Long before a word is added to the dictionary, it enters the lexicon through usage, and very often, that usage is part of a lyric. Here are the songs that introduced us to everything from stunting and scrubs to Twitter and Facebook.
First Used by: Miami U. Cheezies in "Facebook Song" (2005)
When I want you as my friend
an email to you they will send
saying that you have a friend request on Facebook
Popularized by: Brad Paisley in "Facebook Friends" (2013)
Back when Facebook was still an exclusive social club for college kids, the Miami University Cheezies, an all-male a cappella group, sang about their devotion to the site in "Facebook Song," set to the tune of the Everly Brothers' "Dream." Little did they know, they were crooning about a soon-to-be bygone era after the network would expose its antics to everybody and their grandmother... literally.
Brad Paisley's ode to "Facebook Friends" is a cautionary tale about two old flames about to rekindle. The problem is, they are both married to other people and when their online affair turns into an offline one, they could lose everything. She's "got a husband and a minivan. And this was not a part of the plan." The thing about Facebook friends is that they can show up without warning and leave just as quickly. Just as the woman is fantasizing about being with her high school sweetheart forever, he deletes his profile.
Lucky for that guy, she wasn't a part of Knife Party's crew. In 2011's "Internet Friends," the Australian duo promises "You blocked me on Facebook, and now you're going to die." But I guess with a name like Knife Party, you wouldn't expect sunshine and Candy Crush games.
First Used by: Ed O.G. and Da Bulldogs in "Bug-A-Boo" (1991)
Now this is the meanin' of a Bug-A-Boo
It's a person who's constantly BUGGIN' YOU
Popularized by: Destiny's Child in "Bug A Boo" (2006)
Legend has it that a bugaboo is a boogeyman used by parents to terrorize their children into good behavior. When Red Nichols and His Five Pennies sang about a "Bugaboo" in 1930, it was about an ominous feeling you couldn't shake (on the plus side, it made you wanna dance). Modern definitions call it a persistent fear that causes anxiety. Ed O.G. and Da Bulldogs smashed all of these explanations together and defined a bugaboo as "a person that constantly wants to be around you," someone whose presence fills you with dread. They're at the end of every phone call and on the other side of every door. They're the first to show up, uninvited, and the last to leave. In the most popular song on the subject, the bugaboos are relentless admirers who won't take a hint. They're even more powerful now that the Internet has thrown the doors of communication wide open. Destiny's Child sings in "Bug-A-Boo":
I wanna put your number on the call block
Have AOL make my emails stop
'Cuz you a bug a boo
First Used by: William DeVaughn in "Be Thankful for What You Got" (1972)
Diamond in the back, sunroof top
diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean
Popularized by: Snoop Dogg in "Gangsta Luv" (2009)
There are subtle differences between a gangster and a gangsta, particularly since the term became adopted by the Hip-Hop community. The former is more Al Capone, the latter is less a profession than a personality trait.
In musical terms, gangsta is best known as a rap genre, typically concerned with themes of violence and crime, but the first time we heard it was in a song about gratitude. William DeVaughn released his sumptuous funk song "Be Thankful for What You Got" in 1972, almost a decade before the rise of hip hop, and 20 years before "Gangsta Rap" took hold. This led to a bevy of Gangsta scenarios: we had "Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta" (Geto Boys), "Gangsta's Paradise" (Coolio), and even a little "Gangsta Lovin'" (Eve).
First Used by: Tim Berg in "Seek Bromance" (2010)
Popularized by: Ryan Higa feat. Chester See in "Bromance" (2012)
Shouldn't be ashamed or hide it
I love you in the most heterosexual way
A combination of "brother" and "romance," a bromance is a non-sexual relationship between two guys who are, by all appearances, close enough to have one. As Chester See put it, it's like "Eminem and Dr. Dre, if I loved you more I might be gay."
The word entered the vernacular so quietly that its origin is still being disputed. Some sources claim it was coined in the early '90s when Dave Carnie, editor of the skateboarding magazine Big Brother, used it to describe skate-buddies. Others point to the Broism Dictionary from Transworld SURF Magazine as proof that the word comes from surfer slang.
Several artists were inspired by the broism, including Tim Berg ("Seek Bromance"), Pulled Apart by Horses ("Bromance Ain't Dead") and In Search of Mercy ("Rad Bromance"), but one of the most memorable songs about a bromantic pairing didn't actually mention the word. On the TV show Scrubs, JD and Turk express their feelings for each other in "Guy Love." They sing about "being closer than the average man and wife," yet it's sometimes easier to hide "than explain our guy love, that's all it is. Guy love: he's mine, I'm his. There's nothing gay about it in our eyes."
