Stocking Caps or Beanies? The Generational Language Barrier

 I went shopping for a stocking cap the other day and found a  language barrier instead. 

  Not the language barrier you experience in a foreign country where don’t speak the language; the barrier I have in mind is the generational language barrier.

  Yes there is such a thing.

  The setting was the Boise State University book store, where I went to shop for the cap.

  If you’re scratching your head after reading the last two words of that sentence, I rest my case about the language barrier.

  After wandering the aisles without success, I asked for help from a sales clerk, who, judging by her youthful appearance may have been  a BSU student.

  “Hello. Can you tell me where the stocking caps are?”


  I repeated the question.

  More silence. Her eyes weren’t exactly glazed over, but it was clear that we were nowhere close to communicating.

  “You know, stocking caps! Like you wear in the winter when it’s cold or snowing.”

  Now her eyes were glazing over.

  “Do you not know what a stocking cap is?”

  Judging by her bewildered expression, she didn’t have a clue.

  “You know, stocking caps! You put them on your head and pull them down over your ears to keep your ears warm. Some of them have fuzzy little balls on top.”

  The clouds lifted, the light dawned. 

 “You mean beanies!”


  “Yes, beanies. They’re right over here.”

  She led the way to a display of stocking caps, now apparently known to pretty much everyone of a certain age as beanies. I thanked her, bought one and wore it home.

  Curious, I checked the site where America shops for its take on beanies vs. stocking caps. Amazon listed 60 individual entries for stocking caps, 67 for beanies.

  The initial lack of communication with the young woman at the book store got me to thinking about other words subject to the generational language barrier. People my age, for example, use all sorts of expressions that not only have fallen out of favor with younger people, but are so outdated that young people have little or no idea what they mean.

  Bread, for example. When we were their age, we referred to money as bread. The term was universal enough that an album cover by a band of the same name featured its members’ photos on dollar bills.

  Now bread is just, well … bread.

  Drag was a noun for something that was boring or depressing. It still means that to baby boomers. To younger folks, it’s limited to its original meaning, to pull something with force or difficulty, as in dragging yourself to school or work on a Monday morning.

  Gas was a noun for something that was fun or exciting:

  “That Grateful Dead concert was a gas, man!”

  Now gas is just something you put in your car.

  Cats were cool guys, often musicians. To anyone under, say, 40, the usage is pretty much limited to felines.

  And there’s no point in even talking about “groovy,” a term so dated that not even geezers in their 70s or 80s use it any more.

  Unless they’re hopeless squares, another dated term that would leave 20-somethings scratching their heads.

  It works the other way, too, of course. Twenty-somethings use expressions that leave older generations scratching their heads. To learn what some of them were, I asked one of my twenty-something granddaughters.

  “What made you want to know?” she asked.

  “Something funny that happened at the BSU book store. I was shopping for a stocking cap, and the sales person didn’t know what I was talking about.”

  “What was it you were shopping for?”

  “A stocking cap.”


  “… What’s that?”

  I explained it to her.

  “Oh! You mean a beanie!”

  With that she offered some expressions currently in fashion.

  “Threads,” I was pleased to learn, is still used to mean clothes.

  The hip (does anybody still say that?) word for shoes is “kicks.” 

   My grandkids and their friends often refer to things as being “sick.”This initially baffled me because it seemed to make no sense at all. They described a litter of puppies, for example, as being really sick. I wondered why no one had called a vet – until it was explained that in their world, “sick” is the equivalent of “cool.”

  Cool, of course,  has been around since Elvis’s heyday and apparently is still in somewhat universal usage.

  “Sus,” in youthful usage, is short for suspicious.

  A “simp” is a weak, emotional man who tries overly hard to impress women. 

  “Cap,” according to my granddaughter, means lying to sound cool. Or, if you prefer, to sound sick. 

  There undoubtedly are more, but she couldn’t think of any offhand, which is just as well. It’s time to wrap this up. I need to put on my beanie and take the dog for a walk.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on the following Mondays. Contact him at

3 thoughts on “Stocking Caps or Beanies? The Generational Language Barrier

  1. Ten years ago I discovered online the Urban Dictionary. At age 65 I find it useful. Living in the San Francisco bay area my mother was freaked out by the then counter culture. Being fifty and from a farm town in Iowa. So as a child I experienced that!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love it. One of the downsides to becoming old (which I am), I’ll be 90 if I live to the end of September, is not being ab


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