Word Routes

Exploring the pathways of our lexicon

Slaterisms: Have You Ever Wanted to "Hit the Slide"?

The JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater became an overnight folk hero (for some) after news spread of his theatrical resignation: cursing out a passenger over the intercom, grabbing a beer, deploying the plane's emergency slide, and sliding down to the tarmac in a blaze of glory. With a story so compelling, it's no surprise that admirers are now coming up with Slater-specific expressions to describe "take this job and shove it" moments.

Whenever there's a big pop-cultural frenzy over someone like the one surrounding Slater this week, the most obvious linguistic innovation is to turn the person's name into an eponym. We've seen it again and again, whether it's Salahi ("to gate-crash an official event") or Kanye ("to interrupt someone else's speech"). Like these predecessors, Slater too has been turned into a verb by some creative types, as in the Twitter update explaining that Slater is the "new non-violent alternative to '[going] postal': 'Dude, if my boss doesn't gimme a raise tomorrow, I'm gonna Slater right out the window.'"

Besides verbing, another easy way to form an eponym is to create a phrase like "pull a Salahi" or "pull a Kanye," especially if the person in question has committed a high-profile action of some sort. Sure enough, "pull a Slater" has become a popular expression this week. Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post combined "pull a Slater" with a verbing variation, "slater on out of there":

I think we all want to pull a Slater now and then. We want to activate the escape slide. Maybe at work, maybe at home. We want to shout "It's been great!" and grab a beer and slater on out of there.

Achenbach's observation, "We want to activate the escape slide," demonstrates another kind of witty phrase-making that's been going on: taking a description of Slater's action and generalizing it as a catchall for dramatic declarations of "I quit!" (Everybody has wanted to share their favorite quitting anecdotes this week.) Here's another Washington Post writer, Monica Hesse, quoting a flight attendant named Bobby Laurie:

"I worked in the past for a legacy airline that had" never treated its employees particularly well, says Laurie. He consoled himself by planning his escape and how he would leave it all behind. "My last day on the job I was going to slide to freedom. Hit that slide and ride it alllll the way to freedom."

Hit that slide. Soon the phrase will become this generation's "blow this popsicle stand"; someone will create an entry on UrbanDictionary.com.

Oh wait. Someone just did. "Hit the slide: To quit one's job in a truly stunning fashion."

Will "hitting the slide" achieve the lasting legacy of, say, "hiking the Appalachian trail"? It has a lot going for it, though I'd personally prefer something a little more evocative of Slater's gutsy move. How about "deploying the slide," as used on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show? Or, alternatively, "deploying the chute"?

If you've got any other candidates for Slaterisms, let us know in the comments below!

Update: I talked about Slaterisms on The Brian Lehrer Show, in a followup to his segment on "deploying the slide." (The interview starts about 9 minutes into the audio clip.)


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Ben Zimmer is executive editor of Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus. He is language columnist for The Wall Street Journal and former language columnist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times Magazine. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. In addition to his regular "Word Routes" column here, he contributes to the group weblog Language Log. He is also the chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Click here to read more articles by Ben Zimmer.

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Comments from our users:

Thursday August 12th 2010, 1:35 PM
Comment by: Arik Johnson (Chippewa Falls, WI)
I'd like to see "evacuation slide" in the vernacular (or "evac" for short) instead of escape... and, according to Wikipedia accidental deployment of these slides is so common as to cost North American air carriers some $20 million annually: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evacuation_slide

I suppose someone who changes their mind after slatering could then be accused of premature evacuation but that might be a bit too pointed an allusion to other more titillating subject matter...

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