Let's not get into etymology, here. I'm no scientist. But I do want to talk about language, about slang. And the way certain pieces of it become ubiquitous, while others die awkward deaths, flailing for traction outside of the small cliques of wanna-be trendsetters and would-be linguists where they were birthed.
Birthed by people like me.
Doubt my credentials? I not only have a way with words, I'm desperate for people to recognize it. I'll never forget the day I saw this magazine cover and immediately thought the headline should have read "Slammy Sosa!" Nailed it! I mean, when you're right, you're right.
Today I'd like to shape this discussion around a new phrase I've coined, one that deserves widespread recognition but needs first to gestate and grow in my immediate area, to one day emerge fully formed, violent and triumphant, like the xenomorph from John Hurt's stomach. Or at least like the gerbil from Richard Gere's ass: relieved, unscathed and adorable.
I've been living in New York City for close to two years now, in Brooklyn. In my time here, I've noticed that the locals living in the outer boroughs, including my wife and friends, refer to Manhattan as "the city." I don't like that appellation. There is no doubt that Manhattan is different than Brooklyn is different than Queens, etc., but they are all part of the city, and saying you're going to leave one of the outer boroughs to enter "the city" not only makes no sense, it also serves to denigrate the rest of NYC. If there's one thing Ive learned in my time in Brooklyn, it's that Brooklyn kicks ass, and its not gonna sit here and be Manhattan's weak sister because of some bullshit phrase.
Now, those of you who have lived in NYC longer than I, especially those of you who live in Manhattan, are surely bristling at this premise. This is partially because you agree that Manhattan is "the city" and Brooklyn is Brooklyn and so on, and partially because people who consider themselves New Yorkers are huge TGAs about New York, and enjoy casting aspersions on newcomers and transplants like myself. To which I say, 1) fuck you, you smug assholes, 2) that's an absurd attitude coming from the site of Ellis Island and 3) hear me out, because sometimes it takes a fresh perspective, especially when the term you use to describe your town gets co-opted by MTV.
I know you're excited, but before I introduce you to this catchy, perfectly appropriate, t-shirt ready nickname for Manhattan, I'd like to get back to the subject of language. If you're like me, you probably know a person or two who has a way with slang, has a reputation for coining nicknames or phrases that linger and spread, many of which you still use to this day. Such as that "TGA" thing I threw down above. (It's shorthand for someone being a superior prick about...well, just about anything.) One of my friends coined that phrase in high school and brought it to college, and though it hasn't quite hit the mainstream, it's well known amongst a certain subculture.
Much as Malcolm Gladwell and his tipping points might argue, the successful integration of slang has as much to do with the person wielding it as it does with the term itself. That doesn't just mean that the person with the broadest reach or the biggest pulpit automatically has an advantage. It's a combination of things, from that person's personality, to the efficacy and catchiness of the slang itself, to the breadth of influence the "coiner" is able to wield.
Jerry Seinfeld, for example (and Larry David and other writers), had a huge opportunity to reach millions of people every week, an uncanny ear for the way people talk and the perfect format with which to spread his slang. Hence, the popular lexicon is loaded with terms from his show, from "re-gifting" and "shrinkage" to "close-talker" and "man hands" and more. I don't have quite as big a soapbox from which to shout my message - only this column a Facebook page and an underused Twitter feed. And those things are great, they're Web 2.0 after all, "the next generation" of being a nerd. But there's a big difference between reading slang and hearing slang, and in order for mine to catch on, it has to spoken and heard and mimicked and spread. Even something as insipid as "bromance" can get huge, if enough people hear it.
So I've been using my new phrase in public as much as possible. It has been well-received and mercilessly mocked in equal measure, and already it's gaining a foothold. Friends of mine, and even friends of those friends, have embraced it, using it - ironically maybe, but using it just the same - in everyday conversation. And that's all it needs.
So help me out. The next time you're talking about Manhattan, or heading onto the island from Queens or the Bronx, make sure you tell your friends that you're going to "The Hat".
That's right: henceforth, Manhattan shall be known, colloquially, as "The Hat." Not "the city" or "the Big Apple" or "Gotham" or anything else that blithely excludes or insults the outer boroughs. The outer boroughs are their own thing, proudly. Keep it that way with a shiny new nickname for Manhattan itself.
Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".
ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE
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7.7.09 @ 2:53p
About as stupid as the guy/marketing firm who decided St. Louis should be "The Lou."
Oh, and DW Griffith called. Says he's gonna beat you like a slave.
7.7.09 @ 3:26p
I've been trying to get "it's not rocket surgery" out there for a while.
