The writers of HBO’s TV series Succession do a great job of depicting a privileged, smart and well-travelled family, each despicable in their own way. Since the Roy family wealth comes from a media empire, main characters all have an excellent command of English (and sometimes other languages). Not only that, but each the dialogue of each character sounds distinctive.
The patriarch is renowned for his f-bombs. Logan has a mean-spirited, sexually explicit vocabulary. Connor sounds out-of-touch. Tom seems to have a British background somewhere. Shiv is well-read in liberal politics as well as fully-versed in conservative ones. She sees ironies and complexities (though sometimes chooses not to).
If you’re a fan of learning new words, portmanteaus and puns, you may find yourself searching the internet via your phone while watching Succession. Some words are specific to the show. Some are mostly out of use (though Succession may have brought them back for a spell.) Others seem to come out of a young person who has spent too much time in seedy night clubs, or Urban Dictionary.
A number of unfamiliar words are well-known in the corporate world, but carry different meanings for the rest of us.
WORDS FROM SUCCESSION
avarice: extreme greed for wealth or material gain.
bagatelle: a game in which small balls are hit and then allowed to roll down a sloping board on which there are holes, each numbered with the score achieved if a ball goes into it, with pins acting as obstructions. From that, a bagatelle also refers to something too trivial to be worth consideration.
bear hug: Normally this refers to a tight, big hug of love. But it’s also a wrestling move. And the corporate world takes from the wrestling world, of course. This is where a business acquires another company at a price way below its market valuation.
Calamari c*ck ring: an insult, based on the idea that a c*ck ring made of Calamari isn’t very effective at doing its job.
California Raisin: a slang term that of which is given to used in place of or to refer to an elderly clit. But in the 1990s, when the adult characters of Succession were children and young adults, The California Raisins were a fictional rhythm and blues animated musical group of anthropomorphised raisins.
Clamato: a commercial drink which is basically a blend of tomato juice and clam juice. Actually made of reconstituted tomato juice concentrate and sugar, which is flavoured with spices, dried clam broth, and MSG.
Closed-loop system: In engineering, a closed-loop system refers to electro-mechanical control systems that incorporate feedback in their own operation, like cruise control. However, Tom is referring to a sex act involving not losing sperm from his body.
Consigliere: a member of a Mafia family who serves as an adviser to the leader and resolves disputes within the family.
Cortado: an espresso coffee with a small amount of steamed milk
D*ck pickler: Shiv calls Roman a d*ck pickler because of his d*ck pic debacle.
D*ck-morris: Siobhan and Tom decide that a business plan for Waystar is to “Dick Morris things”. Dick Morris was Bill Clinton’s political consultant for twenty years. He worked as a Republican strategist before joining the Clinton administration. He is said to have a lot of power over Bill Clinton during his presidency. However, as campaign manager during the 1996 presidential campaign for re-election he had to be let go because he had solicited a sex worker (not the problem) and allowed her to listen in on conversations Dick was having with Bill (the problem). He’s gone on to write books and now he’s a vocal critic of the Clintons. He’s had issues paying his taxes.
Dickey: short for dickey dirt, which is rhyming slang for shirt. “Logan is gonna fire a million poisonous spiders down your dickey.” (Tom to Greg on the phone.)
Epiphenomenal: An epiphenomenon is a secondary phenomenon that occurs alongside or in parallel to a primary phenomenon.
Firecrotch: having (or assumed to have) red pubic hair
Full beast: Logan shouts in exasperation, “We’ll f**in beast em. We’ll go full f**king beast!”
Funge me: This episode aired before the NFT craze of 2021, but the word ‘fungible’ means flexible, exchangeable and easily substituted. Logan accuses Rhea of being “fungible as f**k,” to which she responds, “Fine then, funge me. Go ahead, try.”
Histrionic: excessively theatrical in style
Hyper-decant: You might be wondering if this is a real word, or simply Connor’s pretentious idiolect, designed by writers to mock the one percenters. “I hyperdecant. You don’t hyperdecant? You’re just doing regular decanting?” Even if Connor is partly mocking himself, it is still a pretentious joke. (Decanting refers to transferring liquid from one receptacle to another.) However, ‘hyper decanting’ is a real thing, and refers to putting wine in a blender. Not everyone agrees this improves wine, but it’s supposed to ‘soften the tannins’.
