Slang City Mail

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February 8, 2007
Slang of the Week: tea (noun)

Elspeth was delighted with Margo’s offer of tea, but became suspicious when she noticed there were no cups or saucers in the kitchen.

Celebrity quote:
“I knew that jazz musicians smoked ‘tea,’ but if I’d been asked, I would have said marijuana was some kind of Mexican musical instrument.”
—actress Kitty Carlisle

If you’re old enough to know who Kitty Carlisle is, you probably remember her as a panelist on the TV game show To Tell the Truth—not from her younger days in wild marijuana movies. But if you’re not old enough to remember either, let me give you a quick recap.

On the show To Tell the Truth, which ran on and off from 1956 to 2002, three contestants would all claim to be the same person—someone who had an unusual job or history. Four celebrity panelists would ask them questions and vote on who was telling the truth. Lying contestants who convinced the panelists they were the “real McCoy” got money for every wrong vote.

My younger sister actually appeared on the show in 2000, pretending to have invented “Boyfriend in a Box” (don’t ask!) However, it was comedian Paula Poundstone she fooled—
Carlisle had more or less retired from the show at that point.

As for
Carlisle’s earlier “drug connection,” it came about in a 1934 movie musical called Murder at the VanitiesHer costar Gertrude Michael, backed by chorus girls, sings about how smoking marijuana will make her ex-boyfriend return, if only in her hazy spliff-induced dreams. Though you might think a film with a big song and dance number about dope would be an underground production, Murder at the Vanities was a mainstream movie. Believe it or not, pot was not made illegal by the federal government until 1937, the year after the cult propaganda picture Reefer Madness was released.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: The Hippie Dictionary: A Cultural Encyclopedia (And Phraseicon) of the 1960s and 1970s. Now there’s a reference book likely to have plenty of marijuana information! Cultural and political listings such as "Age of Aquarius," "César Chávez," and "Black Power Movement," plus popular phrases like "acid flashback," "get a grip," and "are you for real?" will remind you of how revolutionary those years were.