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Origins in the 1940s

See also: Hipster (1940s subculture) and Hip (slang)

The term itself was coined during the jazz age, when “hip” emerged as an adjective to describe aficionados of the growing scene.[5] Although the adjective’s exact origins are disputed, some say it was a derivative of “hop,” a slang term for opium, while others believe it comes from the West African word “hipi,” meaning “to open one’s eyes.”[5] Nevertheless, “hip” eventually acquired the common English suffix -ster (as in spinster and gangster), and “hipster” entered the language.[5]

The first dictionary to list the word is the short glossary “For Characters Who Don’t Dig Jive Talk,” which was included with Harry Gibson’s 1944 album, Boogie Woogie In Blue. The entry for “hipsters” defined them as “characters who like hot jazz.”[6] Initially, hipsters were usually middle-class white youths seeking to emulate the lifestyle of the largely black jazz musicians they followed.[5] In The Jazz Scene (1959), author Eric Hobsbawm (originally writing under the pen name Francis Newton) described hipster language — i.e., “jive-talk or hipster-talk” — as “an argot or cant designed to set the group apart from outsiders.” However, the subculture rapidly expanded, and after World War II, a burgeoning literary scene grew up around it.[5] Jack Kerouac described 1940s hipsters as “rising and roaming America, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere [as] characters of a special spirituality.”[7] In his essay “The White Negro,” Norman Mailer characterized hipsters as American existentialists, living a life surrounded by death — annihilated by atomic war or strangled by social conformity — and electing instead to “divorce [themselves] from society, to exist without roots, to set out on that uncharted journey into the rebellious imperatives of the self.”[5]

1990s through 2010s

“Hipsters are the friends who sneer when you cop to liking Coldplay. They’re the people who wear t-shirts silk-screened with quotes from movies you’ve never heard of and the only ones in America who still think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a good beer. They sport cowboy hats and berets and think Kanye West stole their sunglasses. Everything about them is exactingly constructed to give off the vibe that they just don’t care.” Continue reading