Out on the Edgy

This week Mr Slang tries to penetrate the world of ‘edgy’…

Edge. Perfectly respectable word. From Old English ęcg. Means edge, point or corner. There it is in Beowulf. The corner sense has vanished (still exists in German ecke) but the rest march on. On edge: tetchy, nervous. Thence edgy.  Kipling uses it. So does Buchan, so does everyone.  Times pass. Fashions change. So does language. So does edgy.  As of 1976 the OED declares a new sense ‘That challenges received ideas or prevailing aesthetic sensibilities; at the forefront of a trend.’ If cross-refs to cutting edge, another mid-Seventies arriviste which has moved from ‘a sharp edge’ to visions of innovation. I note the citations: Warhol is edgy; Talking Heads are edgy, and, in 2002, harbinger of what we have today, crème fraiche is edgy. That’s right, crème fraiche, a staple of French cooking for centuries, now qualifies, at least in foodie-land, as being ‘at the forefront of a trend’.

Edgy, in this modern and I suggest currently dominant sense, gets 12.4 million Google hits which is about a tenth of those according its predecessor iconic. There are of course, some edgy icons: on the distaff side these include Rhianna, Chloé Sévigny, Tilda Swinton and Barbie, though only when adorned with a tattoo. Among the chaps are Allen Ginsberg and Gerard Manley Hopkins.  There is even iconic edginess, to which the fashionistas seem to have laid claim, thus qualifying a straw tote bag, the exposed zippers on a St. Laurent clutch, and (natch) a handbag which is ‘still sassy despite the diaper compartment.’

Clerkenwell, where I live as the oldest resident, is edgy, though the bulk of examples feature the next-door pub which subtends a bomb-site/parking lot and suddenly shut down just before Christmas subject to some unspecified defalcation. What else? Postcode-wise we are E, which means East, the edge, I suppose, of West, but we are also C, which means Central so enough with that. Looking at the flat prices one must assume that that here at least the sense is one of implausibility. Other of course than for the very rich, and while I can but find a single edgy hedge-fund manager (and he indeed may be no more than nervous), edgy hedge-funds are in greater profusion.

And real estate appears to be edgy in its own right, at least bragged up by a firm based in Austin, Texas. And in a fashion crossover a journalist, proud possessor of a new jacket but keen to maintain a certain modesty, explains, ‘It’s not a particularly outré jacket. Think edgy estate agent. Think mortgage adviser with attitude. Think unremarkable man in anonymous grey jacket.’ Yes. Let us think edgy estate agent.

Think also, if you wish, of edgy toilet paper, the encomium awarded by its booster, who is asking for funds (sadly few have responded) in order that he may launch Crap Away, ‘a Fun and Truthful Toilet Paper Brand.’

Stateside lawyers can get a vanity phone proclaiming 866-EDGY-ATTORNEY; whether this encourages clients I cannot say. Still on the job-front I find that ‘the most popular part-time/student jobs for hipster dykes are definitely: Edgy coffee shops.’  But elsewhere we are informed that ‘When I talk about edgy coffee, I’m referring to coffee served at independent cafes.’ This is underwhelming but at least we can take it from our ‘edgy coffee table’ which – sometimes one just has to share – represents ‘a cool and polished addition to anchor any seating arrangement-formal or casual, modern or traditional. Looks great with: a porcelain figurine, a cylinder of white Casablanca lilies, a fishbowl. And being a table it has an edge of its own. Four, even.

Sex is naturally edgy and so apparently are some Edgy Sex Ed Videos for Teens, or so reported in the LA Times which notes titles ‘Horse Penis Virus’ and ‘I Didn’t Spew,’ created by a Planned Parenthood group in Oregon.  The Erotika Chair’ is edgy and daring (as are are 370,000 other google-borne thrills, including a fishnet corselet with PVC trim and a former Stockholm prison transformed into a  boutique hotel ) and ‘provides a dichotomy between Elizabethan chastity  and a modern open mindedness about sex and money’. La Senza, the naughty knickers shop, offers undies adorned with Edgy Animal Prints (but, disappointingly, they look like the usual fake leopard to me). The many thousands of edgy heels fortunately deliver the goods and the best of them make it clear that here at least the word is synonymous with ‘vertiginous.’

