January 10, 2004

History of emo

The word emo may have been new to me, but it's been around for years. This is not a surprise, since subculture words usually percolate for a while -- sometimes a long while -- before outsiders learn about them. I've gotten quite a few messages filling me in on the history.

T. Carter Ross writes:

Thanks for the Language Log post about "Emo." However, calling it a new word may be a bit relative: It definately broke into wider consiousness with Dashboard Confessional's *Places You Have Come to Fear the Most* in March 2001; the single "Screaming Infidelities" was all over modern rock radio and MTV and it crossed over to top 40/CHR and some adult contemporary stations. And now you can't turn on the radio without hearing Coldplay.

Well, I can, but you knew that already. T. Carter goes on to say:

The style of music, however, can be traced back to Hüsker Dü, who pionnered the hardcore sound mixed with confessional lyrics, but it didn't really gell into emo until the mid-1980s with Rites of Spring.

Here -- http://www.jimdero.com/OtherWritings/Other%20emo.htm -- is an article from 1999 talking about the term and the music. And here -- http://www.angelfire.com/emo/origin/ -- is a pretty well cited history of the genre.

Thanks again for the interesting article,
T. Carter Ross

I'm grateful to Mr. Ross for cluing me in.

Several others wrote about this term, including Kristina Spurgin:

Even within the emo subculture there appears to be no agreement as to what, or who, is or is not emo (from the music and band discussion boards I have seen). I have known about the word for several years now and still have not been able to satisfactorily clarify for myself exactly what it is supposed to indicate.

On his webpage, Gregory Williams writes:

Heehee... look at the linguists (and journalists, indirectly at the NYT) grappling with the discovery of "Emo."

I find it all mildly amusing that this is happening over a term that is common in my world, and that has been around for (I believe) nearly fifteen years.

We're always happy to provide entertainment to our readers, Gregory.

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 10, 2004 11:35 PM