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July 28, 2005

Slang of the Week: bush-wah (noun)
a rich and arrogant person (old fashioned)

I wasted four years of my life working for a bush-wah who outsourced my job to Bangalore.

Celebrity quote:
“Banker came to take my farm
He took my gal (girl) off under his arm
Mama don’t ‘low (allow) no bush-wahs hangin’ around”
-Folksinger Woody Guthrie

Born in 1912, Woody Guthrie traveled from Oklahoma to Texas and California in the 1930s, where he saw first hand the kind of struggles described in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. These hard luck stories of those who migrated west during the Great Depression can be found on his 1940 album, Dust Bowl Ballads.

One of his biggest concerns was social justice and many of his songs highlight the difficulties faced by poor Americans and the benefits that trade unions could bring them. As a socialist, Guthrie had hard words for the rich owners of mines and factories where workers were exploited. In a song not-so-subtly entitled You Low Life Son of a Bitch, for example, he calls an imaginary owner, “You profit worshipping dog, you home-wrecking, baby killing pimp, you swine, you filthy hog.”

He also has a low opinion of the scabs who took the place of workers on strike, calling them yellow bellied skunks (cowardly and unpleasant men) and two-bit drugstore sissies (worthless men who act like women.) Normally, the phrase is drugstore cowboy, which can mean a man who wastes his time hanging around drugstores or a man who only dresses like a cowboy but has no real-life experience. Two bits is old slang for twenty-five cents.

These days, bush-wah usually means nonsense, and while the history of the word with that definition is unclear, Guthrie’s word probably comes from the French word bourgeoisie. In Marxist literature, this word is used to describe property owners who take advantage of the working class.

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