kind of a childish word -- the sort of thing a 12-year-old might come up with -- and for all I know, the term was invented by a small child. But somehow it caught on, and now I see advertisements for "hoodies" in the inserts they stuff into the Sunday paper.

I don't know why the term "hoodie" was even invented. We didn't really need another word. I appreciate that it's shorter than "hooded sweatshirt" and shorter than "sweatshirt" as well. But in all the years I wore one, if I ever called it anything, I probably called it a sweatshirt. And I'm none the worse because of it.

A couple of years ago, I was watching a documentary on some cable station. Part of it (or maybe all of it) had to do with how kids are having sex at an earlier age today than they did in the past. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't -- I knew a guy in college who first had sex at 13 and I knew another guy who, if he was to be believed, first had sex at 11. But at what age kids are having sex isn't particularly interesting to me. What struck me the most as I was watching the documentary was the language the kids used to describe the various sexual activities they engaged in.

The only two words I remember were "handie" and "blowie." I remember thinking that it's natural for people to invent terms for the activities they participate in, and it's to be expected that children would invent childish terms, like "handie" and "blowie." I also remember thinking that if you're too young to use adult words, maybe you're too young to be having sex.

Of course, "handie" and "blowie" may eventually work their way into popular culture, and then adults will start using them too. Or maybe they already have, and nobody bothered to tell me. It seems to have already happened with the term "boobie," much to my dismay. To be honest, I cringe a little whenever I hear adults talk about "boobies" -- as far as I'm concerned, it's a kid's word, and adults should use more adult-sounding words, such as "boobs" and "breasts."

On the other hand, if words like "handie" and "blowie" and "boobie" enter the adult lexicon, it won't be the worst thing in the world. After a while they'll stop sounding like children's words to us -- they'll seem just like any other word. There's a precedent for this, as anyone who has ever seen a movie already knows. When motion pictures were first invented, it didn't take long for people to start calling them "movies," and when motion pictures with sound were invented, people started calling them "talkies." The word "talkie" sounds kind of childish and stupid to me, but that's only because no one uses it anymore. There's no need to. On the other hand, "movie" should sound just as childish, but it doesn't. That's because people have been using it for so long that we don't know what other term to use. "Motion picture" sounds too formal, and "film" sounds too pretentious. (It's also on its way to becoming obsolete, as more and more movies are shot in digital video.)

Of course, it's also possible that the use of childish words by adults is just more evidence of the dumbing down of our species. Languages are constantly evolving to keep pace with cultural changes, and if we keep going in the direction we're going, maybe the English language of the future will sound like baby talk to us. I'm optimistic, though. I don't think things will ever get that bad. I think we'll blow ourselves up or otherwise destroy our planet long before we get to that point.