'Bageling' Means Many Things — Not All of Them Fit for Family Paper

50 Shades of Meaning for a Word That Used To Have One

A Fine Distinction: These are bagels. And they have just about nothing to do with the many definitions of bageling.
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A Fine Distinction: These are bagels. And they have just about nothing to do with the many definitions of bageling.

By Philologos

Published October 13, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
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This comes from the Forward’s Naomi Zeveloff:

“I just did a story it appeared in this newspaper’s October 4 issue on how Chabadniks figure out who is Jewish during their Sukkot street outreach. One of them described ‘bageling’ for me, by which he meant the process by which one Jew on the street subtly recognizes another and the two share a moment together. The piece has drummed up a lot of discussion on the Web about the roots of the term ‘bageling,’ which I understand is also a word used to describe anal sex. Maybe you’d want to take it on in your column?”

“Bageling” is a slang word that has taken off in recent years, proliferating geographically and semantically. Presumably this has something to do with the proliferation of the bagel itself, a food that was once, until 50 or so years ago, a distinctively Jewish one of exacting requirements: the classic Jewish bagel has a hard, smooth, glossy, light-brown exterior and a white, plain-tasting, jaw-achingly tough-to-chew interior.

Today, of course, what passes for a bagel can be practically anything as long as it has a hole in the middle (a lumpy-crusted cakey crumb bagel, for example, or an effortlessly masticated honey whole-wheat bagel, or a spinach-and-cheese bagel flavored like a quiche), and the verb “to bagel,” it would seem, can mean practically anything, too — especially if it’s something weird. This includes:

  • To shut out an opponent in an athletic contest like tennis or baseball. This is the oldest slang use of “to bagel” attested to, and it may have originated with the old stadium scoreboards on which the zeros, with their white rims and black insides, were manually slipped into place after a scoreless inning, like a bagel onto a plate.

  • To go out with friends for bagels or attend a bagel brunch at someone’s home.

  • To pelt pedestrians with bagels from a moving vehicle. (If you don’t believe me, you can check this out on the Internet’s Urban Dictionary.)

  • To decorate or deface someone’s yard or lawn with bagels. This is apparently an offshoot of a custom known as “TPing,” in which one does the same with toilet paper. TP-like bageling was awarded the “best new prank” of the year prize by The Austin Chronicle in 2004. The things they do in Texas!


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