7.8.09 @ 2:37a
I was sorta hoping you'd recycle a phrase previously used elsewhere "The Big Island". It would play upon the fact that Manhattan is indeed an island, and it's part of the Big Apple. Plus, it's a phrase that was used in "Hawaii Five-O" by Jack Lord, who was arguably the David Caruso of his day.
The Hat? Sorry man, I know how it is when folks diss what you think is an awesome idea, as it happens quite a bit to me; but it doesn't ring my bell.
On another note, you know what phrase has been cropping up lately around this area? "I'd buy that for a dollar." You know, the catchphrase predicted for this very era, give or take a year or two, by the movie "Robocop".
7.14.09 @ 1:40p
Wow, Mike... sounds like the pressure of living in Brooklyn is getting to you. There's a pretty simple reason why Manhattan was, is and will always be "The City." (Taking your out-of-town ass to school here, palsy...) Before municipalization on December 31, 1897, Brooklyn was a separate city, Queens and the Bronx were collections of towns and villages, and Staten Island was a gleam in New Jersey's eye. If you were in any of the towns in the future boroughs, you went to New York City, aka Manhattan. If you were in New York City, you went to (the distinct City of) Brooklyn. Likewise, if you were going to Fordham or West Farms in the Bronx, or wherever in Queens. You left "The City" and went to those towns and turned around and went back to "The City," Manhattan. End of lesson one. Start lesson two. The Seinfeld expressions are expressions that grew out of everyday usage and were generally not invented out of whole cloth. My parents used the expression re-gifting with lavish derision back in the late 60s and 70s. And shrinkage? Jeese that was in popular usage at least in the 70s and if not, the 80s. And man-hands has been around since trannies were identified by their hands (and Adam's apples). Close-talker, I don't remember.
An individual can't invent slang, only a group of people of some size. This might be some clue as to why you're sitting in Brooklyn with "The Hat" in hand. By the way, no true native ever, ever, ever, uses the term "Big Apple," without a distinct tone of irony. I cringe when I hear Bloomberg use it. But he's from Medford, MA, right? I hope he doesn't call Boston "Beantown." Gotham - newspaper guys from the movie The Front Page wearing visors and shirtsleeve garters maybe use it. Again, though, it's always got a silliness attached to it. The namesake village in England is pronounced goat-um and in olden times its people were known for their foolishness. Perfect, eh? Open up your tunnel and get used to "The City."
7.14.09 @ 1:56p
Open up my tunnel? Are you coming on to me?
7.14.09 @ 2:03p
A few more thoughts... are they talking about anyplace but Manhattan when using the expression:
The City That Never Sleeps
I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City
The Naked City
It's Christmastime In The City (Silver Bells)
The World City
The Empire City
Prince of the City
New Jack City
Sex and the City
And as to the scores and scores of movies, books and songs that make use of the words "New York," you can't realistically think they have, or should have, anything but Manhattan in mind? Oops, I mean "The City."
7.14.09 @ 2:14p
All good points, Robert. But two rebuttals:
1) Like I said, I'm no etymologist or scientist. I'm just a caveman.
2) I am a proud Brooklynite (Brooklynian?). Or is that "New Yorker?" Here I am merely taking a stand and asserting BK's uniqueness. My point is not really to stop Manhattan from being referred to as the City but to stop the boroughs from being lumped in under that nickname, at least for those of us who live here. Regardless of the former geographic basis for the term, Brooklyn is typically still considered a part of "the city" at large, particularly to those outside of New York, and I find it demeaning to my borough when someone says, while standing in Brooklyn, that they are going into the city.
"The Hat" is just a clever and and catchy - and tongue-in-cheek - attempt to break it down another level. Indiscriminate use of "the city" can be confusing both in and outside of New York. The Hat makes it less so. Plus, it's totally awesome.
7.14.09 @ 2:49p
Well, to clarify, I don't think one borough or another ought to run down the others. Brooklyn has some pretty cool stuff going on, sans doute. Personally I prefer The Bronx because it's so fabulously crazy. And I stay away from Queens because I can't find my way around except for Astoria, LIC and Forest Hills. But, you are woofing up the wrong tree if you think natives will buy into the whole enchilada being called "the city." By the way, people in The Bronx say they are going downtown, and people in Westchester say they are going into or out of town. Honestly, I don't see what's confusing. For citizens, it's pretty clear. I can't think of a soul who lives in Staten Island or Queens who thinks they live in "the city." For tourists, the great majority are going into Manhattan, so they have their socks on straight. Now, if you want to say "New York City," sure you can mean the five boroughs. But it's a political, not a spiritual entity. I'm not an etymologist - or entomologist for that matter - but I am a life long native, and am very big on local history. I think you're shoveling sand against the tide.