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
A Global Guide For How To Say Marijuana In Other Languages
Ever wonder what the rest of the world calls marijuana? That intel might come in handy if you’re trying to ask locals if there is a cannabis club in the area while you’re globetrotting. Here are five other words for marijuana that are used around the world.
1. Pakalolo (PAH-kha-LOW-low)
Hawaiians call marijuana “pakalolo,” which splices the words for “tobacco” and “crazy.” So pakalolo is “wacky tobacky.” And things in the Aloha State might get even crazier once Woody Harrelson opens up his medical marijuana dispensary.
2. Dagga (DAG-uh)
In the South African dialect Afrikaans, marijuana is better known as “dagga,” which some linguistic scholars think could mean “green tobacco.” The term is actually older than “marijuana,” so if you want to sound truly old school, roll some dagga instead of mary jane.
3. Esrar (ES-rahr)
In Turkey, the locals call cannabis “esrar,” which is the same word for “secrets.” The connection could involve marijuana’s ability to reveal hidden meanings. Before prohibiting marijuana in the 20th century, Turks used cannabis and hash (“toz esrar”) as early as the year 1,000 BCE.
4. Taima (TAHY-mah)
In Japan, cannabis is called マリファナ (“taima”), which is also a word used for religious ceremonies honoring the Shinto sun goddess. You can learn more about the cannabis roots of Shintoism by checking out Japan’s Taima Hakubutsukan (“The Cannabis Museum”), which is located in Tokyo.
5. Maconha (MAH-koi-yuh)
In most South American countries, you can get by with saying “marijuana.” But in Brazilian Portuguese, “marijuana” translates to “maconha.” Beginning in the 16th century, Brazil was a marijuana hothouse as Portuguese settlers established colonies that cultivated cannabis for medical use.
Ever wonder what the rest of the world calls marijuana? That intel might come in handy if you're trying to ask locals if there is a cannabis club in the area while you're globetrotting. Here are five other words for marijuana that are used around the world.