IBM it: At the beginning of Season Two (Episode 1), Shiv and Roman explain their philosophies for Waystar: Scooby-doo it and IBM it. IBM (nickname “Big Blue”) was founded way back in 1911 and is most famous to contemporary viewers as the company which pioneered the multipurpose microcomputer in the 1980s. This is a highly-successful company which keeps getting into new things as new technologies appear on the horizon, starting out in record-keeping and measuring systems, later moving into floppy disks, magnetic stripe cards, UPC barcodes…
Imaginary cat: “That is an imaginary cat. Now could you please f**k off?” (Roman explains to Kendall that whatever crap their father has bust out with is a UTI-induced delusion.) Probably comes from the famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment which illustrates the paradox of quantum superposition. Basically, if you place a cat and something that could kill the cat (a radioactive atom) in a box and sealed it, you would not know if the cat was dead or alive until you opened the box, so that until the box was opened, the cat was (in a sense) both “dead and alive”.
Internecine: Internecine meant “deadly” when it appeared in English (from Latin) in the early 17th century, but when Samuel Johnson entered it in his dictionary almost a century later, he was apparently misled by “inter-” and defined the word as “endeavouring mutual destruction.” Johnson’s definition was carried into later dictionaries, and before long his sense was the dominant meaning of the word. “Internecine” developed the association with internal group conflict in the 20th century, and that’s the most common sense today.
Intransigent: unwilling or refusing to change one’s views or to agree about something.
Jejune: naïve, simplistic and superficial
Juice: Energy, power, anything good. “The world is wobbling here. Does no one understand what the f**k is happening? I’m losing juice.” (Logan yells at his team when they question what move he’d like to make next.)
Meat puppet: “How do I know he’s not your meat puppet?” Roman asks Sandi, regarding his inability to make decisions in his incapacitated state. Normally we’d just say ‘puppet’ but Roman likes to make things a little more gruesome.
Meep meep: An onomatopoeic sound mimicking a high-pitched whiny voice by a helpless creature such as a kitten. “Tell dad, meep meep.” (Kendall to Logan’s assistant)
Memage: Greg coins the phrase “good meme-age”, putting a good spin on how “negative stuff does tend to stick in the mind” (but at least people remember you). (Think mileage, but for something said on social media.)
Meretricious: apparently attractive but with no real value:
Misadventure, death by: a legal term. Death is caused by a person accidentally while performing a legal act without negligence or intent to harm.
Normcore: a style of dressing that involves the deliberate choice of unremarkable or unfashionable casual clothes.
Nuthouse: an ableist term which refers to a home or hospital for people with mental illnesses.
Odin of Codin: This is the nickname Kendall gives Lukas Matsson. Odin is a Norse god of wisdom, death, battle magic and other things. He’s neither fully good or evil.
Ortolan: This one is explained on the screen. (Tom explains to Greg.) “a deep-fried songbird, eaten whole.” For centuries the ortolan was a French cuisine delicacy. They were killed by drowning them in a type of brandy. People eat them by placing a napkin over their head and eyes. (Perhaps to shield their act from God, perhaps so they can better enjoy the experience.) As an act of animal cruelty, it is illegal to eat these birds in the E.U.
Patek Philippe: An ‘understated’ brand of watch loved by Old Money. These watches are known for their accuracy, as explained by Tom: “Whenever you look at it, it tells you exactly how rich you are.” Tom gives the watch to Logan. Later, Logan has his bodyguard/fixer, Colin, give it to the family along with an NDA to sign.
Pique: a feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, especially to one’s pride.
Pop-tart: rhyming slang for fart. “Oh, f**k no, this will make him s**t his pop-tarts.” (Roman talking about his dad.) Roman seems to be using the word to mean his dad will shart his pants.
Popinjay: a vain or conceited person, especially one who dresses or behaves extravagantly and talks a lot. (Before that, the word referred to a parrot.)
Pusillanimous: meaning ‘weak-willed and cowardly’, comes from the Latin pusillus, ‘weak’, and animus, ‘spirit’. It’s a good word to hurl at political opponents. Stewy Hosseini uses it on Kendall SE02 E01.
Rancour: bitterness or resentfulness, especially when long standing.
Reified: To reify is to make something abstract more concrete or real.
Scooby-doo it: At the beginning of Season Two (Episode 1), Shiv and Roman explain their philosophies for Waystar: Scooby-doo it and IBM it. To “Scooby-doo” in the context of means to dress up as theme park ghosts and scare them off (‘them’ meaning Sandy and Stewy).
