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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What Old School REALLY Means & How It Got Those Meanings

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is part of a continuing pancocojams series on the term "old school" (also writen as "old skool").

This post documents how the meaning of "old school" has changed since at least the 1990s, provides synonyms and antonyms for that term, and presents several examples of the use of the term "old school" in contemporary American culture.

Other posts in this series will showcases songs that predate the contemporary (1990s to date) colloquial meaning of "old school" such as the 19th century religious song "Give Me That Old Time Religion" and the 1960s Rhythm and Blues song "Those Oldies But Goodies". Other posts in this series will showcase the 1994 Hip Hop song "Old School" by Aaliyah, the use of "old school" and comparable terms in African American Gospel music, in R&B music, and the use of "old school" in Caribbean Dancehall music. Those posts will be published ASAP and will be found by clicking the "old school music" tab that is found below.

In addition, a post on the related slang word "throwback" will also be published ASAP. That post will be found by clicking the throwback tab that is found below.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, etymological purposes, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to all those featured in these sound files and videos and thanks to the publishers of these examples on YouTube.

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OLD DEFINITIONS OF "OLD SCHOOL"
From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=old-school
"old-school (adj.) ... reference to a group of people noted for conservative views or principles on some professional or political matter, 1749, from old + school (n.)."

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From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/old+school
"Old school"
noun
1.
advocates or supporters of established custom or of conservatism:
"a military man of the old school."

...Examples from the web for old school

His poetry is perhaps too much of the old school, to suit the taste of the day.

There is much of the old school in the matter, but little in the manner.

Get a sailor of the old school to relay the coils before you go into the field so that the rope will be ready for use.


British Dictionary definitions for old school

old school

noun

1.

(mainly Brit) a school formerly attended by a person

2.

a group of people favouring traditional ideas or conservative practices

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From http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=old+school
Old school
The term old school is of English origin and dates back to at least the 19th Century and is used to denote something that is considered to be out of date with currents trends/ideas and thinking. An early example of the term can be found in the Charles Dickens novel Bleak House (first published 1852).
Description of Mr. Tulkinghorn from the novel Bleak House. "He is of what is called the old school—a phrase generally meaning any school that seems never to have been young".
by Blake311 August 05, 2009

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Editorial Comment:
A significant difference between the standard and slang meanings of "old school" is that the standard term is used as a noun while the slang term is an adjective.

While the slang term "old school" may just be a time marker (i.e. something or someone from the past), that term often had/has complimentary connotations. My sense is that the standard term "old school" is an uncomplimentary description of people or practices. A person who is from the old school, is old-fashioned, set in his or her ways, one who isn't interested in advancing to new ways of doing things or thinking about things.

If you hold the belief that the present is always better than the past, people whose values and actions are stuck in the past are to be scorned. However, if you think that the present is worse than the past, then it's good to be "old school" and value music and other things that are old school.

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SLANG DEFINITIONS FOR "OLD SCHOOL" ("OLD SKOOL")
From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/old+school
"Slang definitions & phrases for old school
old school
modifier
From an early time, favoring traditional ways; retro or vintage: old school fraternity hazings/ strictly old school"

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From http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=old+school
Note: I'm re-posting three of multiple definitions that were submitted from that site's users,retrieved on Feb. 23, 2015 with the top ranked definitions (by users) as of that date given first.
"old school [top comment]
Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect. Can be used to refer to music, clothing, language, or anything really.
Client: We have three PC's running MS-Dos 6.
Consultant: Shi'...that's old school.
"
by cazort, March 31, 2004

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"old school
The way things used to be done.
That (black and white tv, rotary phone, newspaper, top hat, typewriter, VCR, etc.) is old school.
by garbermatt, August 09, 2010

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"Old school
Anything that refers to a previous generation of a subject/idea/object/etc. Typically, they are highly regarded and sometimes the very thing that started it all."
by Chi Nou June 07, 2005

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HOW DID "OLD SCHOOL" ACQUIRE COMPLIMENTARY CONNOTATIONS
From http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/134034/origin-of-old-school Origin of “old school” Query from Flimzy, Nov 2 '13 at 0:53 "Do we know the etymology of this phrase [old school]?
-snip-
Here's the only response to that query to date:
Bradd Szonye, Nov 2 '13 at 1:11,
"The Online Etymology Dictionary dates old-school to 1749 as an adjective and simply notes that it's a compound of “old + school,” in reference to conservative beliefs or principles. This supports your suspicion that it's related to “old school of thought.”

