April 18, 2011

The crossover of African American slang

A lot of slang, and even standard English, was adopted from the black community by Americans at large.   The verbs “bad-mouth” and “tote” (carry) may even originate in African languages. 

The thorough dissemination of black slang among the entire population, from rap music or television I think, is clear even in my temporary home in northern Vermont (a really WHITE place): 

This is an ad for the New England ice cream and (greasy!!) food chain Friendly’s.  Even in the great white north, we’re all supposed to recognize this slang and get the joke—the advertiser isn’t even concerned that a sense of racial separateness might make us uncomfortable. 

“Chill” in its sense of "relax" is, according to J. E. Lighter’s Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994), late 1970s black slang that came into its own in the ’80s; “peeps” means one’s people—relatives or close friends, according to Geneva Smithson, Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (2000).  The phrase in the ad is a pretty familiar one to me, although I can't cite it right now.

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