June 25, 2007

Can't we all just get a bong?

nun hitThe US Supreme Court has just decided that when an Alaska high school principal punished a kid for displaying, off school property, a 14 foot sign saying Bong hits for Jesus, that didn't contravene the kid's right to free speech. Here's something to listen to while you ponder the story:

It was one Ken Starr, yes, that Ken Starr, who lodged the appeal against the kid, and who has now found favor with his Supreme Court buddies.  What caught my eye was the fact that Starr's appeal claims:

"'Bong' is a slang term for drug paraphernalia commonly used for smoking marijuana."

So is it slang? We tend to describe something as slang when it is a minority use, and hasn't entered the mainstream, especially, although this is a somewhat arbitrary line, if dictionaries don't list it, or explicitly list it as "colloquial". But on this basis, bong is not slang at all:

OED 2nd ed.

bong, n. Chiefly U.S.

A kind of water-pipe used for smoking marijuana.

1971 Marijuana Rev. Jan.-June 18 Many thanks to Scott Bennett..for the beautiful special bong he made for my pipe collection. 1975 High Times Dec. 11/1 One hit of this weed produces creeping nirvana when smoked in a bong. 1977 Rolling Stone 24 Mar. 81/2 (Advt.), Genuine bamboo bongs with removable bamboo bowls are wax lined and come in two sizes; the one-foot bong..and the two-foot bong. 1978 N.Y. Times 30 Mar. B2/2 Bongs, looking like pot-bellied vases.., give the most concentrated "drag" possible by channeling smoke and preventing its escape into the air. 1979 Christian Science Monitor (Eastern ed.) 21 Nov. B1/1 Bongs, roach clips, coke spoons are as familiar as blue jeans to kids in the US today.

AHD, 4th ed.

NOUN:     A water pipe that consists of a bottle or a vertical tube partially filled with liquid and a smaller tube ending in a bowl, used often in smoking narcotic substances.
ETYMOLOGY:    Thai baung.

I mean what would you call it? Water pipe just doesn't cut it. There is a subtle distinction between water pipe and bong, in that it is commonly understood that a  water pipe need not be primarily dedicated to marijuana, but that a bong is. And that's what got Tommy Chong into trouble a couple of years ago. It's ok to sell a bong, but you'd better not call it a bong. Hence 9 months jail for Tommy Chong. Hence the link, above, to Tommy's freedom song.

By the way, I particularly liked Justice Stevens' (dissenting) comments on the Bong hits for Jesus case, with its deep insight into the nature of legal progress:

"Although this case began with a silly nonsensical banner, it ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs...."

Posted by David Beaver at June 25, 2007 02:21 PM