"Grunge speak" was created by Megan Jasper, a former receptionist for Sub Pop Records. Jasper was then working at Caroline Records when New York Times reporter Rick Marin contacted her and asked for "a lexicon of grunge". Jasper recalls Marin explaining the request, "Every subculture has a different way of speaking and there's got to be words and phrases and things that you folks say.”
Unbeknownst to Marin, he was directed towards Jasper by Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman because her former boss knew that she would pull a prank on the reporter. Jasper, 25 at the time, gave 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.
On November 15, 1992, the Times published Marin's article, "Grunge: A Success Story", as a full page story on the front of its Sunday Styles section. The article begins with an investigation on the origin of the term "grunge" and concludes with a summary of grunge music and fashion. Jasper's invented terms were published as a "Lexicon of Grunge: Breaking the Code" in a sidebar to Marin's story .
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 SKY magazine. Jasper had been sick of the attention that reporters were paying to people involved in the Seattle grunge scene and pulled the prank to get back at them.
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.
Daniel House, the head of C/Z Records commissioned Art Chantry to design a lexicon t-shirt after people started wearing the sidebar from the article pinned to their shirts at grunge shows. Chantry's design featured "Lamestain" or "Harsh Realm" on the front, with an enlarged copy of the lexicon sidebar on the back.
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
"Harsh realm" took on a life of its own when it became the title for a science fiction 1994 comic book series. Written by James D. Hudnall and pencilled by Andrew Paquette, Harsh Realm was about a future where virtual reality is omnipresent, and one of the virtual worlds is an anarchy called "Harsh Realm". The comic book was adapted into 1999 television series, Harsh Realm, by Chris Carter. Carter took sole writing credit for Harsh Realm, which prompted Pudnall and Paquette to sue.
In Adam Warren's The Dirty Pair comics, the characters use a futuristic slang which includes the term "harsh realm". Warren's slang definition for "harsh realm" is the same as the one Jasper invented.
- Allusionist Podcast 94. Harsh Realm (February 21, 2019)
- Swinging on the Flippity-Flop: the grunge speak hoax, Studio 360. September 20, 2018.
- Marin, Rick. "Grunge: A Success Story" (November 15, 1992). New York Times. Section 9, Page 9.
- Frank, Thomas. "Harsh Realm, Mr. Sulzberger!" (Winter/Spring 1993). The Baffler.
- Neyfakh, Leon. "Remember the Grunge Hoax" (August 14, 2009). New York Observer.
- Siegel, Alan. When Grunge Was Fake News, The Ringer. November 8, 2017.
- Cronin, Brian. "Almost Hidden - Hudnall and Paquette's Harsh Realm, CBR. August 28, 2011.
- Kaplan, Don. "'Harsh' Creators Sue for Credit", New York Post. October 19, 1999.
- Pray, D., Helvey-Pray Productions. Hype!. 1996. Republic Pictures.
- "Those Cob Nobblers at the N.Y. Times" (March 5, 1993). The Globe and Mail. Section C1.
- Windolf, Jim. "Off the Record" (March 1, 1993). New York Observer.