A desperate millennial plea from Simon Day, Head of Re: News, to not let its use disappear.
Buzzy is the most important and beautiful word in the New Zealand English lexicon. Its versatility, cultural adaptability and distinct New Zealand flavour makes it a word that is both infinitely functional and also a special expression of our culture.
But I’m worried its use is dying out.
And I’m concerned that this is not just part of the natural evolution of language, but an abandonment of a word that defines our unique identity in the world.
Buzzy is an adjective that describes something that is fascinating and compelling because it is unusual or unexpected.
It feels like a more accessible and hyper local version of the word trippy.
The Urban Dictionary provides two good examples of its use that showcase the diversity of its application:
1: “That lava lamp is like, soooo buzzy.”
2: “Remember that guy who shat in an ice cream cone and walked around the mall with it? He was buzzy.”
Buzzy can be used in positive or negative situations, is applicable in moments of huge significance and those that are entirely trivial. Its power comes from its impartiality, it is a term that can be applied to any situation without judgement.
It’s a word that has been with me for a long time and I use it daily in my life.
I remember after a significant high speed skateboarding accident, I looked at my grazed raw elbow and forearm and exclaimed “buuuuzzzy.”
The only word to describe finding out exams at the University of Copenhagen (where I spent a year on exchange) were oral and 15 minutes long – buzzy.
The response when I learned my wife was pregnant with twins – buzzy.
Learning that the kupu Māori “to be stoned, affected by a drug” is māngina, was buzzy.
According to my research, the origins of the use of the word buzzy are in cannabis culture and New Zealand’s passion for the word comes from our special relationship with and approach to smoking weed. The fact that only New Zealand and Canada smoke cannabis using the spots method is buzzy.
But buzzy has blossomed far beyond stoner culture and become an essential part of New Zealand’s cultural expression.
According to my research no one else in the world uses buzzy in the same way New Zealand does. It taps into our propensity to underplay things as part of our identity – a sort of socially awkward humility: the fact Lorde was only 16 when she released Royals – pretty buzzy. And it has the power to minimise disaster and tragedy through nervous empathy.
It has found a happy home in the vocabulary of writers, sportspeople and actors from a diversity of backgrounds and cultures. Buzzy brings us together as New Zealanders.
When Tayi Tibble became the first Māori writer to have their work published in the New Yorker, she said of her poem: “I’m just happy they selected this poem because it’s pretty buzzy… I think it’s a full representation of my Māoritanga, perspective and artistic kaupapa.”
When Troy Kingi was asked how he wants people to respond to his new album, he said: “I want people saying, ‘That Troy is a buzzy guy.’”
In describing the shared experience of Covid lockdown comedian Chris Parker said: “What a buzzy thing that we were all isolated yet were emotionally going through the same thing.”
In her essay on a year in full immersion te reo Māori study, author Shilo Kino wrote: “It will be buzzy-as visiting your Aunty Polly in Tokoroa and speaking te reo with her.”
(Buzzy is often accompanied by “as” or “bro” for emphasis. For example: The bathtub scene in Saltburn is buzzy as bro.)
But I fear that the use of the word is dying out.
My Gen Z colleagues do not use the word, despite my best efforts to force it on them and my constant explanations of what makes it such a beautiful piece of language. In fact they often deride me for its use.
As the internet fills our vocabularies with global slang and erodes the unique touchstones of individual cultures, it is essential we hold on to the little things that make us who we are.
Buzzy is a crucial expression of identity. Please don’t let it disappear.
By Simon Day