Friday, March 19, 2010

What's up? Besides the sky, I mean.

This often-rhetorical question has replaced the once-standard “hello” or “hi” in everyday speech. But where did it come from, and why does everyone want to know what is “up”?

One possible origin derives from the use of the word “up” in the 1930’s. During the ‘30’s “up” was slang for what a person was occupied with or busy with. Asking “what’s up?” would be like asking what another has his attention on. It could also be derived from “what’s the update?” but that seems less likely.

Another proposed theory claims that it originated in the late 20th century when “people were astounded with the sky.” In which case, many people reply “nothing,” or if they’re smart alecks, “the sky.”

One of the first pop-culture references to “what’s up?” is Bugs Bunny’s infamous first words, “What’s up, Doc?” in 1940. Tex Avery, one of the creators of Looney Tunes, explains:
“That opening line of ‘Eh, what’s up, Doc’ floored them. They expected the rabbit to scream, or make anything but a casual remark. For here’s a guy pointing a gun in his face! It got such a laugh that we said, ‘Boy, we’ll do this every chance we get.’”
Other uses of “What’s up?” include a song by 4 Non Blondes in the ‘90’s (which, ironically, does not include the phrase itself), and dialogue in a Budweiser commercial aired during the 2008 Super Bowl.

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