The Vaper’s Drag

October 13, 2013
Posted by Jay Livingston

A question in the Social Q’s column of the Times today asks about the etiquette of electronic cigarettes at a dinner party.  In his answer, Philip Galanes expains what e-cigs are ( “battery-powered vaporizers . . .that deliver synthetic nicotine Users exhale an odorless white vapor”).  He continues,
The “vaper” (yes, that’s the colloquial term for users) should have asked your host and tablemates . . .
I don’t really care what the answer is, but I love vaper.  I just wonder how many people will get the reference.  It hark back to viper, which in the first half of the twentieth century was slang for a marijuana smoker.  The term did not survive the marijuana boom of the 1960s, though I have no idea why. Reefer and pot survived as terms for marijuana, but boo disappeared. So did viper. Sill, some historical artifacts remain, notably Stuff Smith’s 1936 song “If You’se a Viper,” which begins,
Think about a reefer five feet long.
Wikipedia says that it’s “one of the most frequently covered songs about marijuana.”  The best-known of these covers is probably the one by Fats Waller (himself the compser of “Viper’s Drag”).  Fats cleaned up the grammar (“If You’re a Viper”) and slowed down the tempo.  But here’s the original.

As the song says,
When your throat gets dry, you know you’re high.

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