Why the heck do we call a genre of music rock n' roll? What do those words have to do with anything? Well, in the early 1900s, the word rock had emerged as African American slang for music to dance to in general, in reference to how gospel singers would rock back and forth to the spiritual songs they sang. Over time, the word grew to carry more and more hedonistic, scandalous connotations. Meanwhile, the word roll had been a euphemism for "sex" for quite a while- a colloquialism dating all the way back to the Middle Ages, while simultaneously having connotations of "to sway". This all collided in 1941 when lyricist Buck Ram created the song Rock and Roll. This kept developing into the overarching term for the rock and roll genre, which really began emerging in the 1950s and obviously took off from there. Later on, the and was shortened to n' just for coolness. So that's how two anachronistic words combined into the word for a style of music. Two curious points I can make here are that the phrase sex, drugs, rock n' roll is sort of redundant because of the previous connotations of roll and that the shortening to rock is really cool because it encompasses all of that in just the first word.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.