Saturday, September 6, 2008


My previous blog entry discussed the word “raunchy,” in which I concluded by saying there was a rather significant difference between the meanings of raunchy and sleazy, insisting that the words are in no way synonymous, and indeed they are not. Raunchy is a term derived originally from the operation of the olfactory organ: the word raunchy was most likely derived from the Latin rancidus, meaning “rank” or “stinky.” In contrast, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the adjective sleazy dates from around 1644 and was used, according to William Safire, as “a slur on cheap products from Silesia,” particularly fabrics:

1644, “hairy, fuzzy,” later “flimsy, unsubstantial” (1670), of unknown origin; one theory traces it somehow to Silesian “of the eastern German province of Silesia” (Ger. Schleisen), where fine linen or cotton fabric was made (Silesia in ref. to cloth is attested in Eng. from 1674; and Sleazy as an abbreviated form is attested from 1670, but OED is against this). Sense of “sordid” is from 1941; sleaze (n.) “condition of squalor” is a 1967 back-formation; meaning “person of low moral standards,” and the adj. form, are attested from 1976.

The word sleaze encompasses the worlds of music, art and fashion in the same way the words “Punk” and “Grunge” do, but whereas the latter two movements (strongly associated with a particular form of popular music, rock) had exemplary figures or “stars” (e.g., Johnny Rotten, Kurt Cobain) whose striking singularity attracted the interest of outsiders, sleaze does not. Sleaze is not organized around any glamorous key figures, and while it resolutely lacks glamor, it most certainly expresses an “attitude” – an adopted form of behavior and a preferred set of values. To understand sleazy (understood as a form of cheap, or poorly made clothing) as sordid is to invoke the latter word’s etymology: sordid is from the Latin sordidus “dirty,” from sordere “be dirty, be shabby” (as in attire), sordere related to sordes, “dirt.” But to be sleazy can also mean to be morally corrupt, a meaning also derived from sordid by the process of metaphorical elaboration, meaning “festering” (as in corrupted, or infected), but also “foul, low, [and] mean [common, without distinction].”

A Sampling of Sleazy Songs:
[In some instances, the featured artist may not be the composer of the song]

The Doors – The End
Tommy James & the Shondells – Hanky Panky
Mary MacGregor – Torn Between Two Lovers
Meatloaf – Paradise By the Dashboard Light
Nine Inch Nails – Closer
Prince – Darling Nikki
John Prine – Let’s Invite Them Over
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap – Young Girl
The Rolling Stones – When the Whip Comes Down
Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs – Li’l Red Riding Hood
Millie Small – My Boy Lollipop
Soft Cell – Seedy Films
Starland Vocal Band – Afternoon Delight
Rod Stewart – Maggie May
Rod Stewart – Tonight’s the Night
Conway Twitty – Tight Fittin’ Jeans

1 comment:

Tim Lucas said...

So many of the songs on your "sleazy" list never struck me that way because they are so wholesome-sounding! But I has not escaped my notice that Gary Puckett's greatest hits tend to have suspicious subtexts.