Watch the Surf Punks explain the latest slang in this 1980s news report
Radical, dude
"This mix tape is, like, almost as radical as these waves, man." 
"This mix tape is, like, almost as radical as these waves, man."  (Catherine Karnow/Corbis)

Slang has to start somewhere. And according to this late '80s video report, the kids were picking it up from California, that "breeding ground for every new kind of lifestyle, every fresh form of religious practice or cult of self-improvement, the state that thrives on defense contracts and flower children." More specifically though, they were getting it from the surfers, the most California subculture of them all.

After a clip of the band the Surf Punks "cranking on some radical tunes," the band members sit down and hang for a little beach interview about the latest terms, including the still current "tight bod," the dated but familiar "gnarly," and the weirdly obscure "hairball!"

The terms ultimately moved from the beach to the mall, and with the help of Moon Unit Zappa and her song "Valley Girl," to the rest of the country. Watch the most adorable mall teens imaginable explain classics like "bag your face," "tubular," "bitchin’," and "to the max."

At the end, the late New York Times language columnist William Safire calls "Valley Girlese" a "happy passing fancy," like streakers ("What ever happened to streakers?"). However, we see from the earnest explanations of words like "totally" and "awesome," which need no explanation today, that some aspects of Valley Girlese have had a much longer than anticipated shelf life.

As it happens, the most '80s moment in the clip is not related to language at all. Get your true nostalgia fix at 2:25, as you marvel at the Surf Punks, all holding up their wrists to show off their totally rad watches.

Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.


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