Sep 29, 2023  |  
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Richard Moorhead, The Western Journal

NextImg:Oxford Is Creating an 'African American Dictionary,' and the First 10 Words Were Just Announced

One of the world’s major printers of English-language dictionaries is preparing a volume for language associated with African Americans.

The Oxford Dictionary of African American English aims to define 1,000 terms by March 2025 — potentially educating a broader audience on the meaning of English terms associated with the ethnic group.

Oxford University Press provided 10 words to The New York Times in a preview of the project.

Harvard University academic Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. has been appointed as editor-in-chief of the project.

The dictionary includes some words that could be referred to as slang, others that reference events in black history, and other terms that allude to music and expression in black culture.

Americans of all races might recognize some of the terms from rap music.

“Grill” is defined as “a removable or permanent dental overlay, typically made of silver, gold or another metal and often inset with gemstones, which is worn as jewelry.”

“Bussin” is defined as an adjective meaning “tasty or delicious” or alternatively “busy, crowded or lively.”

Other words appear more antiquated, referencing events that precede the abolition of slavery in the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

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The term “cakewalk,” used to describe a easy task, is defined as one with its origins from slavery.

“A contest in which black people would perform a stylized walk in pairs, typically judged by a plantation owner,” the term is defined.

Phrases that are defined include “Promised Land” (a place where people can find freedom), “Aunt Hagar’s children” (a biblical phrase used to describe black people), and “ring shout” (a circular group dance with spiritual connotations).

Others are “pat” (to tap one’s foot), “old school” (characterstic of early hip-hop), “kitchen” (black hair at the base of the neck), and “chitterlings” (a dish of pig intestines).

The dictionary’s authors will accept suggestions from the public for consideration.

It’s unclear if the project’s definitions will be published in the form of a printed dictionary.

Gates is predicting the project will add to the depth of the English language.

“That is the best of both worlds, because we want to show how black English is part of the larger of Englishes, as they say, spoken around the world.”

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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