Why is Cannabis Called Weed
When it comes to cannabis slang, “pot” may be the first word that comes to mind, but “weed” is older, edgier, and all-American. Originally, called weed simply meaning the method of smoking cannabis, not the plant itself. The word first appeared as a synonym for “marijuana cigarette” around 1929, when more Americans started smoking “weed” as people looked for ways to feel uplifted at the twilight of The Roaring Twenties and the onset of The Great Depression.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term first appeared in print in 1932.
The Chicago Defender, a weekly newspaper that was once dubbed “the most dangerous of all Negro journals,” commented on the migration of cannabis in New York City from the slums to high society.
“The humble ‘reefer,’ ‘the weed,’ the marijuana, or a doped cigarette, has moved to Park Ave. from Harlem.”
The term spread to the United Kingdom by way of Melody Maker. In 1932, the landmark music magazine wrote that “Song of the Weed” and “Reefer Man” were both worth the reader’s money.
Sadly, there don’t seem to be any recordings of “Song of the Weed” floating around online.
But there is a fantastic rendition of “Reefer Man” by Cab Calloway, who was a regular performer at Harlem’s Cotton Club.
Listen carefully to the intro, where Calloway jokingly calls out his bass player for smoking weed.
Yes, weed is apparently the broadly hippest current term for marijuana. If I close my eyes and think about Conan O’Brien making a joke on the subject or Seth Rogen actually saying anything at all, weed is the word I imagine them saying.
For decades, weed lurked in the weeds, as it were. Checking Google’s Ngram Viewer (showing relative frequency in American printed sources) gives a rough sense that “weed” started making its move to pop culture prominence in the early 1990s.
In Google Books searches confined to 2013 publications, smoke marijuana pops up 69 times, smoke pot 94 times, and smoke weed 149 times.
That is also the sense one gets from Urban Dictionary, whose users have been inspired to contribute 225 separate definitions for weed.