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818

Dear AC,

In the movie "Go" a girl says "Don't get 818 on me." What does that mean?

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

In the movie Go, which tells several related stories about Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Claire (Katie Holmes) doesn’t want to go along with her friend Ronna (Sarah Polley) to see a drug dealer. That’s when Ronna insults her by saying "Don't get 818 on me."

While it might not mean much to the rest of the country, residents of Southern California will recognize the number as the telephone area code for the San Fernando Valley, home of the infamous Valley Girl.

So why is it so bad to be a Valley Girl? Since the 1970s, this term has described a superficial and not-very-smart teenage girl from that area who spends all her time shopping at the mall. In 1982, the top 40 song Valley Girl, by Frank Zappa and his 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit introduced this cultural phenomenon to the world at large.

In the song, a teen whines about clothes, sex, braces and hanging out at the then famous Sherman Oaks Galleria Mall, where Moon Unit herself reportedly learned to talk the talk. For better or worse, Valley Girl introduced Val-speak (as the special slang was called) to the rest of the country, and American teenage girls quickly picked up its annoying phrases, such as tubular (excellent), grody to the max (totally disgusting), and gag me with a spoon (that makes me ill).

Examples of Valley Girls can be seen in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Valley Girl (1983). But the species didn’t die out in the 1980s, which makes it possible for the joke to work in Go, released in 1999. Valley Girls have appeared in countless Hollywood films since their debut twenty years ago, perhaps because of the proximity of the Valley to Los Angeles. Even Cher in Clueless (1995) is similarly shallow, shopping obsessed and airheaded, though the story takes place in nearby Beverly Hills and she considers the Valley to be another country.

If you're worried that this portrayal of women is sexist, check out Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). This early Keanu Reeves movie showcases the equal stupidity and shallowness of Valley Boys (though that term is rarely used).

As to the usefulness of the term 818, it probably wouldn’t mean much to people who don’t live on the West Coast. But Val-speak is unlikely to ever completely disappear from mainstream teen language.

Your pal,

A. C. Kemp

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