Slang City Mail

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January 24, 2008
Slang of the Week: crank (noun)
1. epilepsy (archaic) 2. methamphetamine 3. an eccentric and/or irritable person

Because Margo suffered from the crank, she was obliged to take anti-seizure medication.

Celebrity quote
“These that do counterfeit the crank be young knaves and young harlots, that deeply dissemble the falling sickness.”
-Thomas Harman, writing in 1566

Though the first meaning of crank dates from the Elizabethan era, this week’s newsletter was inspired by contemporary events. Last Friday, Stacey Gayle appeared on CBS’s The Early Show to talk about the treatment she’d received for her bizarre medical problem. The 25-year-old suffered from musicogenic epilepsy, a condition in which seizures are brought on by particular kinds of music.

In 2006, Gayle began to suspect that hearing Sean Paul’s fast-paced song Temperature was the trigger for her seizures—an unfortunate reaction, since the song was in the top ten for 17 weeks that year. After extensive testing involving sophisticated electrode sensors and a garden-variety iPod, doctors at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center confirmed that Sean Paul was indeed the culprit, and Gayle underwent surgery so that she could enjoy hearing the dancehall reggae artist offer to “give it to [her] hot like a sauna” without fear.

I can think of a few people who wouldn’t be surprised that the Jamaican singer’s music causes seizures. But strangely, doctors say that these seizures are not caused by the rhythm of the song; rather, they are set off by an emotional response connected to it. In fact, another person with this extremely rare condition had the same response to opera music.

As for this archaic word to describe “the falling sickness,” as epilepsy was known in the sixteenth century, it was frequently used in conjunction with “counterfeit” as in the example from Harman above. His “A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursitors, Vulgarly Called Vagabonds” has an entire chapter about those who pretended to have seizures in order to trick sympathetic passers-by into giving them money.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Cassell's Dictionary of Slang by Jonathan Green. This excellent resource is one of the most comprehensive dictionaries of English Slang from the US, UK and Australia.