If you’re a descendant of enslaved Africans, you know for a fact that the very language you speak is working against you.
There are harshly negative connotations associated with the word “black”, the word “Africa”, even the word “slave”, which was originally introduced into world vernacular to describe those central, Germanic or “Slavic” Europeans conscripted into servitude by the Roman Empire and others, now brings to mind exclusively those that formerly worked these shores for free.
So it’s against this backdrop that whenever we see a Black person in some way effect, change or create language, we should cheer.
Well, I was watching 80’s MC Special Ed on New York 1 at Planet Fitness on Sunday. I was in Planet Fitness so, of course, the volume was muted, but I was reading along with the interview that Dean Meminger was conducting and “The Dream“s son was asking Ed if he preferred to be referred to as a “classic” or an “old-school” artist.
I read Ed saying that he didn’t mind which of the two he was called, as long as the caller “put some respek on his name”. Of course, it being New York 1, they spelled “respect” correctly, but anyone who knew the context of the phrase – which, by now, is just about everybody simultaneously alive and on social media – knows that the original usage, the phonetic usage and the correct usage all call for the ‘k’ ending.
And I probably more than anybody else alive cringed and waived my fist in disgust at my computer screen as Birdman went up to Power 105 that fine day and had a meltdown of Enron proportions.
And of all his preposterous admonishments and declarations, the ones that seemed to stand out for their sheer absurdity were the directives that from now on, the show’s hosts were to “put some respek on my name” and, in case they didn’t comprehend that, he rephrased himself adding, “when you say my name, put some respek on it”.
The English language changed overnight.
The very next day, Mark Jackson, NBA court-side analyst urged during a playoff game that “when you say the (Golden State) Warriors, put some respek on their name.”
Businessman that he is, Birdman wasted no time commercializing the usage and spelling of his new creation.
And this isn’t, of course, to suggest that Black Americans have never or even that we very rarely affect American English.
Martin Lawrence, though his legendary sitcom Martin gave us “don’t go there”, “you go, girl!“, “you so crazy!” and “it’s all good.”
Jay Z doubled up by not only popularizing the usage of the term “swagger” with it’s appearance on his 2001 album The Blueprint, but shortened it (and popularizing the shortened use) on his very next album.
The term “Hip Hop” itself is nothing more than the fourth and fifth intelligible words spoken on what is widely considered the first rap single ever recorded.
And, of course, Chris Rock not only popularized the phrase and the disgusting idea behind “tossing salads“, but also gave us a term to describe a male’s derailed romantic intentions towards a woman that has gone on to be iconic beyond all boundaries, social, economic and racial: “the friend zone“.
As we know, approximately 4000 new words enter the dictionary every year.
And being that August 2015 alone saw us adding “nuff said”, “mic drop” and “awesomesauce”, can there be any doubt that an expression that already way more popular than any of those three is headed toward canonization?
Well done, Birdman.