BY MARIE LODI
Weed. Bud. Pot. Mary Jane. Kush. Grass. Cannabis goes by more nicknames than Sean Combs. In fact, if you Google the definition of “slang,” one such nickname is used as an example in the search results: “Grass is slang for marijuana.” But, why, exactly, has our favorite medicinal plant acquired over 1,200 slang words over the years?
First, it’s worth exploring the concept of slang—essentially, it’s an informal type of language used by a particular group of people. “Slang is a defining feature of certain social groups, helping to build solidarity and identity within them,” explains Amanda Montell, linguist and author of Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language. ”These social groups can include gender, geographic region, sexuality, age, race, socioeconomic class, occupation, and other types of complex or niche cultural communities, all of which have their own ‘cool’ informal vocabularies that deviate from what you might find in an official dictionary, and evolve over time.”
A considerable amount of slang is also lifted from movies, music, and the internet. When it comes to marijuana, there’s an exceptional amount of jargon, all derived from different sources. Unsurprisingly, one of the most famous slang words comes from a beloved cannabis icon. It was Snoop Dogg—and subsequently, Dr. Dre, with his album The Chronic—who taught us to call cannabis “chronic.” Fun fact: The term was actually born out of a mishearing incident. On a 2014 episode of his webseries GGN, Snoop revealed that at a house party in the early ‘90s, someone brought hydroponically grown weed, and he and his friends got so high, they thought it was called hydrochronic—which was then shortened to “chronic.”
Aside from media sources and celebrities, there’s another purpose of slang: as a disguise for something illicit. “Slang can help keep a certain community safe if the behaviors of its members engage in are illegal by masking what's being discussed from the authorities with code words,” Montell says, while pointing out that as soon as these code words are discovered by authorities, that means it's time to invent new ones.
Even with the legalization of marijuana becoming more widespread, Montell doesn’t see a decline in cannabis nicknames happening any time soon. Says Montell, “Cool, illegal, and popular among the youth: For these reasons, slang and marijuana are a natural fit.”