The origin of the word “beatnik” - a slang term itself - is instructive to identify beatnik slang terms and to understand where the entire beatnik subculture and beatnik slang was created.
Beatniks, followers of the “Beat Generation.” began their trek into history after World War II. After the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a generation of people who had just wrung themselves out with a long, horrible, and bloody war, didn’t look upon life with the same naive optimism that existed in previous eras.
The term “beatnik” is derived from the slang term “beat,” which was popularized by famous writer Jack Kerouac after the war. “Beat” came to mean “beaten down,” but Kerouac said that wasn’t his intent.
The Beat Generation, as Kerouac saw it, were people who were “down and out, but who had intense conviction.”
In his work Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation, Kerouac called it: “a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly, graceful new way.”
These people weren't delinquents, Kerouac said. They were “characters,” people who were “staring out the dead wall window of our civilization.”
Among the professionally disaffected, Kerouac and his writings were a light in the encroaching postwar darkness.
“Hipster,” as Kerouac used it, became a slang word of the beastnick. Hipsters were aficionados of jazz music, and the entire jazz lifestyle. That included a particular lingo, dress, and attitude, and probably the first systematic use of marijuana in an American subculture.
The word “hipster” ultimately replaced the slang “hepcat,” which was pretty much a jazz subculture follower of decades earlier.
Hipsters were also relaxed about other conventional social mores, including sex. Jazz musicians attracted their own followings; the hipsters were, in their day, a bit like groupies (band followers).
Anyone who was a hipster was in constant pursuit of whatever was “cool,” a slang term that survives to this day. In the late 40s, that included a combination of jazz and bebop, or bop, music, a takeoff on jazz, but with a quicker beat and lots of improvisation.
In hipster parlance, the world postwar was divided between two groups: the hip and the square. Hip was in, a truthseeker, who didn’t let materialism and consumer sway him from the search for ultimate enlightenment (many times found in a marijuana joint or something even stronger.)
The square? Well, squares (sometimes known as “cubes) were pretty much everyone who wasn’t in their current circle. The only major differences were the degree of “squareness.” A waitress, for example, might be square, but she probably wasn’t nearly as square as, say, a banker, an accountant, or - the worst yet! - a cop.
Because of their “on the brink” lifestyle, and their engagement in activities that were either straight out or borderline illegal, the worst enemy a beatnik had was an officer of the law.
This may be the first time the use of the word “pig” as a slang slur against policemen had been used.
If a beatnik saw a bunch of cops heading toward a hipster hangout, he’d “haul ass” or “beat the gravel” (run like crazy to get away from them, since cops were never up to any good in Beatnik circles.)
So what are some beatnik slang terms that linger to today? They’re easy to find if you listen to the language.
Beatniks did things their own way, which in their lingo was a cool thing to do. But woe to the traitor who informed on the Beatniks to the cops! That was a “stoolie” (an informer) who “sang” or “ratted” to the authorities. That was an excellent way for an aspiring hipster to lose his total coolness credentials!
It was certainly a great way to get uninvited to Beatnik parties, and in that era, lose one’s access to the underground drugs of choice.
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