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January 31, 2008

Slang of the Week: chillax (verb)

Once her final exams were finished, Danielle decided to chillax; for a week she did nothing but watch DVDs of Northern Exposure and eat Rocky Road ice cream.

Celebrity quote:
“Just chill out, chillax, break the act
Be you inside, be it exact
We came for one thing, to rock your mind
Combinin’ the beat with a message divine”
— Def Tech on the song In Outside

Chillax is a portmanteau word of fairly recent vintage. If you’re not familiar with that second term, a portmanteau is a suitcase and portmanteau words are those that, according to Humpty Dumpty (as imagined by author Lewis Carroll), have “two meanings packed up into one word.”

Common current examples include brunch (breakfast and lunch), sitcom (situational and comedy) and Spanglish (Spanish and English). Slang also has its fair share of portmanteau words, including fucci (fake and Gucci), bootylicious (booty and delicious) and moob (man and boob).

Chillax, however, is an unusual example because it does not combine two different words to make a new meaning; instead, it combines two words that mean the same thing (the slang “chill” and Standard English “relax”) to form a new term of redundancy.

Chill has had other meanings in the past; in the 1940s, crime novelist Raymond Chandler was using chill out as a synonym for murder; in the 1950s, a chiller was a scary movie. But starting in the 1970s and 80s, chill and chill out, as well as the variation “take a chill pill” meant relax.

According to the news database LexisNexis, 1999 marked the first occurrence of chillax in the popular press. In August of that year, it shows up in The Times of India; that same year, Indian singer Babul Supriyo released an album called Chillax: Babul in the Mix. It doesn’t appear in North American print sources until 2001 and has only entered the mainstream in the last few years.

While I’m on the topic of portmanteau words, Def Tech, which supplies the quote of the week, is also connected to that topic. Comprised of Japanese singer Micro and Hawaiian singer Shen, the duo performs what they call Jawaiian (Japanese and Hawaiian) Reggae, and they sing in both Japanese and English.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: for those who love to learn about “other” Englishes, take a look at Bum Bags and Fanny Packs : A British-American American-British Dictionary by Jeremy Smith. You’ll learn about green Gilberts, geegees, giroposts and other words that don’t translate across the pond.