Grunge speak was a hoax created by Megan Jasper, receptionist for Sub Pop Records. Under pressure from a reporter for The New York Times who wanted to know if grunge fans had their own slang, Jasper, 25 at the time, told the reporter a set of slang terms that she claimed were associated with the Seattle grunge scene in the early 1990s, but which she had in fact invented on the spot. The information given by Jasper appeared in the sidebar of a November 15, 1992 feature article of the New York Times. The sidebar, titled "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code", mistakenly said that Jasper was working for Caroline Records.
In truth, there was no particular slang language used in the Seattle grunge scene. Many had in fact resented the assumption by the Times that they even had a slang, as well as the claim that it was "coming soon to a high school or mall near you".
Thomas Frank of The Baffler, a journal of cultural criticism, demonstrated that the list was a hoax. He revealed that Jasper had purposely misled the Times as well as the British magazine SKY magazine as a prank. Jasper had been sick of the attention that reporters were paying to people involved in the Seattle grunge scene, and thus pulled the prank to get back at them for their relentless fascination.
The Times demanded that Frank fax over an apology for claiming it had printed false information, believing that it was Frank who was the hoaxer. Frank instead sent a letter standing by the story. "When The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg," he wrote, "we think that's funny." Frank considered the article to be part of an attempt by mainstream culture to co-opt the grunge scene and felt that the Times had gotten what it deserved.
Shortly after the release of The Baffler's story, some people in Seattle began selling and wearing t-shirts with the words "lamestain" and "harsh realm" printed in the same font as the famous banner of the Times. The words themselves never caught on as actual slang within the grunge scene (though "score" and "dish" are in use elsewhere). One of the terms, "harsh realm", was used as the title of a science-fiction comic book and a short-lived 1999 television series based on it, and was used by characters in The Dirty Pair comics written and drawn by Adam Warren as part of their futuristic slang (where it had the same definition as the one Jasper created for the term). The events of Jasper's prank would be documented in the 1996 film Hype!, a documentary about the grunge scene of the early 1990s.
Grunge speak words
During the interview, Jasper made up the following terms and their definitions:
- bloated, big bag of bloatation – drunk
- bound-and-hagged – staying home on Friday or Saturday night
- cob nobbler – loser
- dish – desirable guy
- fuzz – heavy wool sweaters
- harsh realm – bummer
- kickers – heavy boots
- lamestain – uncool person
- plats – platform shoes
- rock on – a happy goodbye
- score – great
- swingin' on the flippity-flop – hanging out
- tom-tom club – uncool outsiders
- wack slacks – old ripped jeans
- Marin, Rick. "Grunge: A Success Story" (November 15, 1992). New York Times. Section 9, Page 1.
- Marin, Rick. "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code" (November 15, 1992). New York Times. Section 9, Page 1.
- Frank, Thomas. "Harsh Realm, Mr. Sulzberger!" (Winter/Spring 1993). The Baffler.
- Neyfakh, Leon. "Remember the Grunge Hoax?" New York Observer. August 14, 2009.
- Pray, D., Helvey-Pray Productions. Hype!. 1996. Republic Pictures.
- "Those Cob Nobblers at the N.Y. Times" (March 5, 1993). Globe and Mail. Section C1.
- Windolf, Jim. "Off the Record" (March 1, 1993). New York Observer.