The Hiptionary: A Survey of African American Speech Patterns with a Digest of Key Words and Phrases
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by Mahmoud El-Kati
Perfect Paperback: 202 pages
Book Review by Kam Williams
Way back in 1941, Professor Melville J. Herskovits published The Myth of the Negro Past, an exhaustive, anthropological research study which debunked the prevailing notion that Africans brought to America in chains were savages with no cultural traditions worth preserving. In fact, his seminal work proved that, quite to the contrary, black folks arrived with a rich heritage which remained readily reflected in the many Africanisms which had somehow survived the Middle Passage and centuries-long ordeal of slavery and subjugation.
Herskovits' findings are critical in the debate about the use of Ebonics, which many simply misread as ungrammatical English in need of correction while others recognize the so-called ’slanguage’ as the product of the clash of African and European languages. Regardless, one thing we can all agree on is that blacks have made significant artistic contributions to America in an ongoing fashion, and one way this is reflected is in all the colorful words and phrases which they have coined generation after generation.
In The Hiptionary, Mahmoud El-Kati, Professor Emeritus in American History at Maclester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, legitimizes black dialect with alphabetical lists of both vocabulary words and phrases straight from the vernacular. His informative text also devotes a considerable amount of space to explaining the derivation of African-American speech patterns, thereby making the most of a teachable moment.
Perusing what is essentially a black dictionary, I was struck by how many different entries there were for buttocks (badunkadunk, boody, booty. boom-boom, junk in the trunk and stacked), Marijuana (blunt, bud, dope, grass, joint, pot and reefer), hairstyles (flattop, process, conk, do and Geri curl), coolness (copacetic, fresh, funky, groovy, hip, swinging and solid) and white people (Chuck, grey, honky, Mr. Charlie, ofay, peckawood, The Man and whitey).
Obviously, a lot of these terms now sound antiquated, having long since entered the mainstream and been replaced by variations on the theme intended to enable African-American culture to remain unique by frequently refreshing itself. Kudos to Professor El-Kati for crafting an endlessly entertaining and informative treatise which simultaneously provides a bonus service by helping some of us squares update our linguistically-challenged lexicons with a little fresh swag.
You feelin’ me, dog?