I suppose I intended to do some serious logging of all of my substitute-teaching adventures, and it’s too bad that I stopped when I did, because I’ve been having some fun in the interim, but today I just want to talk about one aspect of my job – the learning of new slang – and one new word in particular – shysty.
As those of you who can figure out the origins of this term might imagine, “shysty” is an adjective for a person who is untrustworthy, especially with money, a person you can count on to cheat you, steal from you, or lie to you. Obvious to me is that it comes from “shyster.” Apparently the kids don’t know this, nor do they know that “shyster” is a derogatory term for Jews.
I can’t even be too hard on them for not knowing. Some of them have never met a Jew, and anyway, one of my husband’s teachers at the dental school used the word “shyster” as if it had no ethnic implication at all. And generally speaking, when I hear it and I say to a kid, “Hey, don’t say that, it’s a racial slur on Jews,” they say they didn’t know that and apologize. But so far I’ve only brought it up to kids I know, kids whose schools I go to all the time. And I don’t know if they still use it when I’m not around, much the way they’re cautious about saying “white” in front of me. (Well, some of them are. Some of them have no problem not only saying “white,” but saying “white motherfucker,” in front of me, and not understanding why I think that’s a problem.)
But I don’t even know if I can state categorically if they’re wrong to use it. If for them it is completely divorced from any association with Jews (and they are not using it to apply to Jews or even to imply that the people they are applying it to occupy any other ethnic or racial category than their own), is it wrong for them to use it? I don’t know. Nor do I know what to do about it in situations where the kids just met me five minutes ago, and will likely never see me again, and, though they may not mean to be racist or anti-Semetic, don’t particularly care if I’m interpretting them as either.
And I thought this was just teenage slang. I’d never heard any of the adults use it. (I didn’t hear them tell the kids not to use it, but I figure they have a hard enough time getting them to not say “fuck” all the time.) But last night, on Project Runway, Zulema said it. I don’t think she knew either. And maybe the producers didn’t. I mean, if a contestant said the n-word,* I’m sure they wouldn’t have used that footage.
To end on a lighter note, I wil share some slang I do like:
Track star – promiscuous person. As in, one who runs around a lot.
Chaluppin’ – somewhere between walking around, looking for girls, and cheating on your current girl. But in a fairly relaxed way.
Thirsty – desperate, particularly for sex.
Woo woo – yadda yadda yadda
*I can’t type it. I feel ridiculous writing “the n-word,” and I am trying and trying to convince myself that it’s just a word, and I’m only referring to it as a word, not using it to describe a person, and I would never use it in an actually racist way, but I still can’t do it. I can’t say it either, even when I’m discussing it as a word with the kids, and even when the kids tell me it’s okay for me to say it in that context. But it took me until I was 12 years old to say my first curse word, too.