Who Do You Think Created the Term Yippie?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/rangizzz
I really don’t like to boast, but in my lifetime, on half a dozen occasions, I have actually added words and phrases to the language. It’s something I always wanted to do. What a thrill it must have been Dr. Harold Cerumen who decided that cleaning out earwax should be known as “cerumen disimpaction.” And veterinarian Alice Neuticle who coined the word “neuticles”—cosmetic testicles for a dog that’s been neutered.
So I’m not asking for credit. Or cash. Since money had been called “dough” and then morphed into “bread,” so I figured that “toast” would be the next logical step in that particular linguistic evolution, but my campaign itself became toast, in the sense that “toast” now means history.
Also, I was intrigued by the process of having a body part named after oneself. How proud Casper Bartholin’s parents must have been to have a son who christened the source of female lubrication that takes the friction out of intercourse as “Bartholin’s glands.” But my idea of calling those two vertical lines between your nose and your mouth “Krassner’s crease” just never became popular.
Here, then, for better or worse, are my contributions to American culture that did manage to catch on, or at least may be on their way.
1. In 1958, pornography was gradually becoming legal, but at that stage of the game, the Supreme Court was unwilling to allow 1st Amendment protection of “hard-core” porn—as opposed, I assumed, to the term I invented, “soft-core porn,” which was obviously more respectable, though it seemed kind of sneaky, pretending to be squeaky clean. So I decided to satirize the concept with a new feature in The Realist: “Soft-Core Porn of the Month.”
For example, phallic symbolism in newspapers and magazines was a key ingredient of soft-core porn. Sample: a close-up of a stick shift in a Volkswagen ad was accompanied by the question, “Does the stick shift your wife?” Soft-core porn now refers to limited sexuality, as seen in network TV dramas and hotel-room movies that feature jiggling breasts and buttocks but no genitalia. The way to recognize soft-core porn is that it gives men a soft-on.
2. On the afternoon of December 31, 1967, several activist friends were gathered at Abbie and Anita Hoffman's Lower East Side apartment, smoking Colombian marijuana and planning a counter-convention for the Democratic Party’s event the following summer in Chicago. Our fantasy was to counter their convention of death with our festival of life. While the Democrats would present politicians giving speeches at the convention center, we would present rock bands playing in the park. There would be booths with information about drugs and alternatives to the draft. Our mere presence would be our statement.
We needed a name, so that reporters could have a who for their journalistic who-what-when-where-and-why lead paragraphs. I felt a brainstorm coming on and went to the bedroom so that I could concentrate. Our working title was the International Youth Festival. But the initials IYF were a meaningless acronym. I paced back and forth, juggling titles to see if I could come up with words whose initials would make a good acronym. I tried Youth International Festival. YIF. Sounded like KIF. Kids International Festival? Nope, too contrived. Back to YIF. But what could make YIP? Now that would be ideal because then the word Yippie could be derived organically.
Of course, “Yippie” was already a traditional shout of spontaneous joy, but we could be the Yippies! It had exactly the right attitude. Yippies was the most appropriate name to signify the radicalization of hippies. What a perfect media myth that would be—the Yippies! And then, working backward, it hit me. Youth International Party! It was a natural. Youth: This was essentially a movement of young people involved in a generational struggle. International: It was happening all over the globe, from Mexico to France, from Germany to Japan. And Party: In both senses of the word. We would be a party and we would have a party.
Yippie was only a label to describe a phenomenon that already existed--an organic coalition of psychedelic dropouts and political activists. There was no separation between our culture and our politics. In the process of cross-pollination, we had come to share an awareness that there was a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking marijuana in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the planet. It was just the ultimate extension of dehumanization. But now reporters had a who for their lead paragraphs. A headline in the Chicago Daily News summed it up: “Yipes! The Yippies Are Coming!” Our myth was becoming a reality.
3. In 1972, I found myself smoking a combination of marijuana and opium with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Lennon was absentmindedly holding on to the joint, and I asked him, “Do the British use that expression, 'Don’t bogart that joint,' or is it only an American term–you know, derived from the image of a cigarette dangling from Humphrey Bogart's lip?” He replied, with a twinkle in his eye, “In England, if you remind somebody else to pass a joint, you lose your own turn.” Since Bogart and Lauren Bacall were a classic Hollywood couple, I was inspired by that snippet of dialogue to say, “Don’t bacall that joint.”
4. Intuitively, I was an advocate of equal rights and opportunities for both genders long before Women’s Liberation became a movement. In 1959, I wrote, “From a completely idealistic viewpoint, classified ads for jobs should not have separate Male and Female classifications, with exceptions such as a wet-nurse.” In 1964, that practice became illegal. Masturbation was a powerful taboo for females, a subdivision of the war on pleasure, while it was somehow expected of males. But if it was okay for guys to jack-off, I wrote in a media fable, Tales of Tongue Fu, in 1974, then it was also okay for girls to jill-off.
5. In 1979, I covered for a weekly alternative paper the trial of ex-cop Dan White for the double execution of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the gay equivalent of Martin Luther King. In a surprise move, homophobic White’s defense team presented a bio-chemical explanation of his behavior, blaming it on compulsive gobbling down of sugar-filled junk-food snacks. This was a purely accidental tactic. Dale Metcalf, a former member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters who had become a lawyer, told me how he happened to be playing chess with one of White’s attorneys, Steven Scherr.
Metcalf had just read Orthomolecular Nutrition by Abram Hoffer. He questioned Scherr about White’s diet and learned that, while under stress, White would consume candy bars and soft drinks. Metcalf recommended the book to Scherr, suggesting the author as an expert witness. In his book, Hoffer revealed a personal vendetta against doughnuts, and White had once eaten five doughnuts in a row.
During the trial, psychiatrist Martin Blinder testified that, on the night before the murders, while White was “getting depressed about the fact he would not be reappointed [as supervisor, after having quit], he just sat there in front of the TV set, bingeing on Twinkies.” In my notebook, I scribbled “Twinkie defense,” and wrote about it in my next report.
In the wake of the Twinkie defense, a representative of the Continental Baking Company asserted that the notion that overdosing on the cream-filled goodies could lead to murderous behavior was “poppycock” and “crap”—apparently two of the artificial ingredients in Twinkies, along with sodium pyrophosphate and yellow dye—while another spokesperson couldn’t believe “that a rational jury paid serious attention to that issue.” Nevertheless, some jurors did. One remarked after the trial that “It sounded like Dan White had hypoglycemia.”
Later, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “During the trial, no one but well-known satirist Paul Krassner—who may have coined the phrase ‘Twinkie defense'—played up that angle. His trial stories appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.”
6. Twitter is an interesting phenomenon. It’s perfect for those folks with a short attention span, and it’s scary for paranoids who don’t want to be followed. It appeals to minimalists, such as, say, Bob Dylan. I once asked him, “How come you’re taking Hebrew lessons?” He responded, “I can’t speak it.”
Tweets range from the trivial (David Gregory announcing that he was going to eat a bagel before moderating Meet the Press) to international conflicts (Iranian citizens reporting on the uprising against their repressive government). It occurred to me that there could be classic haiku tweets—three lines consisting of 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables—adding up obviously to no more than 140 characters—and so I decided to embed the phrase I coined in the following haiku:
What’s worth sharing now?
World War Three or stubbed my toe?
I have Twitter’s Block.