Saturday, October 24, 2009

“Nut up or Shut Up”

Of late, discussions in the office have brought about a fuller understanding of this “phrase that pays”, so to speak. As the subheading of the adverts for “Zombieland” it obviously refers to the other popular locution, “Man Up”: i.e., to act like a man; do not whimper or complain but, instead, to demonstrate the courage of your convictions. The sum total of this text is to create an Us vs. Them proposition wherein opposing sides cease the war of words and, in effect, join in combat.

In previous eras, the phrase “to get one’s nut” or “to make our nut” was the slang showpeople used for the cost of goods and services in the presentation of a performance (or whatever) weighted against box office receipts: i.e., “the net”. How it got down to “nut” I have no idea. (I would suggest asking William Safire, but, like “Mistah Kurtz” in “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, “he dead”.)

However, there is a secondary effect as well. In Hip Hop, or Gangsta, or whatever label you choose for post-Rap lingo, the meaning takes on a fuller dimension. In Too Short’s old usage (back in the ‘90s, or ‘80s depending upon when you twigged yer wig), to get your “nut” was to find male sexual release. Hence, today, “nut up” is the completion…with prejudice..solo. It remains an open question as to whether the campaign for the movie was designed with that in mind yet there is no doubt it cannot but help benefit from it as lots of testosterone-oriented persons find it equally provocative and humorous.

H.L. Mencken and Marshal McLuhan would be proud of any and all of these definitions, and maybe even Carl Sandburg. This is “the language that” not only “rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work”, but, does triple duty in the measure. And, as well, engages the imagination and provides a continuous flow from one generation to the next.

Slang is a beautiful thing.

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