Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021
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From Mary Jane to marijuana: The ever-evolving language for weed

‘Marijuana! The burning weed with its roots in hell!’ exclaimed the trailer for 1936 propaganda film ‘Reefer Madness’ ( AFP )

Kush. Bud. Herb. Who knows what to call marijuana these days?

Born of the need for secrecy, slang has long dominated pot culture. But as entrepreneurs seek to capitalise on new laws legalising recreational and medical marijuana, they too are grappling with what to call it.

Heading to the dispensary to buy a few nugs or dabs? Marketers seeking to exploit the £8bn market would prefer that you just called it cannabis.

Shirley Halperin, an author of 2007’s Pot Culture: The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language and Life, has seen the shift in recent years. Not long ago, she met with an executive to talk about his company’s products. “He physically winced when I said the word ‘pot’, ” she recalled. “Businesses don’t want to call it ‘weed’.”

Cannabis, she said, “sounds like it has purpose in the world”.

Like anything, the history of pot, weed or whatever you want to call it is complicated. During the Jazz Age, when singers wrote odes to the plant, it was called dope, reefer and tea. It was a drug of choice for the hippie counterculture 30 years later, often referred to as grass. Willie Nelson sang a song about pot.

“I still call it weed,” said Tommy Chong, half of the Cheech & Chong comedy duo that defined stoner culture in the 1970s and 1980s. “Yeah, I think it’s the easiest. You can tell what age people are by the words they use.”

Cheech and Chong in their 1978 film ‘Up In Smoke’, which used cannabis as a central plot tool (Rex)

Words that sounded cool in the Sixties and Seventies (remember wacky tobacky?) are woefully old-fashioned now. That’s especially true given that recreational marijuana is legal in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana has even broader appeal.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Laure M. Holson on

Published: July 15, 2019

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