Of Lamestains and Wack Slacks: The Elaborate Joke That Was Grunge-Speak
In 1992, the rock bands of the Seattle “grunge scene” won over Americans’ hearts and minds, overtaking slick and cheesy metal groups from the ‘80s that had worn out their welcome, such as Poison and Winger. These grunge bands, like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, also played hard rock, but they were gloomy and sarcastic—kind of like punk rockers had been in the ‘70s—and they didn’t wear hairspray or tight leather pants while they played, adding an air of authenticity. Plus, they were from Seattle, which helped speed up the adoption rate, as in the early ‘90s, America was obsessed with things from the Pacific Northwest, what with Northern Exposure and Twin Peaks.
The Seattle bands led to a sea change in music, of course, but influenced the culture in other ways. Everybody started wearing plaid shirts and thick sweaters, for example, just like the Seattle bands did—although they’d worn them because it’s cold and rainy in Seattle. In writing about grunge trends for the stuffy-sounding “Styles of the Times” section for The New York Times, writer Rick Marin called Sub Pop Records, the Seattle music label that was home to many of the grunge bands. Answering the phone was 25-year-old employee Megan Jasper. Marin specifically wanted to know if there was any cool slang that all the cool, real grunge kids in Seattle were using, and if he could put it in his article.
There wasn’t any. At all. But it was just such a lame, un-punk rock request that Jasper decided to pull a prank on Marin. Right there on the spot, Jasper invented the lexicon of grunge, and told Marin it was all legit. She pulled a bunch of examples of subculture lingo out of thin air, and Marin reported them as fact. This is objectively hilarious, especially since the words sound made up, like an old person would think a young person talks.
Among the grunge-speak Jasper concocted:
- Wack slacks were torn-up jeans.
- Fuzz were what real grunge guys called those trendy fuzzy sweaters they’d worn for years.
- Kickers were heavy boots, like Doc Martens.
- Bound and hagged meant you were staying home on a Saturday night.
- Big bag of bloatation meant you were drunk.
- “Score!” meant “awesome.”
- “Rock on!” meant “see you later.”
- A harsh realm was anything that bummed you out.
- A cob nobbler was a loser.
- A lamestain was somebody decidedly not cool—you know, a real cob nobbler.
The article ran with those examples of slanguage and more. And then people started using them, and for years, particularly “score” and “lamestain.” In 1999, Fox even aired a paranormal drama called Harsh Realm. Jasper’s joke became a very real part of the culture.
The Baffler later uncovered the ruse, and the news spread that the slang people were suddenly using was less than organic lingo. But it didn’t matter—those terms had already spread far and wide. Jasper ultimately felt kind of guilty about the whole thing. She once told the New York Observer that she felt bad for busting Rick Marin’s chops, saying that she “would feel pretty shitty if someone lost their job over a stupid prank.” Or, in other words, a real lamestain.
Photo via The Seattle Times
Brian Boone edits the Splitsider Humor Section.