Wednesday, May 28, 2014

May 2014: Loogid! Lt. Moxie had a Conniption Fit

People often ask where the topics for my monthly letters come from.  This month, I am on a thread of words that I used to hear a lot when I was a kid but seldom hear anymore today.  I heard one of these terms in a movie and it triggered the recollection of others.

Moxie:  Back in the 1980s, I had my first supervisory position as Manager of Total Quality Management.  With two managers having left the company, I was given my department and the other manager's department to manage.  Needless to say, I was familiar with the people and responsibilities of the department I was working in.  The other department was Quality Auditing.  Most of the men (yeah it was in the days of all male engineering departments) in that department were older than me.  They were actually close to retirement.  Their job was to travel to our plants and those of our suppliers to ensure all were adhering to our quality standards and protocols.  Given their age, my age, and me being a management newbee would have made this a bit of a challenge for me.  The nature of their jobs had these guys traveling about 60% of the time.  As a result, I had some direct reports that were also incredibly independent and not entirely disposed to take direction from anyone let alone me.
One of these auditors was named Jack.  Jack was probably close to my Father's age and, the best I can explain it, is that Jack looked like a cross between William Powell in visage and Sydney Greenstreet in physique.  Jack and I had lunch every once in a while well before I was his interim manager.  Mostly Jack would pontificate in a most entertaining way about business, quality, the good old days of American business, and what the heck was wrong with business, society, and the government of those times.
Jack came into my office to congratulate me on being named his interim boss and bring me up to speed on his activities and travel plans.  At the end of the discussion, he looked me square in the eyes said he appreciated my attitude which he noted was different than others my age and younger.  Then, he said, "You know what this upcoming generation is lacking?"  I said, "I am not sure, tell me."  I had no clue what he was going to say.  Part of me hoped it would be wise and enlightening.  Jack leaning forward, very serious, staring me straight in the eye and said one word:  "Moxie."
Really?  Moxie?  I had not heard anyone use that term in years.
I was not sure what it meant.  I thought it was a combination determination with a dash of independence and a sprinkle of sass.  From somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I also thought it was, of all things, a soft drink brand.

moxie—noun Slang.
1.        vigor; verve; pep.
2.        courage and aggressiveness;
3.        nerve.
skill; know-how.

1908, popularized by Moxie, trademark name registered 1924 for a bitter non-alcoholic beverage; the word was used as far back as 1876 as the name of a patent medicine advertised to "build up your nerve," and it is perhaps ultimately from a New England Indian word.

Moxie was indeed a soft drink brand.  It began in the 1880s and mirrored the history of Coca Cola.  In fact, Moxie outsold in Coke in the 1920s.  It was created by Dr. Augustin Thompson.  Many of the first soft drinks were elixirs that touted health benefits.  They often included ingredients such as cocaine to provide the “vim and vigor’ touted in the advertising.    Dr. Thompson created a drink without any harmful ingredients.  The secret ingredient he used is gentian root and was supposedly brought back to the US from South America by one, very fictitious, Lt. Moxie.
In the 40s and 50s, Moxie’s decline was due to a variety of factors.  It had a kind of bitter taste that was only popular in the northeast.  In 1939, Frank Archer the mover and shaker that ran the company and grew the brand passed away and the company never had the same caliber of leadership.  In the 1940s, they reformulated the drink and launched “New Moxie.”  It was a total failure.  Apparently, Coca Cola did not learn this lesson with their launch of New Coke almost 40 years later.
Moxie is still around.  They even have a website where you can learn more about the history of the soft drink:   You can buy a Moxie t-shirt that says: 

You’ve either got it or you don’t

In World War II, the company had a slogan:  What this country needs is plenty of Moxie.
I do believe that is what Jack was trying to get across to me.  I do believe he was right… when he made his comment to me, not too many people had any clue what Moxie was.

Conniption:  Having forayed down the Moxie path, I was thinking of other terms that are no longer in vogue.  That is, I was thinking of terms my parents used when I was a kid that I no longer hear anymore today.  People had a lot more conniption fits back in the day than they have now.  Today a person having a conniption fit would more likely be labeled as having Road Rage, Freaking Out, or some other youthful slang that I am not familiar with.

Often, conniptions. Informal. a fit of hysterical excitement or anger.
Also called conniption fit.

1825–35,  Americanism; origin uncertain

This definition was rather unsatisfying.   The people must have thought so too, so they included the following which sheds a bit more light on this connipitive thing. 

