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Uploaded:2015-08-07
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In which Hank discusses his new obsession. There are /so many/ words for "Cool" because what is cool is always changing and we need new words to embody that new aesthetic. This has resulted in a wonderful and beautiful (and sometimes worrying) array of words that mean the same thing (cool) and yet different things (the cool of a particular place and time).

This discussion of when and how slang becomes cultural appropriation is one of the best I've seen: http://www.reddit.com/r/linguistics/comments/2xqe13/slang_and_cultural_appropriation/

And this article on what cultural appropriation is is a great introduction: http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/


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Hank: Good morning, John, I have developed an unhealthy obsession with the word 'cool'.  Not the concept of 'cool', that's just--I mean--that's a lot and I'm clearly not an expert.  I mean the word or words that we use to identify that mutable mix of simultaneously embodying and defying culture and defining culture as well, if nothing else, cool and its neighborhood of words attempt to define a leading edge of cultures' aesthetic, an edge that seems out of everyone's control, precisely because it's controlled by everyone, and there are a lot of these words precisely for that reason.

As culture changes, it needs new words to embody itself, because those old words are defining an old culture, and as culture changes faster, we get more and more of them.  Now, it's widely accepted that the word with the most synonyms in English is drunk.  This was, I think, first proposed by Benjamin Franklin, and it is difficult to argue with, but mostly because it's just very hard to measure slang.  In any case, though, I think that 'cool' could give 'drunk' a run for its money.

Dope, rad, bad, off the heezy, the bee's knees, on the ball, peachy keen, slammin', smokin', sweet, far out, groovy, hip, legit, boss, wizard, wicked, jokes, choice, gnarly, the cat's pajamas, crackalackin, nifty, fine, fab, fly, fresh, phat, and on fleek.  Just to name a few!  Culture defines the words and the words define the culture.  The very existence of the concept of cool itself requires a kind of cultural self-awareness. Culture needs to know that culture exists, so it can identify and co-opt words to use to define itself with, but I think that culture is aware of itself in a kind of limited way.

Like, when I look at myself in the mirror, I'm seeing myself on the surface level.  I can like, do my hair and check for my pimples, but not really gettin' very deep.  When I think about myself, though, I'm thinking about my hopes and my fears and my motivations, and the effects that I have on the world around me.  That's what I'm thinking about my actual self, and that's a whole other thing.

Culture, it feels like, is kinda of often mindlessly self-aware, like it's looking at itself in the mirror and being quite impressed with what it sees there, but not examining itself in a deeper way.  Culture has a hard time being truly self-aware, being able to examine itself, its motivations, its effects, and its hopes and its fears.  It's hard for culture to do that, but one way that we can do it is to examine the choices that culture makes, and maybe that'll give us some deeper insight, and 'cool', that bleeding edge of the collective self, is a really good place to look for that insight.  

Like in the 60s, with the focus on both space exploration and drug culture, words for 'cool' were like, 'far out', and 'out of this world' or just 'gone'.  Surfer culture was more about enthusiasm than aloofness, and spawned words like 'mondo' and 'bodacious' and 'radical'.

These words almost always come to the mainstream from some kind of subculture, out of rock and roll or punk or beat poets, but most commonly, they come out of marginalized cultures.  The first use of 'cool' itself to identify the concept of coolness was traced back to the 1880s in African-American English.  Often, these words are co-opted and redefined by the mainstream in a kind of colonization of the cool of marginalized cultures that the mainstream has itself marginalized.  

Diversity creates these opportunities for cultural advancement, but the wave can also be destructive if we forget that we're the ones who built it and don't question its effects.  Ultimately, and thank goodness, we get to decide for ourselves what 'cool' is.  We both create and are created by culture.  So maybe we have an obligation to inspect that wave and to see if we can understand its motivations and its effects.  And that is why I have become obsessed with the word 'cool'.  John, I'll see you on Tuesday.

Please, I want so badly for there to be productive discussion in the comments.  There was a lot that I couldn't say in this video, because there's just not enough time, so I hope a lot of that discussion gets to happen down in the comments.  

Also, I'm going to be performing with Welcome to Night Vale in Portland and Seattle on October 27th and 28th, and yes, NerdCon: Stories is still a thing that's going to be happening October 9th and 10th in Minneapolis.  Post-VidCon, we've been doing a lot of talking and planning about NerdCon: Stories and I'm really excited about it.  We've sold most of the tickets, but not all of them.  Okay.  Goodbye.