Shiv: The character Shiv (Siobhan Roy) has a symbolic nickname. To shiv someone is to stab them with a short, sharp razor or knife. Also refers to the razor or knife itseilf.
Silica mud treatment: a beauty treatment which is supposed to draw out impurities in the skin as it deep-cleans and clarifies.
Slime puppy: This line was improvised by actor J. Smith-Cameron who plays Gerri. She says she doesn’t know what it means, but in the show it refers to Roman and means a spoilt brat or over-excited little boy, something like that. “I’m proud of slime puppy. It’s my contribution to American literature.” — J. Smith-Cameron.
Snake linguini: The title of SE3, E02. Linguine (or linguini with an i) is a long, flat noodle (flat spaghetti, basically). It means ‘little tongues’ in Italian. It looks nothing like a human tongue, but does look a little like a snake’s tongue. So snakes and linguini were already associated before the scriptwriters gave the line ‘snake linguini’ to Gerri, warning Roman that their plan to knock Roman out of power would be ‘snake linguini’, full of conflicting loyalties and entanglements.
Soy boy: “Some Guy with an undercut just called me ‘soy boy.’” (Greg to Tom at a party). Soy boy is a pejorative term sometimes used in online communities to describe men perceived to be lacking masculine characteristics, namely because their politics are liberal. The idea comes from health messaging which warns people, especially men, to avoid too much soy as soy contains phytoestrogens (estrogen from plants). Estrogen is of course associated with women, so the idea is that a man with liberal politics has eaten too much soy.
Squatch: A misogynistic term to describe a person with a vulva who hasn’t removed body hair. The word derives from the mythical beast the Sasquatch. “Did you ask for mommy’s permission for the use of squatch?” Roman asks Kendall after walking through a tunnel which he says resembles their mother’s nether region.
Stakhnovite: a worker in the former Soviet Union who was exceptionally hard-working and productive. Now refers more broadly to an exceptionally hard-working or zealous person.
Sweaty spaghetti: Kendall says to Frank on the phone: “There he is, the Panic Meister cooking up his sweaty spaghetti.” This roast works at multiple levels, because ‘sweating’ is a cooking term. A chef cooks aromatic veggies in a relatively small amount of oil and cook them over low heat. This draws out the moisture, cooks them down so they are soft and prevents them from burning. Spaghetti is of course a foodstuff, but also means an embarrassing act, general awkwardness or faux pas. If one commits such an act, it is called “dropping” the spaghetti.
Tarry: “I have of late decided not to tarry too much with hope.” (Tom talking to Kendall.) To tarry means to linger in expectation.
Toilet wine: Toilet wine is just another name for pruno, or prison wine. It’s alcohol made by prisoners that is often hidden in toilet tanks. Tom tells Shiv as he contemplates jail time for himself, “I got deep into the prison blogs about toilet wine.”
Trebuchet: an instrument or machine that is used in warfare, such as a battering ram, catapult, artillery piece, etc. It’s a subcategory of catapult which uses a counterweight to create the force of the fling.
Whirly-bird: slang term for a helicopter. A whirlybird is one of those things kids get at the fair, aka pinwheels, or anything that spins for attention e.g. a comical weathervane. The Roy family helicopter is also called a “Roycopter”.
White-shoe: In an American legal context it refers to a company (usually a bank or law firm) which is run by members of the Ivy league or WASP elite. (WASP meaning a wealthy Anglo-Saxon protestant.) Here in Australia we think of wealthy business people in 1980s Queensland. They are politically conservative, showy and aggressively commercial. The term comes from the white buck oxfords popular among Ivy League students in the 1950s. Although Succession may have brought it back, this term is old-fashioned, partly because the shoes are no longer worn, and partly because many white-shoe firms were acquired by bigger rivals and have now gone out of business.
Wonk: a person who takes an enthusiastic or excessive interest in the specialized details of a particular subject or field, especially political policy.
Those are words from the show, but a fan vocabulary has popped up around the show. Here are a few examples, some of the new, some not:
Con-head: A fan who would love Connor Roy for President.
F*ck off fund: A term used in the show to refer to a secret stash of money kept by one of the characters as a form of financial independence or escape plan.
Princeling: A term used to describe a privileged and entitled young person, often used to mock or criticize the Roy siblings’ behavior.
Roycean: A term used to describe something extravagant, opulent, or excessively luxurious, often associated with the Roy family’s lifestyle.