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Home » Culture and Criticism

Anti-Word Of The Day: "rave-up"

Submitted by on June 14, 2010 – 10:25 PM32 Comments

The Anti-Word Of The Day is, as you have probably guessed, not a word or term I want to catch on, but rather one which I would like to drop headfirst into a vat of lye.

Voila: "rave-up," beloved by album reviewers who have run out of time before deadline — or synonyms for "danceable," the one. The original meaning of the term "rave-up" is "a wild or raucous party," and over time it has come to mean "an exciting, energetic musical performance." I have no quibble with the definition, but it's used too frequently, and it's often inexact.

At the risk of seeming to pick on Stephen King, let's look at two examples from his writing. (I think, but can't prove right now, that he's used it more than twice, but let's leave it at two.) The first is from King's list of the top ten albums of 2008. Discussing AC/DC, King notes, "If Girl Talk is rock-and-rap James Joyce, these guys are rave-up William Faulkner: They've found their own little groove place and keep digging it deeper." Okay, I know all those words, but in that order, they make my head fizz. I think King meant to convey that, like Faulkner, AC/DC does not vary what they do, but they do what they do so well that there's no need for variety.

Why not just say that? Or use another word? "Rave-up" is too poppy for AC/DC anyway, I feel, or AC/DC too diffuse for the term; Angus & Co. make music for missions, pool-hopping, fixing things in parking lots. Why not say that? The article is a slideshow, King had a word count, and I know how it goes with that, boiling all the connective tissue off the bones, but "rave-up" is the opposite of overworked. It's lazy.

It's even lazier (or his editor is) when King uses it again only a few months later in a 2009 column about earworms. The column itself is less preeningly obnoxious than his usual EW output (I have gotten that exact earwig). Alas, it contains a reference to "Tim Armstrong's ska-dance rave-up 'Into Action.'" I have not heard the song in question, but doesn't the hyphenate "ska-dance" more or less imply a rave-up? "Ska-dance dirge," now there's a qualifier I'm not going to expect. "Rave-up" is redundant here.

Writing about music is hard. In one of my very first columns, I complained about self-serious Rolling Stone phrasings like "arty, flailing dissonance." Leaving aside the self-seriousness of my own brittle contempt for a moment (but only for a moment; that "Bishop or Auden" reference is simply unacceptable, and I apologize), I still don't think the phrase makes much sense, but then, I don't know how I'd describe PJ Harvey instead. Describing a piece of music, the quality of the sound, to people you don't know, whose musical tastes you don't know, is a Super Password exercise in synasthesia, and if you only have 75-100 words to work with, you might say something the prospective listener can use to make an informed decision. You might just as easily disappear up your own bunghole like the house at the end of Poltergeist because you overloaded your similes and didn't just say what you meant straight out.

That's what bugs me about "rave-up." It's a sophomore-workshop pile of bones with no suggestion of the shape it used to have. It's supposed to mean a lot of things, but it's been made to mean too many things, so now it doesn't mean anything except "not Enya (probably)." Don't use it again until 2015. Thanks.

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  • katie says:

    while you're at it, can you ban "epic" ?

  • JennyB says:

    And also diva? Every female singer these days is a diva.

  • Rachel says:

    … and can we please please give people who mis- and over-use "uber" a smack in the mouth?

  • Otter says:

    Please, may I nominate "jarred" used in reference to things where "bottled" or "canned" are appropriate?

  • Hannah says:

    I'm so disappointed I heard "epic" right when it got so widespread as to be annoying. Like "bling." Am I really that out of the pop-vocab loop? It's just as I'd always feared, like I turned 30 and immediately started speaking a different language.

    And this is the first I've heard of "rave-up," despite my RS subscription. So, short answer: yes, I really am that far out of the loop.

  • RJ says:

    @Hannah – I hadn't heard of "rave-up" either. I agree with you on "bling" though, and raise you anything that involves "izzle."

    And like you, I turned 30 and suddenly could no longer translate or understand slang. It's okay though – I'm 33 now, and it actually gets easier over time.

  • KatieR says:

    also, fail. let's ban fail. and #fail and epic fail.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I don't know why, but while "epic fail" irritates me, most other fails don't. It depends on the delivery. I'm still snickering at a "snack fail" from over the weekend.

  • Clairezilla says:

    When I hear 'rave-up' it reminds me of the scrawled graffiti/band name on Molly Ringwald's binder in "Sixteen Candles".

