Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A hipster is a person who derives his identity largely through his association with a subculture which has been deemed "hip," a word taken from African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Hip means "fashionably current," and likely came from the Wolof word hipi, meaning "to open one's eyes," or "to be aware."
In the purest sense, the original hipsters were the hip, mostly black performers of jazz and swing music in the 1940s and 1950s, at a time when "hip" music was equated with African-American-originated forms of musical expression.
Although hipsters could be black or white, the term later and more predominantly came to be used to refer to whites who were aficionados of the music, groupies and members of the so-called Bohemian set, or Beat Generation. Because the jazz scene had long been integrated, hipster culture, too, became integrated before much of the rest of society. The use of the term "hipster" for whites who had an affinity for the avant-garde and for African-American culture was popularized in Norman Mailer's 1956 book The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster. Hipsters sometimes were referred to as beatniks, a combination of "beat" and "nik," a Yiddish suffix meaning "person."
Hipsters were cool. That is, they exhibited a mellow, laid-back attitude that is still called hip. Many also were users and popularizers of recreational drugs, particularly marijuana and amphetamines, but also heroin, which was popular for a time among bebop scene leaders like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
Many terms in the hipster argot, such as hip, kicks, square, dig and cool continue to be used in their hipster meanings. Dig likely also has African origins, in degg, another Wolof term meaning "to hear," "to find out," or "to understand" (although another, less plausible theory, is that it is a derivation of the Irish tuigim, "I understand"). An even earlier term for hipster was gate, used because gates swing. Gate, Jim, and Jackson were used in place of regular names in expressions like "Hold on, Jim" and "Solid, Jackson." Hipsters were also known as hepcats, "hep" being an Anglo corruption of the African-American use of "hip," again from Wolof. Kat is a suffix meaning "person"; so a hip kat, or hepcat, is a person who is current and up-to-date.
When this language was the fad, the quintessential New York hipster, or Bohemian, wore a beret, dressed completely in black, smoked mentholated Kool cigarettes, wore sunglasses even after sundown, and frequented jazz clubs and beat poetry cafés in the Village. Many hipster terms generally fell out of use in mainstream, white society with the changing of styles and the coming of hippies in the 1960s, but have remained in use in the African-American community, where they were neither in nor out of fashion, but simply part of the traditional lexicon.
Hipsters come lately
Since the late 1990s, the word hipster has been further appropriated by whites and re-adopted into usage to describe performers and devotees of indie rock, emo and related styles of music, and those who follow the associated fashions and tastes. Accessories of the modern hipster include Vespa scooters; Buddy Holly-style glasses; and clothing, patches and buttons bearing ironic messages.
Hipsters often live in formerly unfashionable, often blighted neighborhoods in large cities; after wealthier middle-aged people (many of whom are former hipsters themselves) move into these areas and begin to gentrify them, hipsters often move on. As of this writing (October 2004), noted hipster districts include Williamsburg and Greenwich Village in New York, Wicker Park in Chicago, Baxter Avenue in Louisville, and Park La Brea and Silver Lake in Los Angeles.
In the UK, this includes Hoxton in the Old East End of London who became the legendary Shoreditch Twats , satirised by Chris Morris in Nathan Barley, as well as the adjacent Bethnal Green. New Cross, around the Goldsmiths College area (also in London) is popular with hipsters, especially the local art-punk scene.
Noted hipster districts in Australia include Fitzroy/Fitzroy North and Brunswick in Melbourne, Newtown and Darlinghurst in Sydney and Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. In Australia, hipsters are often referred to as "coolsies".
1940s and 1950s
For a comprehensive look at the Beat Generation of hipsters, see Beat Generation
- Mose Allison, singer, pianist, songwriter
- Lenny Bruce, comedian
- Lord Buckley, monologist, "The Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade"
- Al Jazzbo Collins , disc jockey, broadcasting from the Purple Grotto, hip lexicographer
- Neal Cassady Friend and lover of Ginsberg, beat poet and driver of Ken Kesey's bus Furthur on what was know as "The electric kool-aid acid test"
- Miles Davis Jazz Musician and pioneer of Bop, Fusion and free jazz, recorded "Kind of Blue" and "Birth of the Cool"
- Billy Eckstine, singer and bandleader
- Slim Gaillard, musician, "The Groove Juice Special" and "Cement Mixer Puti Puti"
- Harry the Hipster Gibson, pianist, singer of "Who put the benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine?
- Allen Ginsberg, Beat Poet , friend and contemporary of Kerouac, who served as the face of both the Beats and later the early Hippies
- Henry Jacobs , whose persona was Shorty Petterstein
- Jack Kerouac, Beat Poet and author of "On the Road" and "The Dharma Bums", which launched the "rucksack revolution" and brought the Bohemian atmosphere of San Francisco to the rest of America.
- Mezz Mezzrow, jazz musician
- Ken Nordine, creator of "word jazz"
- Terry Southern, author of "Blood of the Wig ", a hipster classic about getting high using a serum derived from the blood of a schizophrenic.
1990 and beyond
- "Carrying his language and his new philosophy like concealed weapons, the hipster set out to conquer the world." -- Partisan Review, 1948
- "The hipster is man who's in the know, grasps everything, is alert." -- Mezz Mezzrow, Really the Blues
- Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin daddies, the original scene
- The Hipster Handbook, the modern manifestation
- www.freewilliamsburg.com guide to 21st century New York City hipsters
- What Happens When a Generation Refuses to Grow Up Wes Anderson and the problem with hipsters
- hipster bingo Print this out and take it to the next show you go to
- How to speak hip, Comedy recording
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