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Hip Hoptionary

Posted Mar 31 2006

A book that attempts to document hip-hop slang? I have to admit, I was skeptical.

A book that attempts to document hip-hop slang? I have to admit, I was skeptical. After all, how can anyone document something that changes daily and has countless nuances depending on your locality, gender, race, or countless other factors? But Westbrook has done an admirable job, dividing the book into two parts: one defining hip-hop terms to standard English, and another matching up standard English with hip-hop speak. Do you want to know what to call “an irresponsible female?” The Hip Hoptionary says “pigeon.” Want to know who “Earl” is? The good book says it’s another way to say “vomit.” Not only does Westbrook cover various regions of the U.S., including the Midwest, he also delves into Europe and the Caribbean.

Granted, there are some omissions and words that have multiple meanings which aren’t reflected in the book, but not a glaring amount considering the monumental task Westbrook embarked upon. He himself acknowledges that he knows he couldn’t cover everything and that he’s open to suggestions for the next volume. (see contact info below) On the more political tip, it's interesting which words are labeled offensive (e.g. chinx and peckerwood) and others that are not (e.g. b*tch or caveman). Drop him a line with your thoughts on the wide interpretations of these words. He seems to be pretty open to dialogue.

In additions to slang, he also includes descriptions of performers such as Grandmaster Flash and listings of hip-hop magazines, movies, and books. It’s not a comprehensive list, but it gets newbies pointed in the right direction. This is a fun book and will come in handy for those even vaguely interested in hip-hop or popular culture. I had fun with it, including his definition of “the runs:” liquid waste that forces one to run as opposed to walk to the bathroom or else…

But as fun as this book is, if you need it to be down, you’re trying way too hard and missing the point. Language, particularly in this case, represents identity and reflects certain values and resistance to outside forces. Once the mainstream latches onto hip-hop words, the hip-hop community has probably moved onto something else. The whole point is defining who’s an “outsider” and who’s an “insider.” If you’re merely researching the “cool” words as opposed to their origin and significance, you probably are an outsider. That’s not necessarily a negative. Just be mindful. Of course, no one is going to know all of these words, but this book shouldn't be your source as to what's the "proper usage" of a word and you'll sound corny as a mug if you start reading from it verbatim. Make no mistake though. This book is important in helping to preserve a culture that has influenced the world over. From fashion, to politics, to the business world, hip-hop’s history and impact deserves to be documented.

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