Date: Thu, 6 Nov 1997 15:44:22 -0500

From: Grant Barrett gbarrett[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]JERRYNET.COM

Subject: Free-99; Ghetto

Slang I heard today (dated, I'm sure):

"How much is it?"

"It's free."

"Free? How can it be free?"

"I'm telling you, it's free-99"

Speaker said "free-99" was "from the ghetto."

Origin, apparently, is from merchandise in stores being marked just below a whole dollar: $3.99,

$49.95, etc. Is it true that pricing custom originates with shopkeepers wanting to make it difficult

for clerks to overcharge and take the excess (assuming, of course, that it is difficult for folks to do

the math in their heads when no items on a bill are round numbers)? Is it also, perhaps, our

tendency to feel $19.99 is somehow much less than $20.00?

There's a New York City usage of "ghetto" that means something like:

"provincial/local/unworldly/neighborhood-dwelling/small-town-like." The young Hispanic couple

I met lost in Central Park this past summer would be ghetto: After they told me they had been lost

in the park for hours, I assumed they were from the outer boroughs or Jersey, but they turned out

to be from Alphabet City (about 60 blocks away, a few miles at most).

A piece a couple of weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine (I believe) had a

Chinese-American who described himself and his friends as being very"ghetto" when they would

walk 80 blocks to Gray's Papaya in order to eat 50 cent frankfurters and to avoid paying $3.00

each for the round-trip subway ride. There was also a vague subtext of "ghetto" including

customs that belonged only to a certain neighborhood (in this case New York's Chinatown), such

as wearing a long lock of hair in the front, and wearing very wide-legged jeans (as much as 30

inches per leg).

Grant Barrett