Prom—or is that “the prom”?—is as big a deal as ever in the high-pressure world of high school. It’s one of those life rituals we all go through or avoid: like driving a car or donning our first tinfoil hat.
This high school dance takes on enormous significance in high school, especially the junior and senior proms, when social pressure, weapons-grade hormones, and impending adulthood mix together in a boiling caldron that only be soothed by a formal dance.
So whether you landed your dream date for the prom, are going stag, or prefer to avoid such shenanigans altogether, here’s a list of prom-centric words.
For even more prom words, check out the full list: Prom Time
Promposal (a blend of prom and proposal) is a recently popular word for an old tradition: asking someone to the prom, but with a little added theatricality and hubbub. Promposal is a word blend, just like brunch (breakfast and lunch) and labradoodle (Labrador and poodle). The most famous sort of proposal is a marriage proposal, which has all sorts of traditions, some sweet and some creepy. A man is supposed to ask a woman’s father for permission to marry his daughter, as if he were asking to borrow his truck. The man is also supposed to get on one knee, which is a tad less creepy. Any kind of offer or suggestion can be called a proposal. If you were hungry, you could say, “May I propose we eat a metric ton of nachos?”
Prom is all about the clothes, including the accessories—the most famous being the corsage. This is a little arrangement of flowers about the size of your fist, and traditionally a fella pins a corsage to his gal. A corsage is a bouquet’s Mini-Me.
Like most words, this one has a few meanings, not all of which have anything to do with prom. A stag is a male deer, who is unlikely to receive a promposal, even in a Disney movie. But if you go stag, you show up at the prom without a date. This term, because of its male history, originally referred to dudes going it alone, but these days anyone can go stag—except actual woodland critters.
Does a bunch of unsupervised teenagers sound like a good idea? That depends who you’re asking, but if you’re asking a principal, they’ll say, “Nope.” Thus, the chaperone. This is an adult who attends the prom (or another dance) to make sure nothing terrible happens, like someone spiking the punch or getting in a brawl over who has the best dance moves. Chaperones are mainly associated with dances, but they can appear anywhere teens (or even younger children) are doing stuff. A chaperone is a more adult version of a babysitter, though to teens a chaperone can feel just like a babysitter. This word has a fancy origin: a chaperon was originally a hat worn by noblemen, and it comes from a French word for a hood.
Here’s another French word, found in English since around the turn of the twentieth century. If you took a limo to the prom, you probably hired a chauffeur: a professional driver, usually of a limousine. It would sound weird to call a cab driver a chauffeur, even though the job is similar. You can also use this word jokingly if you find yourself driving someone around, especially if they’re sitting in the back seat. You could sarcastically ask your friends, “So, where do you want me to chauffeur you to next?”
This type of car is defined by one trait: length. A limousine—often called a limo—is a loooooong car that’s also quite expensive and fancy-schmancy. Rich people, including CEOs, actors, musicians, and athletes, tool around town in limousines. A limo is also part of prom tradition, and friends often chip in for a limo to share on prom night. For one magical evening, high schools kids can feel like rich jerks. Excuse me, that was disrespectful: special rich jerks.
Proms feature a mix of old and new music, but it’s a good bet that all proms from the 1970s until the umpty-70s will include a little disco: a type of catchy, bass-propelled music that made bands such as ABBA and the Bee Gees rich enough to afford limousines for their whole family, even the pets. Many folks have claimed to despise disco since the moment it arrived—or to only enjoy it ironically, like a so-bad-it’s-great horror movie. But disco is tough to dislike when you’re on the dance floor.
Take heart! Even if your true beloved wouldn’t touch your face with a high-speed dodge ball, you can still have the pleasure of knowing more words than the prom king or queen. Unless they’re also good at words, in which case, there’s always next year.
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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