For a word that has such an official ring to it, there is surprisingly little information on where the terms conniption or conniption fit originated from. The word did not appear until the 19th century and is virtual unused in the United Kingdom, leading most scholars to conclude that the etymology of conniption fit lies in the United States. According to the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris, the word conniption is most likely the creation of an imaginative American who coined the term in an attempt to sound educated with a bit of pseudo-Latin. The folks over at Podictionary did a pretty cool podcast about the etymology of the word conniption last year that suggested that the word was first used to describe a woman by the name of Aunt Keziah who lost her cool in the 1800s. She and the rest of her neighbors in a small town of New England were waiting for a scheduled visit by President Andrew Jackson that was canceled with very little notice, at which said conniption fit did ensue.

Copacetic:  Here is another word that seems to belong in black and white B-movies of the 1940s and 50s.  “Everything is copacetic.”  That is the only way I have ever heard this word used.  Everything is just fine.  A-OK.  Copacetic sounds so high brow.  It is like the combination of two Latin words copus and cetus meaning A and OK or vice-versa.  But no, this word too is slang.  Again from

adjective Slang.
fine; completely satisfactory; OK.

1915–20, Americanism; of obscure origin; popular attributions of the word to 
Louisiana French, Italian, Hebrew, etc. lack supporting evidence.  

Last time I heard this word was in the movie Notting Hill.  I have never really used this word though I do hear others of my generation use it every once in a while.

Discombobulate:  This is the word that heard in a movie.  It was in 42 the film that documented the baseball life of Jackie Robinson.   Early in the movie when Jackie was playing for the Montreal farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers, they played an exhibition game against the Dodgers.  Jackie was walked because the pitcher refused to give a black man a pitch he could hit.  Jackie promptly stole second and then third base.  He took a daring lead off of third to the point that the frustrated pitcher dropped the ball and was called for a balk.  Robinson was awarded home plate and scored a run.  A young boy in the stands told his mother that Jackie “discombobulated the man!”
These days’ people are confused, in disarray, or disoriented these days but seldom discombobulated.  We have a more official definition thanks to

to confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate:  the speaker was completely discombobulated by the hecklers.

1825-35, Americanism, fanciful alteration of discompose or discomfort

I had a Uncle that loved to use this word.  Until the Jackie Robinson movie, I had not heard discombobulate used for years. 

Groovy:  My generation is not immune to having coined or used terms that are no longer used.  Back in the heyday of Hippiedom and the counter culture, the word groovy was bandied about with irritating frequency. 

1.  Highly stimulating or attractive; excellent:  groovy music; a groovy car.
2.  inclined to follow a fixed routine.

I never liked this word and I am not so sure why.  Out of all the slang, jargon, and blah blah of those crazy days of adolescence and coming of age, I just found groovy irritating.  I did not like the way it was used and abused.  I did not like the pretension and kind of sarcasm that under lied the use of it.  I especially hated how the mass media took it over and used it in advertising so quickly.  Needless to say I was happy to see this term have a very short life and be relegated to the junk heap of slang.

Musician Slang: There are slang terms that have staying power.  I use “cool” and call all my close friends and musical buddies “baby” all the time. 
A couple of years ago while still living in Connecticut, I booked a wedding.  The folks hiring our band said they had an uncle who was a jazz pianist and would it be OK if he sat in a jammed with us.  Our response was, “Yeah… OK.”  In all my years of musical experience, I have learned one thing:  never have any expectations in situations like this.  The uncle might be an awesome player that it would be an honor to play with or he might have been a total bust.  There is no way to predict. 
On the day of the wedding, we met the uncle. He was indeed a cool dude.  He was an old school jazz player from I am guessing the beatnik era.  He kept referring to us “cats.”  “I love the music you cats play.”  I kept calling him baby in return.  I had never been called a “cat” before.  It was kind of cool.  I had not heard anyone use that term outside of a movie ever before or ever since.
Back in my days of playing music in Detroit with the Johnites, we had a full vocabulary of terms and nicknames.  We called our musical pay “geetus” which we borrowed from The Three Stooges.  Most of words were either idiotic or off color.  Often they were both.  One day when we were counting all the words we had made up and it dawned on us that WE did not make them up.  All the words and terms we used came from our drummer Mike Mossoian. 
Yes, as this letter draws to a close, it is time to bring Ara Topouzian into the mix.  Whenever I call or get a call from Ara, we do not say hello.  We say “loogid.”  Loogid is a contraction and slang for “look it.”  How and why did we ever come to this manner of salutation?  We happen to know, what I can only call a character, in the Armenian community of Detroit.  He seems to prefix every sentence with a drawly “look it.”  As we noticed this, and as we are basically infantile, we started emulating his habit.  At this point, we probably say it more than he does.  We even have people that never met the originator of this salutation using it.
Thanks for reading this groovy bit of discombobulated musings and meanderings in the world of slang.

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