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Criminal: The Meaning of 420

The Oxford English Dictionary recently added the phrase 420 to its pages. This week's Criminal podcast investigates the origin of the word. Host Phoebe Judge interviewed the dictionary editor charged with finding the word's history and the two men who claim they invented the phrase.
Many people know that 420 has something to do with marijuana. But there are a number of stories about where the phrase comes from -- that it's Bob Marley's birthday, or a police code for pot or that it is the number of chemical compounds in THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis.

Katherine Connor Martin from the Oxford University Press set out to find the real story behind it for its dictionary entry.

"This is actually a particularly good example of a word to add to OED because it's widely known, but there's a lot of misinformation about it," said Connor Martin.

The real story involves two friends, Steve Capper and Dave Reddix, who bonded over smoking pot in high school during the early 1970's. One day, they heard about a field of marijuana near a Coast Guard base where they were told they could pick as much as they wanted. With a map in hand, they went searching after school for the magical field of marijuana. Every day, they met under a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20.

"And we'd remind each other in the hallway that we were going to meet at Louis at 4:20. So we'd look each other as we passed by and we'd go, '4:20 Louis.' You always smiled when you said it, it was kind of a knowing smile. But eventually the Louis dropped," Capper said.

You can find out more about the 420 origin story and the two friends' search for their dream field of pot on this week's episode of Criminal.

Criminal is recorded at WUNC.

Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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