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January 8, 2004

Slang of the Week: snaps (noun)
1. praise 2. artful insults

Susan had nothing but snaps for her amazing hairdresser.

Celebrity quote:
Snaps for the drag queens who paved the way.”
-Carson Kressley, of TV’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

It may seem a little strange that this word’s two meanings are opposites. As Kressley uses it, snaps comes from snapping your fingers. This has always a favorite alternative to applause among people with a drink in one hand and cool 1950s beatniks at poetry readings (who often had a drink in one hand as well).

The second meaning of snapping, also called playing the dozens, is more related to the “snappy comeback” – a fast and funny response. Participants trade insults as if playing a game, with each player trying to outdo the cleverness and humorous cruelty of the previous snap. Points are scored by crowd reaction. Long associated with the African American community, examples of playing the dozens can be found in Zora Neale Hurston's classic 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, though the phrase is older.

The most popular target of snaps is the other player’s mother, especially her age, intelligence, appearance and deviant sexuality. Typical examples include, “Your mother is so dumb it takes her an hour to make Minute Rice.” and “Your mother is so fat that people exercise by jogging around her.”

However, the classic snap from my junior high school days was about the opponent – not the mother. “You’re so ugly that when you were a baby, they had to tie a pork chop around your neck so that the dog would play with you.” Ouch!

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