Say Dat! 10 Black Words That Went Mainstream

November 20, 2012  |  
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A couple of months ago, I was watching an interview with Michaela Angela Davis. In it, she discussed the images of black women and how black women specifically, but black people in general advance the culture–as in pop culture. When you look at the history of American music, you need look no further than Jazz and then Hip Hop to see that this is true. But aside from music, blacks have contributed to the national lexicon as well. If you don’t believe me, check out the following words.



This word, referring to the way light hits flashy, often gaudy, jewelry, was first made popular in 1999 when BG and the Cash Money Millionaires  released a song by the name of “Bling Bling.” When you think about it, that’s pretty clever. This ideophone, a word or sound(s) that describes a complete idea, undoubtedly led to the word’s popularity and staying power. Before you knew it every other rapper was using the phrase and then it really took off when mainstream artists started saying it. Eventually it was added to the  Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 2002 and the Merriam Webster dictionary in 2006. Politician and two-time presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney even used it in 2008, at a campaign event.

In researching this story, I actually forgot how great “Bling Bling” was, so just in case you need a refresher course as well, here’s the video that started it all.


Say what you want about Beyoncé, but the girl influences pop culture. If you happened to catch her Live at Roseland concert, you heard her explain how she came up with the concept for the song on a long flight to Japan. She says she was listening to Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” and said the guitar riff reminded her of a voluptuous woman shaking something. And what shakes more than the booty?! So from there “Bootylicious” was born. Now, that’s Beyoncé’s version of events. Rob Fusari, who co-wrote the song along with Beyoncé and Falonte Moore says that’s not exactly how things went down. He claims he wanted to build a song with an “Eye of The Tiger” sample but couldn’t find the track, and settled on “Edge of Seventeen” instead. We’ll probably never know the real story but Bey does have a history of embellishing the role she plays in creating her music. Either way, fortunately for all parties involved the song became a massive hit. And the term “bootylicious” became so popular that it too was added to the dictionary in 2004.


You would think that this word started with the African American/Hip Hop community; but in actuality, it was first used in the 15th century. Who knew?! Then later, much later made popular in the Hip Hop community as a greeting or a way to accent a word or thought. And probably most significantly, there was the MTV show, “Yo MTV Raps.” And you know anytime a word is attached to Hip Hop, it’s automatically cool. Former President, George Bush even used the word when addressing Prime Minister Tony Blair.


A combination of the three words, “what” “is” and “up” were all mashed into one and often spoken in the black community to determine how a particular individual was feeling, what they were doing or to understand a certain situation. I don’t know about you but I rarely, if ever, heard white people using it, unless they were going out of their way to imitate black folk. But all of that changed with one Budweiser commercial. You may remember that that commercial was a huge moment in pop culture. People from all types of cultures and backgrounds were walking around with their tongues out. And the “Wassup” guys went on to gain immense popularity, including several more commercials. Relive the iconic moment below. It’s still classic.


A shortened version of the real word, holler, holla took on a couple of different meanings. These days it’s a greeting, it’s a man trying to step to you on the street and it’s an in depth conversation that needs to be had–like right now, (i.e. Lemme holla at you.) I don’t know when it was shortened or when it became mainstream; I just know that every time I hear it, I can literally picture Ja Rule jumping around in his video “Holla Holla” back in 1999. From there it took off. There was Holla Back, Holla at cha Boy, Holla At Me etc. Within the past couple of years, I’ve been surprised to hear white women using the phrase, in form of celebration. Thing is, they keep the “er” at the end.



This word seems ancient these days, right? But despite the fact that it’s been used since…forever to express a bit of a disillusioned or confused state, I know that I, for one, am still a fan. Initially, the mainstream received this word mockingly. But slowly, I began to hear it used in all seriousness. I know I’ve had teachers use the word during class.


Of all the words on this list, this one, swag, annoys me the most. Not because it’s a bad word, just that it’s been overused to the point of lameness. Swag, a shortened version and slight variation of the real word “swagger,” is used to describe a person’s charisma, the impressive way they carry themselves, their je ne sais quoi. But the masses have taken it way too far. In fact, in one of Urban Dictionary’s  more humorous definitions, you’ll find this description: “The most used word in the whole f–king universe. Douche bags use it, your kids use it, your mail man uses it, and your f–king dog uses it.”  Now, people use it almost like they use a period. Things have truly gotten out of hand.

The N Word

I’m sure some of you are going to call me a hypocrite but while I use “the n word” from time to time, with friends and family members who aren’t offended by it; I hate, absolutely hate, to hear people of other races using the word. But maybe, people, and white people in particular, feel as if they’ll be missing something if they can’t rap every word to their favorite song or if they can’t address their “black friend” with this customary greeting. Either way this ever present word is increasingly being inappropriately used.


I’m not even sure why this wanksta, a fake or wack gangster, was a good word to introduce into the lexicon. But perhaps he knew something I didn’t because this word took off in the mainstream community. Is it safe to say that the only black person who used it in seriousness was 50? It always seemed the epitome of lame to me.

Booty Call

The booty call, long before it ever had a name, was a universal phenomenon. Just because blacks were the first ones to properly identify it, we’ll take the credit for not only the word but the subsequently ratchet movie bearing the same name.


Which other black words went mainstream?

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