Saturday, August 21, 2010


Are you hip?

The New York Times Standards Editor, Philip Corbett, has something to say about the word hipster:

We try hard to shed our old image as stodgy and out of it. Perhaps too hard, sometimes.

How else to explain our constant invocation of the old/new slang hipster? As a colleague pointed out, we’ve used it more than 250 times in the past year.

The word is not new, of course. The O.E.D. dates it to the 1940s and helpfully equates it with hepcat. American Heritage offers this quaint definition: One who is exceptionally aware of or interested in the latest trends and tastes, especially a devotee of modern jazz.

Our latest infatuation with hipster seems to go back several years, perhaps coinciding in part with the flourishing of more colloquial (and hipper) blogs on our Web site. In 1990 we used the word just 19 times. That number rose gradually to about 100 by 2000, then exploded to 250 or so uses a year from 2005 on.

Then there’s the Brooklyn connection: our archive confirms that Kings County is the very center of hipsterdom. Ninety-six Times pieces in the past year that included the word hipster also mentioned Brooklyn, edging out even once-hip Manhattan, which had 87 overlapping mentions. Queens trailed badly with 33, while the Bronx merited only a handful and Staten Island just two.

In any case, hipster’s second life as hip slang seems to have lost its freshness. And with so many appearances, I’m not sure how precise a meaning it conveys. It may still be useful occasionally, but let’s look for alternatives and try to give it some rest.

Those of us in the New York City take no surprise in the ordering of the boroughs, except perhaps that Staten Island rated as many as two hip mentions.

Go, man, go.

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