  • Grainger says:

    I think the problem with modern slang is not that it exists, but that people who are far too old to be throwing slang are using it and expecting us to take them seriously. If you and your friends are joking around and something untoward happens and someone says "oh, pants fail!" then that's one thing; but when a woman in her mid-forties stands up in front of the crowd at a SF&F panel and starts yammering about "racefail" and "transfail" and how a particular author is "just completely made of win"…that's changing it from a funny joke into something that's more like NewSpeak.

    And that's doubleplusbad.

  • Jen S says:

    "Operatic" to describe anything but opera. I get what you mean, but it's a lazy way of meaning it. And frankly, an actual opera has as many different kinds of moments as any other kind of performance.

    I'm with @JennyB on diva, too. It used to mean a huge talent conflated with huge ego, now it just means wearing a studded bra and flipping off fans at a Mets game. Bratty and/or rude will cover that level just fine.

  • Nina A says:

    @Grainger The problem though with condemning her for that at that panle -is that both Racefail and Transfail were used by a lot of people all over the world to describe two particular internet flaps. To her, she was using a proper noun. For her, and that audience, she was simply referring to something by name, not using slang.

  • Hannah says:

    That fail usage does remind me of another annoyance: "[random scandal]-gate." Seriously, if the only thing it has in common with Watergate is that it's getting a lot of media attention? Stop it with the -gate. Seriously.

  • Hoolia says:

    I want all usages of "douche" to die a swift death. It was funny the first few times. After eleventy bajillion hearings and readings, it makes my blood boil.

  • Jaybird says:

    "…aholic". As in, well, anything. And I second Clairezilla's Molly Ringwald association with the term "rave-up", because of the band. To be honest, that is the one context in which I've ever heard the term.

    Nobody needs to start in with the "It's X, bitches" stuff, either, because it's worn out like "bling", which is worn out like parachute pants. Not worn out of the house, mind you–just worn out.

  • Grainger says:

    Nina: Yes, that's…kind of exactly my point. My problem isn't that slangy jokey internet-meme references exist, but that people are using slangy jokey internet-meme references as actual language in serious discussions and getting ticked at us when we don't take them seriously.

  • Amanda Jeanne says:

    can we ditch the use of the word 'seminal' in reference to music? please?

  • Cyntada says:

    Living under a socio-cultural rock, I've learned not to ever use slang unless I'm familiar with most variations of the word's use, non-use, and irony-only applications. Any attempt to skip that process, and I just end up sounding like a clueless dork.

    While we're here, may I mention how much I'd like "webinar" to fall down a pit so deep that no string and chewing gum could ever *possibly* reach it? "Online seminar" makes perfectly good sense to me, but then, see above re: "dork".

  • Clairezilla says:

    @ Cyntada: THIS! Every time someone whom I otherwise respect invites me to a 'webinar' I think of teen girls video-chatting and snapping their gum. We need a new, non-awkward word for this activity.

  • Georgia says:

    Ooh! Can we please stop "legendary" from being used to refer to things that are not (and will never be) legends? For instance, pick-up trucks, or fast-food hamburgers. Unless you're talking about, say, King Arthur, can it, please.

  • Profreader says:

    I went and looked up Racefail which lead to reading a fascinating string of comments on someone's LiveJournal … I had no idea.

    "Webinar" always sounds to me like a Star Trek beastie … like the amoeba things that went flying around and attached themselves to Spock's back. "Look out! The Webinar!"

    [Blank]-Gate: tired and lazy.

    I'm always fascinated by music reviews for the very reasons Sars lists that make writing them so challenging: they are like concentrated little word puzzles which are meant to evoke something that they can only describe indirectly. (I'm a composer, and the question I – and a lot of composers – haaaate is "What does your music sound like?" It's a hard question to answer.) I'm going to start using "rave-up" in my answers from now on.

  • Thomasina says:

    My least favorite over-used term in this category is "famously," as in "It had taken root in the consciences and conspicuous consumption of those yuppie-hippie hybrids that David Brooks famously dubbed the Bobos…" (


    "Most famously, a 1990 bill signed by the first President Bush forced coal plants to buy permits if they were going to emit the sulfur dioxide that caused acid rain." (

    I find that the word is unnecessary in almost every case. Usually (as in the two examples above), it is applied to something that is not actually "famous" or that the writer can't reasonably expect is truly common knowledge, and therefore, it most often serves just to make the writer seem smug and chastising (as in, this piece of knowledge is "famously" known, so if you didn't know about it, you must be ignorant or slow). In the rare cases when it is applied to something that is truly famous, that makes it doubly unnecessary (wouldn't the sentence "John Wilkes Booth, who famously assassinated Abraham Lincoln, was part of the Booth acting dynasty" work just as well without the "famously"?).

