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December 20, 2008

Slang of the Week: off the chain (adjective phrase)
cool, great

Example:
Jim bought his wife Della expensive tortoiseshell hair combs for Christmas because he thought she was off the chain.

Celebrity quote:
“Downtown Chicago is the bomb and the lakefront is off the chain.”
-Fast talking rapper Twista singing the praises of his hometown

Although the Twista quote above appeared in a 2007 issue of Vibe magazine, off the chain originated in the 1990s. It has many synonyms, including off the hinges, off the hook, off the heezy, off the hizzle and off the hizzle for shizzle.

The last three are variations on off the hook, which can sometimes mean to be released from responsibility and/or to get out of trouble. For example, you are off the hook if your girlfriend suddenly discovers she is not pregnant after all, or your neighbor decides not to press charges against you after your goat eats his daisies.

However, that does not appear to be the origin of the phrase in this context. Most sources agree that it’s related to the telephone, from the time that telephone receivers rested on hooks. The exact relationship is not clear, but it may well be the excitement of a phone that is “ringing off the hook” (receiving many calls in quick succession). Regardless, it’s interesting that this phrase came into being at roughly the same time cell phones --which have nothing resembling a hook--began to take over.

While you can still find instances of all of these, off the hizzle and off the hizzle for shizzle seem to be losing popularity, probably because they’ve lost their cool factor. The “izzle” form became familiar even to older people through a 2005 television commercial for Chrysler starring rapper Snoop Dogg and former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca. Once your slang has become associated with an octogenarian, it’s time to move on.

What’s New?
“Boy, don't try to front, I-I know just-just what you ah-ah-are.” Fronting, re-ups, lollipops and suckers in Britney Spears’ new hit Womanizer, now translated in to Standard English.

Bookstore
Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Here’s something different! FUBAR F---ed Up Beyond All Recognition: Soldier Slang of World War II (General Military) by Gordon L. Rottman. A great last-minute gift for a military buff. See all slang books.