The modern slang sense of old school is somewhat different, with stronger connotations of respect for the earlier era, but it's still clearly the same basic meaning. I'm not sure when the term acquired the positive connotations; it's similar to the use of OG “original gangster” to indicate respect."
-snip-
Editorial comment:
"O.G." is a (African American) Hip Hop term. I believe that "old school" is also from Hip Hop culture given that most of its early use (in the 1990s) is from that culture. For example, the 1994 song by Hip Hop artist Aaliyah is titled "Old School" and includes these lyrics:
Here's the old school, with the new school
Here's the old school, with the new school
Here's the old school, with the new school

R. Kelly play me something from the old school
R. Kelly play me something from the old school
R. Kelly play me something from the old school
R. Kelly play me something from the old school

Hey boy, won't you play for me
Right now, give me that old school beat...
https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tojqzjp5lfqlo2io7mfd63rhwbe?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics&u=0#

-snip-
This song will be showcased in an upcoming pancocojams post.

Here's a definition for "old school" that refers to Hip Hop, but I believe that it's only partly correct in its interpretation of how that term got the slang meaning it has now:
From http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=old+school
1. "Old School (sp. Ol Skool) is a term that originated sometime in the very early 1990's with the introduction of Hip-Hop (which was the dance anyone could do, originaly consisting of foot-work and had its roots in jazz-funk). Old School refers back to 1984 when break-dancing was at its prime,because so many moves had to be studied and practiced just as one would learn in school.

To "take some-one to school", meant to either teach and instruct them or show by greater example how a move should be properly executed.

Given the new popularity of Hip-Hop in the early 1990's, many of the younger generations only learned how to perform the Hip-Hop moves (those who only knew Hip-Hop were refered to as the New-School).

Note: Anything that took place within the 1990's is refered to as, "back in the day".

2. Old School, Originaly the term was first used to differentiate between Break-Dancing and Hip-Hop.

3. An era that is marked by the very first computer generation; those who had the first personal computers (which soley ran off basic language and consisted of no hard drive) like the CoCo, Commodore, Apple, Pong, etc. This era occured after the baby-boomers of 1945-1965.
Why can I not find some Old School B-Boy movies like,"Beat Street" or "Breakin'" ?

If you want to learn about true break-dancing, you should find some-one who dances Old School.

by Darryl Learie aka nine9nine9nine9 September 10, 2006
-snip-
To unpack this, I agree with Darryl Learie that the slang meaning of "old school" dates from the early 1990s, although it could have also been used in the late 1980s. However, I think that he focused too much of his definition of "old school" on Hip Hop dancing. For beginners, his statement that "Hip Hop is a dance" is incorrect as is his note that "Anything that took place within the 1990's is refered to as, "back in the day". "Back in the day" is another way of saying "at some time in the past", although what "the past" ("the olden days") meant or means did and does differs widely from one person to another.

I definitely disagree with Learie's point #2 that "Old School, Originaly the term was first used to differentiate between Break-Dancing and Hip-Hop."
-snip-
Breakdancing (B-boying/b-girling) is one element of Hip Hop culture. Wikipedia's page on Hip Hop mentions 4 elements:
"It [Hip Hop] is characterized by four distinct elements, all of which represent the different manifestations of the culture: rap music (oral), turntablism or "DJing" (aural), b-boying (physical) and graffiti art (visual). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_hop
Other sites such as http://portlandyouthsummit.org/about-us-2/ add a fifth element "knowledge".
-snip-
UPDATE: February 25, 2015
My daughter pointed out to me that Learie may have meant that breakdancing is an old school form of dancing that is generally categorized as Hip Hop dancing. I concede that point.
-snip-
Darryl Learie's definition of "taking someone to school" also focuses too much on break dancing.
It's my position that the word "school" in the term "old school" refers to life's experiences - the good, the bad, and all else that occurs and is felt.

