Rhoda, slang, and Galileo.
In October 1974, more than 52 million Americans watched an episode of Rhoda in which the eponymous main character (played by Valerie Harper) got married.
This represented more than half of all TV sets in the United States at the time. It’s amazing to think of half of America now agreeing to do literally anything at the same time.
I’ve only seen a few episodes of Rhoda in reruns, the opening credits always stuck with me. It begins like this:
"My name is Rhoda Morgenstern. I was born in the Bronx, New York in December 1941. I've always felt responsible for World War II…”
(For my non-American readers, by the way, I’m aware World War II started in 1939, not 1941.)
It was a joke, obviously. But, it’s the kind of joke that’s funnier because it’s almost not funny. Like, we all know people who think the world revolves around them.
With that, let’s fast-forward to now-ish, and an article in the New York Times by Taylor Lorenz last year, in which she introduced me (and others; I am now hyper-aware that the world does not revolve around me) to a new word: “cheugy.”
Here, let’s give her a block quote:
It’s not quite “basic,” which can describe someone who is a conformist or perhaps generic in their tastes, and it’s not quite “uncool.”
It’s not embarrassing or even always negative.
Cheugy (pronounced chew-gee) can be used, broadly, to describe someone who is out of date or trying too hard. And while a lot of cheugy things are associated with millennial women, the term can be applied to anyone of any gender and any age.
I doubt I will ever use this word, except for today in this newsletter. (Psych; since we’re in low-power mode, I’ve now used it twice.) But, I want to zero in on one specific person Lorenz mentions: a Los Angeles software developer who claims to have literally coined the word “cheugy” back in 2013.
“It was a category that didn’t exist,” said Gaby Rasson, who said she started using it while she was attending Beverly Hills High School. “There was a missing word that was on the edge of my tongue and nothing to describe it and ‘cheugy’ came to me. How it sounded, fit the meaning.”
Apparently it was a high school friend of Rasson’s who recorded a highly popular TikTok video recently that popularized “cheugy.” So, I can see how Lorenz was able to go back and find Patient Zero for this word.
Although, there’s a media joke that all NYT reporters count like this:
And this story plays right into that. It’s odd to think of a normal, non-celebrity person, who can point to a linguistic development and say:
Oh, right, I came up with that on the way to sophomore year math class.
Rasson, 23, is to “cheugy” as Rhoda Morgenstern, who would be more than 80 if she hadn’t been fictional, thought she was to World War II. All of which made me think of Galileo, who would have just turned 380.
I suspect a lot of readers will already know why.
Maybe it’s the gray hair I keep finding, but lately it’s a great comfort to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around me—not even close.
Life went on pretty well before I got here, and it will continue (hopefully many years from now) after I’m gone.
In other words: “and yet it moves,” or ”e pur si muove,” as Galileo supposedly said at the end of his heresy trial, after insisting that the Earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around.
Is it still cheugy if you have to go back half a millennium to get the reference?
Reminder, while we’re operating on “low power mode,” (aka Bill’s Vacation), we’ll be highlighting some “Best of Understandably” newsletters (this one first ran in 2021), and skipping the “7 other things” we normally run. But I invite you to share links to things you think your fellow readers would appreciate or enjoy in the comments.