WORDS@RANDOM New Words The Mavens' Word of the Day Sensitive Language How to Choose A Dictionary Beat the Dictionary game Power Vocabulary Quiz Book Search More Word Books Language Links WORDS@RANDOM Sensitive Language How to Choose A Dictionary Book Search


May 21, 1998


Lindy Ruark writes:
You explained yuppie, yippie, preppie, and buppie...but what about the original "hippie"? Was that just one of those '60's phenomena?

Of course not. Like most vocabulary that's stereotypically associated with the late 1960s, hippie is jazz slang from the 1940s.

Though the word hip--it's of unknown origin--is first found at the turn of the century, and hipster (and hepster) were around by the late 1930s, hip as a cultural phenomenon is more indicative of the late 1940s and 1950s, when an awareness of hip spread into mainstream America.

The word hippie was used throughout the 1950s in jazz slang meaning 'a person who is, or who attempts to be, hip', and was often used derisively in the sense of someone who is very square but who tries to be hip. This sense is reasonably well attested through the late 1950s and early '60s. (The first documented example of hippie is from 1952, but several trustworthy sources say that the word was current from about 1945 in jazz circles.)

The 1960s sense is roughly 'a young, longhaired person of the 1960s who dressed unconventionally, held various antiestablishment attitudes and beliefs, and typically advocated communal living, free love, pacifist or radical politics, and the use of hallucinogenic drugs', and hence 'any person resembling a hippie of the '60s in dress, attitude, behavior, etc.'. It is hard to pin down exactly when this nuance developed, but there are examples of the word hippie from San Francisco in 1965 that would seem to represent this. The sense was popularized by media coverage of the teenage drug scene in New York and San Francisco in late 1966.

In one sense, then, hippie is a word of the 1960s, because the sense most people have in mind refers specifically and exclusively to the 1960s; hippie is "just one of those '60s phenomena" because at any other time such a person wouldn't be called a "hippie." However, it is really just a sense development of an earlier jazz-slang word.

Previous Words of the Day: Alphabetical or Chronological

WORDS@RANDOM   |   The Mavens' Word of the Day   |   Sensitive Language
How to Choose A Dictionary   |   Book Search

Copyright © 1995-2005 Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. 

About Random House | Privacy Policy