I grew up hearing the saying "Life is a school". And the saying "take someone to school" which I heard much later on meant and still means to teach that person a lesson that he or she will never forget. "School", after all, is where you are supposed to learn all sorts of things. But people are also supposed to learn by living. And the "school of hard knocks" (i.e. "life") is a difficult and often painful teacher.

I think that the word "school" in "old school" refers back to those sayings and simply means "what was occurring or who was there during that period of time."

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WORDS AND PHRASES THAT MAY MEAN THE SAME OR SIMILAR THINGS AS SOMETHING BEING OLD SCHOOL
In no particular order, here are some synonyms for "old school"

old time
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old timey
**
old fashioned
**
Oldies but goodies
**
golden oldies
**
classic
**
[a] blast from the past
**
retro
**
vintage
**
throwback

Note: These words may have different connotations that "old school". For example, with the exception of Gospel music, the terms "old fashioned" and "old time" usually have negative connotations.

It should also be noted that particularly with regard to music, people who favor "old school", often believe that what they consider to be the best examples of that old school music are the only "true" or "real" examples of that cultural expression. Modern (contemporary) versions are therefore negatively compared with those examples and criticized for moving away from that style or styles.

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WORDS AND PHRASES THAT ARE OPPOSITE TO SOMETHING BEING OLD SCHOOL
current
**
contemporary
**
modern
**
new school

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A MOVIE NAMED "OLD SCHOOL"
An American comedy movie comedy entitled Old School was released six years after Aaliyah's Hip Hop song with that same title. A synopsis of that 2003 movie, which starred Will Farrell among others, reads "Three friends attempt to recapture their glory days by opening up a fraternity near their alma mater." http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0302886/.

The fact that "Old School" was used as a title for a Hollywood film suggests that that term had been around long enough that it had been picked up by White Americans from Black Americans, the source of much of this nation's slang.

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WHEN PEOPLE REFER TO SOMETHING AS BEING OLD SCHOOL, WHEN DO THEY USUALLY THINK IT MEANS?
Like beauty, the phrases "the olden days" and "back in the day" are in the eyes of the beholders.
Technically speaking, any time in the past could be considered "the olden days" and any cultural aspects or icons from the past could be considered "old school". However, my sense is that people
who use the term "back in the day" usually don't think beyond the 1980s when refer to music, or fashions or ways of doing things (such as the way people worshipped during Sunday church services). When people take "trips down memory lane", they are usually thinking about their
childhood and teenage memories, and not someone elses.

Given that the slang meaning of "old school" was grafted onto that term in the late 1980s/early 1990s, it stands to reason that, at least for Hip Hop, that appears to be the period of time that
most people believe "old school" refers to. And it seems to me that most people who use "old school" to refer to Dancehall Reggae music consider the 1990s as "old school". And with regard to R&B, it seems to me that for most people, "old school" doesn't go beyond the 1980s, although some people might stretch to the 1970s and the 1960s. After that, anything that occured or any people are real old school, if not old fashioned, which, as I stated earlier doesn't have the same positive vibes as old school.

With regard to African American Gospel, my guess is that "old school" extends to the 1960s and much earlier, since late 19th century and early twentieth century meter hymns (also known as "Dr. Watts hymns") are included among the music styles that some African Americans appear to call "old school" ("classic Gospel"). That said, it seems to me that although they are undoubtedly old, African American Spirituals aren't usually referred to as "old school" in the YouTube online comment threads that I've read.

But I'm wondering, what will music of the 1980s and 1990s be called when today's children grow up?
If "old school" refers to the music of a person's childhood and teen years, then wouldn't the music that those children listened to would be called "old school". If so, would the music of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s be called something like "the original old school" or "the music formerly known as old school"?...

Of course, they might come up with an entirely different term to refer to their music. We did- sort of.

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