420 Day: Why There Are So Many Different Names for Weed

Apr 20, 2017

There are at least 1,200 slang terms related to marijuana — or cannabis or hashish or weed or pot or, as some say, asparagus. And there are hundreds more to describe one’s state of intoxication after imbibing the drug, according to slang scholar Jonathon Green.

Collecting slang has been the work of Green’s life, and the 69-year-old refers to drugs as one of slang’s “best sellers." That’s because slang and things-you’re-not-supposed-to-mention-in-polite-society go hand in hand. As TIME has reported, that unmentionable quality is what led five California high-schoolers to coin the term 420 in the 1970s, which likely led to April 20 becoming the de facto day of doobies. But that association goes back to the earliest recorded slang from the 16th century, coined by those who didn’t want authorities to know what they were talking about.

But why are there hundreds and hundreds of words for pot? With any slang, as adults or authorities become wise to what one term means, that's a signal that it's time for a new one. And the wide variety of people who smoke marijuana across the globe were bound to come up with different words. Green says he doesn’t see the creativity waning even as U.S. states and other countries move to legalize marijuana.

“The terminology doesn't really emphasize illegality: It is the illegality that created the need for the terminology,” he says. And, Green adds, the creation of such terms is not only “seen as ‘fighting the man,’ it is also simply fun.”

Here is a selection of weed’s many synonyms from Green's online database, with his research on where the terms come from, grouped by the likely inspiration for their coinages.

Because of its effects

airplane – because it gets one "high." Also see "parachute" and "pocket rocket"

amnesia – because it can make one forgetful

climb – might be a play on getting “high,” might be a play on “climbing the walls"

doobie – may be related to another slang meaning of doobie: a dull, stupid person

good giggles because it makes people laugh

Houdini – because the user "escapes" reality

reefer — a Spanish derived word. "Grifo" is Mexican slang to describe someone under the influence of marijuana, because "grifo" can refer to tangled, frizzy hair and therefore a similar mental state. That became "greefo," which then became abbreviated as reefer

spliff — this likely comes from the verb splificate, which may be fanciful and may be a combination of the words stifle and suffocate. Whatever its origins, the word describes confusing or confounding someone

Because people like it

ace – slang for something superior

baby – a term of affection for the drug

green goddess – green for the color, goddess for the experience

Because it is a (green) plant

alfalfa – also slang for beard, money and tobacco

asparagus – also broccoli, parsley, sassafras and turnip greens

bud – the name for the part of the cannabis plant that is smoked

Christmas tree – also fir. "Lumber" can refer to unwanted twigs in the bud

grass – also bush and weed

green – for the color, the same reason it is slang for money. Similar slang terms are green stuff, greenery and green tea

herb — among Rastafarians, who use the substance religiously, this term has been used to emphasize that it is "natural" like other herbs. With a similar flare, the substance has been called "mother" and "mother nature," as well as the "noble weed" and "righteous bush"

Because of language

Aunt Mary – a pun on marijuana, just like Mary Jane, Mary Warner, Mary Weaver, and Mary and Johnny

da kine – this Hawaiian surf slang can refer to anything for which one forgets the precise name

dona Juanita – “lady Jane” in Spanish, a play on marijuana

ganja – derives from a Hindi word for the hemp plant

marijuana – the Spanish name for the plant. Many in legal U.S. markets have tried to move away from this term, because of its association with the illegal drug trade, and instead use cannabis

muggle – unknown origin but the use of "muggle-head" to mean marijuana-smoker dates to the 1920s

pot — derives from the Spanish word for marijuana leaves, potiguaya

rainy day woman — this may come from the Bob Dylan song with the chorus line "Everybody must get stoned"

thirteen — the first letter of marijuana is the 13th in the alphabet

Because of the way a joint is shaped

alligator cigarette –may also be related to an alligator’s general lack of speed

bag of bones – multiple marijuana cigarettes

blunt – though the wrapper of any cigar can be used today, early users of the term used the brand Phillies Blunt

stogie – this slang term for an over-sized marijuana cigarette comes from a slang word for a cigar. That term, in turn, comes from an abbreviation of a large heavy horse breed, Conestoga, because the men who drove them were associated with smoking those products

Because of quality

cabbage – poor quality bud, perhaps resembling the vegetable

catnip – inferior or fake marijuana

chronic – the word meaning extreme or severe came to describe marijuana with strong effects

dank – this term started out describing unpleasant, swamp-like things and, like “bad” itself, then came to describe good things, like marijuana of the best quality

Nixon — named after the president, refers to poor quality bud being sold as high quality bud

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