The Awesome Democracy Of Words

I'm starting to take to "refudiate." It puts me in the mind of that great Mobb Deep line, "My gun-shots will make you levitate." or Rakim's "Hit em at point-blank range and watch em radiate." There's something extra about the word. Plus it blends nicely with my whole notion of language as most expressive when it's organic and democratic. 


The whole subject got me thinking of my favorite slang. I think the verb "to son" has to be up there. To put someone "on blast" is a good one. Kool G Rap once referred to his gun as "an organ-shifter"--beautiful double entendre there. 

I'm a sucker for understatement. One of my son's football coaches once told him (the kid was a defensive end) that if was where he needed to be, the opposing lineman would "be forced to address him."  But probably my favorite innovation is the urban invocation of "to see." As in, "He don't want to see me." Or, taking it back to 88, "Tell him, after class, that I'ma see him."

Somewhat related, here's a great episode of Radiolab dealing in the connection between language and thought. It's pretty amazing. I did not realize that Shakespeare invented so many damn words. Given my current project, it was really inspiring.

One last phrase. In the antebellum South, unrefined garments, or homespun, were often called "Negro cloth." That's a great one.


Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In