Columnist coined beatnik



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Description: Chronicle columnist Herb Caen coined the word "beatnik" on April 2, 1958, six months after the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite into space. Look magazine, preparing a picture spread on S.F.'s beat generation (oh, no, not AGAIN!), read an item in Caen's April 2 column, hosted a party in a No. Caen says he made fun of the beats because they took themselves so seriously. A poster from the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, a beat hangout, announced: "We feature separate toilet facilities for HERB CAEN."

Chronicle columnist Herb Caen coined the word "beatnik" on April 2, 1958, six months after the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite into space.

"Look magazine, preparing a picture spread on S.F.'s beat generation (oh, no, not AGAIN!)," read an item in Caen's April 2 column, "hosted a party in a No. Beach house for 50 beatniks, and by the time word got around the sour grapevine, over 250 bearded cats and kits were on hand, slopping up Mike Cowles ' free booze. They're only beat, y'know, when it comes to work."

Beatnik must have been spinning around in his subconscious, Caen says, "and it just came out. I fell into it. To my amazement, it caught on immediately. The Examiner had a headline the next day about a beatnik murder.

"I ran into (Jack) Kerouac that night at El Matador. He was mad. He said, 'You're putting us down and making us sound like jerks. I hate it. Stop using it.' And onward into the night."

Caen says he "made fun of the beats because they took themselves so seriously. (Allen) Ginsberg was all right. I had a drink with him one night at Vesuvio and we walked across the street to the Tosca. He was barefoot. The uptight Italian who owned the place kicked him out. 'But I'm Allen Ginsberg !' he shouted. The guy had never heard of him."

The beats had a laugh or two on Caen. A poster from the Co-Existence Bagel Shop. a beat hangout, announced: "We feature separate toilet facilities for HERB CAEN."

Caen laughs about the footnote to "beatnik" in Norman Mailer 's "Advertisements for Myself": "A word coined by an idiot columnist in San Francisco."






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