African American English Dictionary gives first look at 10 words, including 'bussin' and 'old school'
Published in News & Features
A dictionary comprised of words created or redefined by Black people released a list of 10 words that will appear when the book is published in March 2025.
Topping the list is “bussin,” which is an adjective and a participle. The word, according to the definition revealed to The New York Times, can be used to describe a lively event or anything impressive. It can also describe tasty cuisine like “chitterlings,” a dish made from pig intestines.
The Oxford Dictionary of African American English will also include “old school,” or its variant “old skool” — characteristic of hip-hop or rap music born in New York City as the 1970s rolled into the ‘80s — as well as the term “kitchen,” which the book defines as “the hair at the nape of the neck.”
Harvard University African American history professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. is editing the endeavor, which he plans to grow to 1,000 definitions by its first printing.
“We are endlessly inventive with language, and we had to be,” Gates said of Black linguists. “We had to develop what literary scholars call double-voiced discourse.”
According to Gates, being able to communicate with slave owners, but also having a code only Black people would understand, was necessary for survival prior to emancipation. The 72-year-old scholar told the Times he’s working to verify the use of words his team is pulling from music lyrics, letters, periodicals and Black Twitter.
Gates recalls being a fan of dictionaries when he was an 8-year-old boy in the third grade. “I thought the dictionary was magical,” he said.
But finishing his daunting project will be no “cakewalk,” which the upcoming dictionary describes as “something that is considered easily done.” The etymology of “cakewalk” also harkens back to slavery when Black people competed for cake by performing stylized walks in pairs.
Also included on the list is “grill” (a dental overlay worn as jewelry), “pat” (a verb meaning to tap one’s foot) and “ring shout” (a ritual in which groups move in circles clapping and singing).
“Aunt Hagar’s children” — one of the book’s several terms with spiritual roots — refers to Black people collectively and is believed to be a noun inspired by Hagar in the Bible.
Rounding out the list of 10 words is “Promised Land,” which is “a place perceived to be where enslaved people and, later, African Americans more generally, can find refuge and live in freedom.”
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