Are You Talking About Drugs or Breakfast Cereal?
I forget just what triggered it – something I saw on TV, or a news article I read. But the thought occurred to me that there are a fair number of words that have come to us from the world of illegal drugs that are now in common use in completely different contexts.
Here are a few examples:
Fix – used to refer to heroin use, but now it’s used for any craving, e.g., “I need my chocolate fix.”
Jones – once referred to heroin addiction, now it’s any addiction, as in “I got a bad jones for you, baby.”
Busted – once referred primarily to drug arrests, now it’s any flavor of being captured or caught, e.g., “My dad busted me for driving the Bentley without permission.”
Hit – a “hit” once meant primarily a drag on a joint or pipe of weed. Now it’s anything, e.g., “Let me have a hit off your ginger ale.”
Narc – used to refer to a narcotics law enforcement officer. Now it’s usually a verb, not a noun, and it simply means “tell on,” as in “He narc’d on me for cutting school.”
Rush – once referred to a certain drug-induced feeling – especially from LSD, like things were rushing at you or past you very quickly, like a strong wind. Now, it’s used for anything exciting and often used in commercials, e.g., “Feel the rush as you step inside your new Toyota.”
I know there are lots more, but these are the ones that came to mind.
Why is this interesting? I think it’s because every group or subculture develops it own argot to some degree. And when that group or subculture starts becoming generally known, some of its special language leaks into general usage. In other words, the culture at large takes what it likes and finds useful, even from a subculture of which it disapproves.
It’s yet another quirky aspect of language that I find fascinating.