The Black History Behind Your Favorite Slang

illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Cultural appropriation is easy to spot when it’s actually on someone’s body. If a white person adorns themselves in clothing, accessories, or styles that have strong roots in other non-white cultures, we are on call almost immediately to point out their egregious error(s). But what about appropriation that comes from people’s bodies? Or their mouths, to be specific?
For some reason, language seems to be fair game the piece of culture that anyone can extract at will. Unless someone is using an actual racial slur, there are never any consequences for white people using Black terminology freely. I’ve seen a full analysis of how Kylie Jenner ripped her style off of a Black girl, and who that Black girl might be. But I haven’t seen a single think piece about her Snapchat handle being “kylizzlemynizzl.” For those of you too young to know, “my nizzle” is Snoop Dogg’s popularized version of “my n---a.” In the same breath that someone will say “actually, Kim Kardashian didn’t start that trend…” they’ll call a new Selena Gomez song lit. I never thought I would hear myself say this but: where is the outrage?
Borrowing lingo from Black folks probably happens so easily because everyone is constantly sharing our language with the world on social media. For all of my decent grammar and commas on this website, my personal tweets sometimes require a translator for anyone who is not Black and from the Southside of Chicago. But with enough retweets, even my regionally specific slang can become a “thing.” It’s a phenomenon that definitely make me feel some type of way, but one that doesn’t have an end in sight.
Words have histories. It seems only right that you’re going to insist on using them, you should know what that history is.
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When Cash Money founder and former rapper Birdman showed up to the popular radio show The Breakfast Club, he had an agenda. He wanted the three hosts (pronounced in Birdman fashion as 'tree') to essentially be a little nicer when talking about him. I'm paraphrasing of course. His exact words were "Put some respek on my name. When ya'll saying my name, put some respek on it." As you might imagine, he meant respect. And another viral slang term was born.
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First of all, bae is not an acronym. I don’t care what your younger sibling told you. I don’t care what says.

Bae is a direct result of African American vernacular. Consider how “baby” was shortened to “babe” as a pet name for one’s lover. Black folks, most likely from the South of the Midwest, took it a step further and completely got rid of the second consonant sound, creating bae. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the same way you may have grown up hearing couples saying “Hi, honey!” I heard “What’s goin on, bae?” on a pretty regular basis.
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While I’m sometimes annoyed with how quickly Black culture is exported to the masses on social media, even I could acknowledge that the world needed to know Kayla Newman, also known as Peaches. Her viral Vine loop, where she declared that she was “in dis bitch” and about to “get cronk (crunk)” because her eyebrows were “on fleek” was definitive proof that she coined the term. Since then, it has become it's own adjective, fleeky and dropped in numerous songs.

I, like Peaches, am from Chicago and would also like to add some context. Fleek is most likely an evolved term for ‘flick’ or ‘flickin.’ This Chicago slang means that something looks nice. For example I saw Sesali’s new shoes. They flickin. The term was more popular when I was younger, which was ages ago.
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The gag is...
Keke Palmer has doomed this phrase with her overuse of it on every platform. It’s especially tragic since the word was never hers, to begin with.

The gag is that this phrase belongs to Black queer subcultures. Specifically, Black trans women and drag queens in the gay ballroom scene used the word to describe a particularly harsh or scandalous truth.
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Yes, 'plug' can be used as a verb to talk about the act of publicizing or advertising something. Hence the reason party flyers are often called pluggers.

But when used as a noun, it has a completely different meaning. The plug is the person who is able to acquire goods or services with relative ease. Your friend that works for an airline and always gets you discounted tickets is the flight plug. Your homie that works at Chipotle and always gets it for free is also the plug.

But the history of the word in this context comes from trap culture. The plug is the person at the top of the chain (or someone with a direct line of contact with that person) who supplies drugs/guns to be distributed.
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Contrary to misinterpretations, finesse does not mean smoothing things out or looking nice. As a slang term, finesse is a verb which means to talk someone into giving up goods or services in your favor. Last week, I finessed a direct flight to Los Angeles instead of having to make two layovers.

It’s another word with ties to trap culture.

So now that you know better, do better.

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