    The worst way I've seen it used is as an excuse for writing an opinion (sometimes a scurrilous or bigoted opinion) as fact (just because something is presented as a "famous" bit of common knowledge doesn't mean it really is). Here is an example of using the word as an excuse for bias disguised as compliment: "Jews are a famously accomplished group." ( Here David Brooks gets to repeat a stereotype about Jews without taking responsibility for the fact that he's doing the stereotyping. If *everyone* knows that Jews are "accomplished" (because it's *famous*), then he can mindlessly repeat a generalization that sweeps a whole segment of the population into one undifferentiated mass without any consequences.

  • Diane in WA says:

    I am so old that I remember when Having a Rave-up with the Yardbirds was released (1965). So I looked it up to jog my memory and it was released on Epic (yeah, Epic) Records.

    At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, I would like "hero" to be reserved for those who perform heroic deeds – directly risking their lives to directly save others.

  • […] Not holding up so well, says Sarah Bunting, is the term "rave-up" itself: The original meaning of the term "rave-up" is "a wild or raucous party," and over time it has come to mean "an exciting, energetic musical performance." I have no quibble with the definition, but it's used too frequently, and it's often inexact… It's a sophomore-workshop pile of bones with no suggestion of the shape it used to have. It's supposed to mean a lot of things, but it's been made to mean too many things, so now it doesn't mean anything except "not Enya (probably)." […]

  • Vicky Lee says:

    I go into twitchy fits when someone– anyone refers to any dish they prepare as 'world famous.' If you're not famous… neither is your taco.

    I'm going to go back to sullenly muttering to myself about kids on my lawn.

  • Cyntada says:

    @Diane: I work in graphic design and it's pretty common to find a folder marked "heros" on the photo server. It's industry jargon for "the good pictures, as opposed to all those similar shots that aren't quite as good." That term's been making me cringe for years.

  • Barb says:

    "people who are far too old to be throwing slang are using it and expecting us to take them seriously. If you and your friends are joking around and something untoward happens and someone says "oh, pants fail!" then that's one thing; but when a woman in her mid-forties stands up… "

    What do you propose the cutoff line is for using slang? Should I have stopped at 30? 35? Screw that. If my friends and I want to use current slang, you can do just what we did when our moms called things awesome and tubular. That is, roll your eyes, shut up about it and move on. And I plan to keep telling my 14 year old "the fail is strong here" when she screws up.

  • John E. says:

    I'm with Barb, mostly. If a 40-year-old (much as, say, I am) with a solid grasp of slang context and usage wants to employ an appropriate but newfangled term, what's the big deal? Better that than a 25-year-old nimrod misusing the same term, I say.

    The use of ScandalDuJour-gate is indeed lazy. And besides, it was something William Safire popularized in an express effort to render Watergate itself more ordinary. We should all stop helping in that.

  • Sandman says:

    I don't think it's a matter of age that makes usages like "racefail" or "transfail" feel awkward – "fail" and "win" are both a bit over-used, and to me both sound unserious. Appropriateness is really the key here, for me. It's hard to hear usages like this in a context where more exact and non-humorous terminology would feel more natural. The verb-as-noun formation itself conveys a smirking carelessness, or at least an irony, not suitable for every context, I think. "Pants fail" or "snack fail" seems fine to me, because there isn't that disconnect between a serious subject and a lighthearted tone.

    But what do I know? I think I might be the last of the prescriptivist line. We're a grumpy but doomed breed.

    I'm all for the turn away from "diva" for every female singer ever. And why bother creating a word where there is no actual need for it? "Webinar" sounds like a cutesy, "aren't I current?" coinage in search of a meaning – except as a name for those Star Trek monster amoeba things. I could totally support calling them that. (Those things gave me nightmares.)

  • Sandman says:

    @Jaybird: I'm with you; the indiscriminate use of the back-formation "-aholic" suffix drives me up the flippin' wall.

  • CheekyMomma says:

    Hey Sars – sorry for the late comment – we were up in NY for a wedding. Now, about picking on King…how can we NOT pick on him when he says shit like this?

    "Your Uncle Stevie got curious about earworms, so he went to and also to the pop-savviest people on earth: those who post at — ahem — my website."

    A.) Uncle Stevie. Ew. Sounds like some pedophillic (sp?) maniac.
    B.) The pop-savviest people on earth…post at…my website.

    To use a word of the day – what a freaking tremendouche.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I CANNOT ABIDE the "Uncle Stevie" locution. CANNOT.

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