You're 404, Baldwin, get a phat guide

May 2, 1997

Contemplating a college exchange programme in the United States? As in all foreign travel, it is handy to have a phrase book for the local lingo. But Berlitz guides are of limited help.

Da Bomb! Dis is Dope, Dude! Dig it! is the fifth annual guide to campus slang compiled at a California polytechnic.

While it is strictly an amateur affair -available for just $2 from the college's communications department - it is nonetheless unique.

"Da Bomb", for the uninitiated, "means cool, or very good, but in an extreme sense, the very best of", said Judi Sanders, communications professor at Cal Poly in Pomona, near Los Angeles.

Then there is "phat", meaning very good, great. "It can also mean large, not in the sense of body size but grandiose," she noted. Context: "That movie was Da Bomb!" "That was a phat party."

Professor Sanders annually sends her students out across the campus to collect phrases and words used in conversation. Some are special to Pomona - such as "Cardiac Hill", a steep hill with the college medical centre at the top of it - but others are probably in common currency at colleges around the nation, she says.

They run from the sexist to the poetic. "Baby got back" means "she has a very nice rear end", according to Sanders. A "Monet", after the Impressionist painter, is "someone that looks great from far away, but not so good up close". A "Baldwin" is an attractive male, as in the actor brothers who include Alec and Billy.

Another trendy new phrase in common use was "404", meaning clueless, or unaware, which comes from the World Wide Web. "If you get a bad link on the web, you get an error message 404, meaning server not found," she said.

"Puppy" means a functional object, a thing, as heard in "this puppy can calculate triple integrals in 30 seconds flat".

The language on the Pomona campus seems to reflect its diverse student body. No ethnic group is in the majority. While the student body is about 40 per cent white, there are large Asian-American and Latin-American contingents, and a smaller percentage of African-Americans.

While some words clearly draw their inspiration from rap music, others derive from Hawaiian culture, said Professor Sanders. "Da Bomb", however, is reportedly used across all ethnic groups.

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