Crème fraiche is out there in Edge City but so are all sorts of foods and recipes. There’s edgy pasta (seems to mean anything beyond spag. bol.) from a New York restaurant (itself surely edgy too). You can buy at the edgy supermarket but the example suggests that this means merely that the muzak offers ‘Mustang Sally’. A recipe book blurb urges that: ‘It’s not enough to know your jicama from your heirloom tomatoes these days. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, there’s a whole new terrain and this book is your GPS […] with edgy recipes from all over the world.’ Though edgy fruit invariably refers to a constituent of wine and goes with acidity. We can have edgy tomatoes, edgy garlic pizza and indeed edgy garlic crusted chips. All from the edgy deli or cooked by the edgy chef. Yum-my! I thought I’d stumbled on a ‘sharp, edgy fridge with a new soft touch and super gloss’ but sadly (it was on a beauty site), what we find is merely a fringe.

And on it goes. I have but skated the surface. Seek and ye too may find. And edgy, I would suggest, is multi-purpose. Precious little beauty but much eye of the beholder. The word has pushed iconic from its perch, but its real role is as the current evocation of cool.  A fake construct with almost infinite allure.

Multi-purpose, as I say. So I leave you with this: a headline and its accompanying picture. The headline, from a fashion blog, runs ‘Edgy Pet Fashion Pushing Envelope.’  And this is the pic.

It’s an ad. For a Danish firm called Chien Bizarre. They sell mink. For dogs.

image ©Gabriel Green
You can buy Green’s Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon’s more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.
Share This Post

About Author Profile: Jonathon Green

Jonathon 'Mr Slang' Green is the world's leading lexicographer of English slang. You can buy Green's Dictionary of Slang, as well as Jonathon's more slimline Chambers Slang Dictionary, plus other entertaining works, at his Amazon page. Jonathon also blogs and Tweets.

4 thoughts on “Out on the Edgy

  1. markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
    January 19, 2012 at 14:37

    An honest word totally ruined. I would suggest a quiet and dignified funeral, but the buggers will only inveigle some other innocent word and shove her out to work the streets.

  2. law@mhbref.com'
    jonathan law
    January 19, 2012 at 17:35

    I’m normally quite relaxed about this sort of thing but, God, I hate that edgy. I wonder what it is — something about the coolly self-congratulatory air of those who bandy the word around? (Appreciating an edgy comedian will always earn you more kudos than liking one who is just funny). It’s a very old-fashioned kind of snobbery, but mixed in with a bad case of the inverted kind (“Oh we’ve had four or five stabbings in our road — it’s very edgy round here, you know!”)

    In fact, edgy neighbourhood, edgy comedian, edgy restaurant, edgy film … Surely the word we’re looking for most of the time is horrible.

  3. Worm
    January 19, 2012 at 17:35

    let us add the horrendous ‘bleeding edge’ to the bonfire too please, still unsure as to how it differs from being ‘cutting edge’

    Not content with making clothes look stupid, fashionistas have to make words look stupid too

  4. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    January 20, 2012 at 01:14

    I had the impression that “edgy” was on its way out. If it will reach down a few pages and bring “emblematic” along with it, I’ll be grateful.

    An “Edge City” in the US sense is an exurb, and tends to be anything but edgy. Youth wishing to be edgy escape them as quickly as they can and move downtown. “EDGY-ATTORNEY” has 12 characters, 2 too many for a US telephone number, even before we get to the 866 area code; I guess that the last five could get one through a complicated internal switchboard.

    “Leading edge”, which one used to hear a lot, has a couple of valid technical meanings, in aerodynamics and electronics. In those senses, it is paired with “trailing edge”, which does not seem to interest the popularizers.

    (Why would the Oregonian parental planners use the word “spew”? It is all but unused here.)

Comments are closed.