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"Spaz" as meaning "dork" or "suck up" seems ridiculous to people my age. A "spaz" is simply a spastic person, whether the person is a clutz, absent-minded, spacey, or looney.

I was hearing "spaz" in the early 1960s (in Detroit). As Joe says, "spaz" means (and meant) "spastic person." I didn't use the term, because it seemed cruel, even if those it referred to were not actually spastic that is, suffering from spastic paralysis.

Maria Conlon
Are we actually sure that "spaz" is a shortening of ... sibilant whereas "spaz" sounds more like a shortening of "spasm".

The pronunciation could very well have been influenced by "spasm" or "spasmodic". But the noun "spaz(z)" meaning a physically or ... originally referring to a person with spastic paralysis (from 1896) and later taking on the same pejorative sense as "spaz(z)".

Sounds right. But I'd note that when I was in my early teens kids used the word "spasmodic" as well as "spasticated" to mean "like a spaz" or even just "stupid" (as of things for example, "that test was spasticated/spasmodic").
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That site quotes from Evan Morris, "the Word Detective," but ... was relatively old hat as slang goes by the 1920's."

Moreover, 23-skidoo is earlier slang than is "old hat". Howja like them apples? John Dean Oxford

"Twenty-three skiddoo" was cool decades before "cool" was cool.

Raymond S. Wise
Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
E-mail: mplsray @ yahoo . com
Are we actually sure that "spaz" is a shortening of ... sibilant whereas "spaz" sounds more like a shortening of "spasm".

The pronunciation could very well have been influenced by "spasm" or "spasmodic". But the noun "spaz(z)" meaning a physically or ... originally referring to a person with spastic paralysis (from 1896) and later taking on the same pejorative sense as "spaz(z)".

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang has spellings with S and Z:

spas/spaz n. (1960s+) (student/school) one who is
useless, clumsy, incompetent and is thus socially
unacceptable. (Snip etymology, several lines about spastic paralysis)
spas/spaz/spas out/spaz out v. (1980s+) to act
foolishly, to lose control, to act in an
uncoordinated manner - either mentally or
physically.
spaso n. (1970s+) (Aus.) a spastic, either actual or as a derogatory term.
spastic adj. (1960s+) l. convulsed with laughter and thus incapable of coherent mental or physical
activity 2. uncoordinated, socially unacceptable
(Standard English spastic, afflicted by spastic
paralysis, characterized by sudden muscle spasm;
meaning (2) generally considered unacceptable since it is, in effect, a derog. attack on those who
suffer this paralysis)
None of this goes quite as far as your sunglasses story.

Best Donna Richoux
Moreover, 23-skidoo is earlier slang than is "old hat". Howja like them apples? John Dean Oxford

"Twenty-three skiddoo" was cool decades before "cool" was cool.

Fonzie used to wear a T-shirt with a picture of Kojak on the front and "23 Skidoo" on the back. It was brought to Earth by Mork from the planet Ork.

John Dean
Oxford
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Are we actually sure that "spaz" is a shortening of ... sibilant whereas "spaz" sounds more like a shortening of "spasm".

The pronunciation could very well have been influenced by "spasm" or "spasmodic". But the noun "spaz(z)" meaning a physically or ... originally referring to a person with spastic paralysis (from 1896) and later taking on the same pejorative sense as "spaz(z)".

So was it ever pronounced "spass"?

John Dean
Oxford
The pronunciation could very well have been influenced by "spasm" ... and later taking on the same pejorative sense as "spaz(z)".

Cassell's Dictionary of Slang has spellings with S and Z: spas/spaz n. (1960s+) (student/school) one who is useless, clumsy, incompetent and is thus socially unacceptable. (Snip etymology, several lines about spastic paralysis)

If Mr Cassell is talking BrE, he should put this derogatory usage back to the mid-1950s and extend it to other people-oriented objects, like despised schoolmasters, weedy games, and best friends' foopball(1) teams.

(1) Now Quidditch:

Paul
In bocca al Lupo!
The pronunciation could very well have been influenced by "spasm" ... and later taking on the same pejorative sense as "spaz(z)".

So was it ever pronounced "spass"?

Yes.

Paul
In bocca al Lupo!
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Are we actually sure that "spaz" is a shortening of "spastic"? Because I would have thought a shortening of "spastic" would retain the sibilant whereas "spaz" sounds more like a shortening of "spasm".

Absolutely certain. The word first started being used widely by British kids round about the time I started teaching in London (early 60s) and was used interchangeably with the full form "spastic".
Rob Bannister