It’s Fresh, it’s Cool, it’s Kiff…
The evolution of positive expletives
A friend and I happened to be planning a trip to an arts festival. We were going with some of my family who had gone to this festival before, and we had been warned to pack warmly and with many layers; apparently the town could experience three different season’s in the space of a few hours. So, naturally, my friend and I only had summer clothes, which was the perfect excus-ehhem reason to go to the clothing stores and peruse the wonderful new selection of winter clothes.
Being students of course, meant that we could only really afford the cheaper shops, so off we trotted to wonderful Mr Price; the student haven for cheap clothes that (hopefully) last long enough to make it through a winter. Now, the Mr Price that we have at our closest mall has two check-out counters, one on the female predominant clothing section and a similar counter on the male side. But, for some reason, only the male side was open. So, with arms full of jeans and jerseys and socks and undies, we joined the queue. And, what with this being quite a busy Saturday, the queue was reflectively quite busy.
Soon I found my eyes wandering around the men’s clothing rails, taking in the small selection on offer. My eyes happened to be drawn, completely unintentionally, to a poster hovering over the undergarments section, where a rather good-looking young man was photographed. Like I say, he was pretty good-looking (as male models tend to be), with a shock of blonde hair and well toned muscles. But I was confused…
You see, we were going to watch all sorts of dramatic and musical pieces at this arts festival that we were going to, and I felt that I needed to start warming up my brain for the expected barrage of symbolism and metaphors and puns most likely to glide over my head during the majority of acts. So, as a warm-up, I was looking at this poster trying to discern its meaning. The young man was lying flat on the floor on his back in nothing but some white jockeys, caught in mid sit-up. In white bold writing covering the poor boy’s legs and knees (probably done because it’s really difficult to find someone with nice-looking knees, even for models) was written “It doesn’t get Fresher!”
I’m sure you understand my confusion now: how does a boy doing a sit up in just his jocks relate to being “fresh”? Is it that he’s so cold that he’s fresh, in which case why doesn’t he just put some pants on? And generally if you’re doing exercise you’re sweaty and predominantly not “fresh” otherwise you’re doing something terribly wrong. I voiced my confusion to my friend who kindly informed me that “fresh” was the new “cool” which was the old “kiff” which meant “being really really up-and-coming and new”. I frowned at her explanation, which I knew she had come up with on the spot and not from any real insight or research, but I had to grudgingly admit that she was right. There was no other explanation for it.
My friend and I laughed it off, but I couldn’t get the word out of my mind. It made sense in so many different contexts! Someone looked good in an outfit? It looked fresh! Someone was fit and healthy? They were fresh! Newly ground coffee tasted good? Because it was fresh! Even the word itself was fresh! I found myself subconsciously labeling things as “fresh” or “cool” or kif-okay no I never called anything kiff because that’s so old school and Johannesburgian that I couldn’t bring myself to.
But I found that there was definitely a clear distinction between what was the old “cool” and what was the new “fresh”. If something was laid back and just fine and smooth, then it was cool. But if something was new and bursting with life or energy – yup, that was fresh. And, the interesting thing is, I noticed the same thing had happened with my friend. At first we laughed about it whenever we said the word out-loud. How childish, we thought, using this word in a context not originally intended for it…but soon it became easier, not as forced…and then it became a constant presence in our conversations. It became as common as “cool” and “awesome” and “like” (not that we, like, ever, like, use that word inappropriately).
And then the word spread outside of our conversations into those of others we had spoken to. Other groups of friends began to repeat the word…at first, tentatively and hesitantly, but slowly with growing confidence in its application and meaning and understanding. Because, in using the word, it was just as much about being properly understood by those around them as for themselves. Until fresh had completely evolved into something new and unexpected; another of those positive expletives used to express general happiness in a sight or item or sound. And that was just among our friends, who, now, after interacting with us, will interact with others, and breathe more life into “fresh” and send it on its way…one day to evolve again…into something that is, hopefully, fresh.
And I sit here and wonder about that poster in Mr Price. Did the marketing managers know – were they that brilliant to foresee – the extent to which “fresh” would travel? Or was it just coincidence that I would happen to look up and piece together meaning in an otherwise meaningless poster? And now when I get greeted with “fresh” in a conversation, I wonder where that person learnt the application of the word. Could it be from my small murmurings? Or did that person too look up at a poster in Mr Price and piece together meaning? I suppose it doesn’t matter. Chill. Relax. It’s cool. It’s fresh. In fact, it doesn’t get fresher.
. . .
Wonderwhiterabbit hopping off
. . .