The other day my wife and I were having a discussion, about which I don't remember but I'm sure it probably had something to do with the starting rotation of the Cleveland Indians, interplanetary exploration or maybe -- just maybe -- something I had forgotten to do.
And while I don't remember what my exact response was, I clearly recall what she said, which was: "Well, duh."
She actually says that quite often to me, but in this particular instance I wondered where that bit of "slanguage" might have originated. I had thought the familiar "duh" comeback when trying to make fun of a friend -- or, in this case, a spouse -- had only been around a few years, maybe a decade or so at the most.
Much to my surprise, the "duh" comeback has been a part of this world longer than I have.
My research into "duh" traced its origin to at least 1943, when it was used as an off-handed remark in Merrie Melodies cartoons. Who knew?
Finding that bit of information intrigued me. The Indians' rotation and interplanetary exploration be damned, I was on a new mission, to uncover the roots of some of our favorite putdowns and other pop culture references.
Here's a handful of the findings:
º "Cool": I thought for sure this phrase was sole possession of either the late 1960s or early 1970s. I found references to what one magazine called a "timeless term" as far back as 1955. Ironically, as one publication put it, that was the year the King of Cool (James Dean) died.
º "D'oh!": If you thought Homer Simpson's catchphrase was his own invention, think again. This expression goes as far back as the 1940s.
º "Whatever": I also hear this one a lot from my wife, and credit for its role in our slanguage goes to the 1995 movie "Clueless," the highly entertaining Alicia Silverstone film. If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend it. It's definitely the highlight of Alicia Silverstone's career, which, I know, does not necessarily say a lot.
º "As if": "Clueless" seems to get credit for this phrase, too. (I'm telling you, "Clueless" should be required viewing for anyone millennial age or older.)
º "Nerd": Surprisingly, a 1951 Newsweek magazine reference defined a particular person as a nerd, with the exact meaning you would expect.
º "Fave": I would have lost any wager on how far back this expression goes. I thought "fave" was a relatively new description, but it can be found in articles tied to the entertainment industry as far back as the 1930s.
º "Hyper": Think this is a relatively new term about kids with too much energy? Not quite. It can be found used in that fashion as far back as 1942.
º "Bogus": This phrase, tied to something not felt to be correct or OK, appeared to have emerged in 1990.
º "Studmuffin": As you can probably tell, my wife has called me a lot of names over the years, but this has never been one of them. The earliest reference I could find to a "studmuffin," depicted as an "eternally handsome man," was in the 1980s.