The Origins Of “Dank”

By Marcella Wilroy
June 19, 2020

Surfer Dudes

What is dank? Well, a lot of things are dank… really. When thinking back to some of the slang and colloquial terms spawned from the past several decades, a few well-known words come to mind. I’m sure we’re all familiar with terms like gnarly, wicked, sick, and maybe even totally radical, dude. These are all phrases most of us have probably heard whether it was from the mouth of your local neighborhood surfer or not, plenty of us have had exposure to surf culture in films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Lords of Dogtown, and possibly even Lilo and Stitch. Like all of these wonderful and outdated surfisms once did, dank is starting to gain popularity with the young adults of Southern California.

The West Coast has always been on the map as a hotspot for cannabis culture. Whether it be growing or consuming weed, the West Coast has been a popular hotspot for marijuana culture. As the legality of cannabis spreads from state to state, so does the culture that comes along with it. Growing up around this kind of community, one will have heard several terms thrown around like bomb, dope, sweet, and hella. Over the last few years, as I’ve listened to dank make its way into several walks of life, it begs this question: Where did dank come from? This word has been around for well over just a few centuries and with several different meanings. The word’s exact background is unclear, though its usage in almost all forms has been dated back to around 1400.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, dank refers to something that is wet or watery, as in rain, clouds, or dew; though, this application is probably rendered obsolete these days. dank as I know it, living in Southern California, is now used to convey something satisfying and even enticing. A great example of this is: “dank pizza is on its way!” This usage of dank has become so widespread, Cambridge Dictionary has included this more recent application of the word in their list of definitions. Cambridge Dictionary simply defines dank as something “of good quality”. It’s that simple. Dank is the utmost optimal, best quality, hence, a better version of anything. But how did this word go from describing anything damp or wet to describing something “of good quality?”

There are a few things to consider before trying to delve into the etymology of this weird, slang term that you may have never even heard of before. When looking back, it’s documented that century after century, this word has to do with describing dampness. Although looking at its more recent cultural history, this word was resurrected and gained popularity among SoCal’s cannabis scene. Most herbs, whether they be medicinal or culinary, are most potent and flavorful when they still retain at least a small amount of their moisture. Think dried fruits like mango and pineapple. None of these dried fruits are completely brittle, they each have some give because although it’s mostly dry, it’s still a bit moist. This same concept applies to cannabis. Perhaps this is a more general, agricultural slang term, considering its application to a variety of plants? Either way, most people don’t want a drier, less flavorful, and potent product.

Dank is now far past strictly speaking in terms of cannabis. This term can be heard anywhere there are young adults on the West Coast. From coffee shops to breweries, this word can be heard used in all kinds of ways. Although, I wouldn’t throw dank around the office. Your boss might not like hearing: “That meeting was dank, sir.”

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