420 Day: Why There Are So Many Different Names for Weed
T here 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
On 420 Day, here's a selection of the most popular names for marijuana, and where those words come from
Ranking the Synonyms for Weed From Best to Worst
I don’t smoke weed. The last time I “smoked” a “cone,” my field of vision shrunk down to the size of a pea, and everything else around that itsy-bitsy pea went black, so I was basically floating in infinite space, viewing my own real life through a very, very small keyhole. I believed that I had not yet been born, and my life to date was just some strange, elaborate play being staged for me to watch; like looking into an aggressively complex kaleidoscope. Then when my friend took me home (thank you, so much) it felt like the car was driving straight upwards into space, genuinely like a fucking rocket, shooting up fully vertical so the G-Force of whatever you might call it was pinning to my seat, when we were really just in his mom’s ute driving like 60K tops along some suburban road.
Holy shit. That is so heavy to type out. Fuck. How ridiculous. Honestly, how fucking stupid. Really, I am just, so, so under qualified to write anything about weed. Like, almost comically so, but like, not quite, because that story is actually much more depressing and weird than it is laugh-out-loud funny. But here we are, because I told my editor I would have something done by 2PM, and there’s a little cube in an excel spreadsheet that lays out all our stories for the week which right now just says “Isabelle Weed Story.” Like, there is not even a concept. And that cube is red because I haven’t done it, and I need it to turn green so I don’t look like a huge piece of shit who doesn’t do their job.
I’m doing it. I’m doing it right now guys. Okay!! I’ve come up with something I am qualified to write about weed! My Isabelle Weed Story. It’s me ranking the synonyms for weed, from best to worst. Or maybe in no particular order. Just like, bear with me and let’s do this.
Ah, the Green. Or is it “green”? I’m not sure. Do colloquialisms like this count as proper nouns? I don’t know. I like doing it like this: Green. Because then it’s like, a bit fancier. Like somebody’s name. Cool. Let’s settle it there.
Ohhhhh yes. Oui oui oui. I like this one. I can’t put my finger on why. I like to think of Kush as like, the forgotten Kardashian that lives in some Calabasas garage and just smokes bongs as fuck on Instagram live, shouting out their various weed sponsors. Hotbox that Range Rover, Kush Kardashian.
This is what I think parents say. I like it because it reminds me of Woodstock. Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity, bitches!! Viva la revolution.
This is… not for everyone. And yet, everyone has said it. Especially Aaron, who just went to his first folk festival and is now walking around high school barefoot in fisherman’s pants. That aside, he’s a nice kid. Grades are slipping a little bit, but who know what’s going on at home. Give him a break. Sit down next to him in the canteen. Go on. It doesn’t cost anything to gift somebody a smile.
This is soooo fuckin Australian right? Like, who in America says choof? Actually, that is a question I can Google. Okay, just did. They don’t. So it’s all ours! Let’s…. refrain from using it all that often.
Personal story: my college was known for being a really good school. Like, still a public school, but a good one. It was also known for just being like, buried in weed. That was the reputation. It was made funnier because the street it backed onto was called Green St, and there was a Buddhist temple around the corner, with a huge golden Buddha statue. So. There you go. No further questions, your honour.
7. Just calling it ‘Marijuana’ but deliberately mispronounced like “Mary-jew-hannuh”
Now that’s what I call…………….. pretty funny.
Nah this one is cool as fuck. But like, you gotta be cool enough to pull it off. It doesn’t sit right on most people’s tongues. Here’s a good way to tell if someone’s cool or not: If they can say “that loud” without sounding like fuckin Jesse Willesee.
9. The Devil’s Lettuce
This is never as funny as you think it is when you say it. It’s just not very clever, is it? We’ve heard it so many times before… and yet, yes, I am going to keep saying it. I sure am! I’m gonna keep doing it anyway because sometimes you just can’t be fucked to think of anything funnier. Sometimes the easy joke is the only one you have the energy for. And sometimes “sometimes” turns to every time. Next thing you know, you’re not fun anymore.
10. I’m Blem For Real
I am! I really really am!
11. Jazz Cigarette
Actually, this is quite good. But also, how did this sneak onto the list? It’s not really a word for weed so much as a “joint.” Let’s leave it in here anyway because it’s funky and I like it!
Goooooooood. Very fucking good.
Stopstopstopstop. WAY too far. Not cool dude. Not fucking cool.
15. Backyard Boogie
This is disgusting and should be even more illegal than marijuana is.
16. Green Paint
Ok, you just know a public school principal came up with this in the late 1990s when he was trying to relate to The Kids during some kind of School Assembly that was called after a bunch of students were caught smoking behind the gym at lunch. Kids being Kids, they then started using “Green Paint” to mock him but Life being Life it stuck for like 2 percent of people on Earth. Isn’t history incredible?
17. Rock ‘n’ Roll Tobacco
Well is it a Jazz herb or a Rock ‘n’ Roll one? Which one? Which one is it? I’m getting very mixed messages, very mixed. I’m actually really starting not to trust the site I got all these words from! Can anyone get me a legit check on urbanthesaurus.org? Like, is this shit for real or nah? Am I being, how do you say, “played for a fool”. By a goddamn website? Not even by a living person, but by the freakin’ WEB. Is that why the call it the WEB? BEcause it’s a web of FUCKIN LIES.
18. Sinister Minister
Okay cool. So yes, I am being PUnk’ED. This is absolutely insane. Great. This went down the toilet, fast. I’m only on Number 18 and I’ve already shit the proverbial bed. Bad to worse. Bad to fuckin worse.
19. British Columbia
OH MY GOD. FUUUUCK. It’s now 1:39 so I’m gonna leave this in here anyway I really hope you don’t mind I’m so sorry I know this is just a Canadian province but let’s let it go this once ’cause it 420 . And this article really needs to go live… ASAP .
20. Mackenzie Frenzy
Are these last few just strains?? Yes. I think they must be. Great job urbanthesaurus.org, you really fucked me. Strains are not really a ‘thing’ in Australia like they are in America. I think we just have ‘Good’, ‘Bad’ and ‘Bush’ as types of weed?
21. Banging Grandma
YOOOOO this is definitely a strain. And I want to try it. This is sick. Or wait… is it misogyny? Hmmm…makes ya think.
22. Come Chew Up on My Bubblegum
Okay, so, I think I’m gonna start smoking weed just so I can say this shit? Is that a “good” idea? Is it? IS IT .
Get a personalized roundup of VICE’s best stories in your inbox.
By signing up to the VICE newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from VICE that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.
Time to indulge in some of that dank…devil's lettuce?