First Used by: Rhett Akins in "I'll Be Right Here Lovin' You" (1998)
Saving whales, crowded jails
America On Line, Internet, E-mail
But I'll be right here loving you
Popularized by: Britney Spears in "E-Mail My Heart" (1999), J-Shin feat. T-Pain in "Send Me an Email" (2006)
"Twelve months ago, I never would have predicted that Internet usage would become completely mainstream by November 1999," marveled an E-Commerce Times writer. Back then, email was full of chain letters and desperate pleas from Nigerian princes who needed your help to reclaim their fortunes. It was also, apparently, a hub for the hearts of young pop stars. A year after Rhett Akins promised to "be right here lovin' you" despite all the general ruckus going on in the world, Britney Spears crooned "Email me back and say our love will stay alive," in "E-Mail My Heart" from her smash debut album ...Baby One More Time.
J-Shin's girlfriend took a cue from Brit and tried to win him back through a heartfelt email in "Send Me an Email." With outdated references to MySpace, a throwback to AOL's "You've got mail" alert and lyrics like "this ain't nothin' to L-O-L about," the 2006 song could just as well be "Send Me a Telegram" for how much it will make sense to young listeners in a few more years.
First Used by: Kid 'n Play in "Brother Man Get Hip" (1988)
Stop frontin' and stuntin'
Boy, you know you just better
Popularized by: 50 Cent and G-Unit "Stunt 101" (2003)
Before rappers adopted the word, a stunt was something performed by daredevils like Evel Knievel or even The Fonz (who inspired the phrase "jumping the shark" after a feat of ridiculousness involving water skis and a shark on Happy Days) - a flashy spectacle to dazzle onlookers. As a kid, you were sometimes accused of pulling a stunt after some amateur wrongdoing - like piling pillows at the bottom of the staircase and taking a flying leap from the top: "Don't pull a stunt like that again!"
Either way, it's an attention-seeking act.
In rap, it's not much different, except a stunt becomes a verb that describes a show-off attitude. It's not about performance, it's about swagger. While Kid 'n Play told his enemy to stop "frontin' and stuntin'," 50 Cent and G-Unit taught a class on the subject in "Stunt 101," where eye-catching bling and flashy cars were the requirements for graduation. Lately, students of the old "Stunt 101" school are proving their stunting skills. Macklemore is "stuntin' and flossin'" while Kendrick Lamar is "stuntin' hard like a black circus." Even 50 Cent, nearly a decade later in "Put Ya Hands Up," still raps: "All I do is this. Stunt when I want."
First Used by: New Radicals in "You Get What You Give" (1998)
Frenemies, who when you're down ain't your friend
Every night we smash their Mercedes-Benz
Popularized by: Jim Jones in "Frenemies" (2009)
New radicals were a short-lived project of lead singer Gregg Alexander, lasting just two years from 1997 to 1999. Their musical legacy rests on their one wonderous hit, but their contribution to the English language has been far more lasting.
The song is crammed with memorable lyrics, notably the biblical echoes of the title "you get what you give" and the declaration "you've got the music in you." However, even more notable is in the second verse when Alexander warns us against "frenemies, who when you're down ain't your friend."
"Frenemy" is a portmanteau of the nouns "friend" and "enemy." The words are by logical definition antonyms, but Alexander's paradox highlights the complex nuances at work in relationships. In this context, a frenemy is someone who is only your friend when it is convenient. A frienemy can also be thought of as someone with who is both your friend and a rival. (In its most innocent form, think of the competitive songwriting partnership of Lennon and McCartney. For a more devastating interpretation of the term, think of Disney's The Fox and the Hound, whose titular characters are best buds until the hound gets a taste for fox hunting).
The neologism does allow for a far more malicious relationship; a "frenemy" can also be thought of as someone who uses a friendship for an ulterior motive, ultimately leading to betrayal. This is a common dramatic device in movie and theatre. Perhaps the most infamous frenemy is Iago, from Shakespeare's Othello. He pretends to be Othello's friend only to (spoiler alert!) ensure the tragic hero's demise. Who would have thought a '90s pop hit would provide such a useful tool for literary analysis?
First Used by: Ethel Merman in "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" (1949)
Get that ice
Or else no dice
Popularized by: Gucci Mane in "Icy" (2005)
The gangstas took a cue from the gangsters on this one. Prohibition-era Chicago was a stomping ground for fast-talking, hard-bitten criminals who also had a linguistic gift for spinning ordinary words into homicidal euphemisms. For example, you wouldn't want to find yourself in a "Chicago overcoat," which was street slang for a coffin.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary blog, "ice" hit the Windy City even earlier, when the first goon squad started their racket in 1896. Ice was no longer just frozen water, but a slang word for diamonds (or death threats: "Put 'em on ice"), inspiring crime novel banter and Broadway tunes like the original rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." There are plenty of rappers who use ice to imply how cool they are (Ice-T and Ice Cube), but others use the word - and it's frigid counterparts like "frost" and "frostbit" - to describe their diamond-encrusted jewelry and blinged-out clothes.
In "Thrift Shop" Macklemore rapped: "I'm just pumped, I bought some sh-t from a thrift shop. Ice on the fringe, it's so damn frosty," while in "Icy," Gucci Mane brags about the rocks on his chain and watch and the "ice in my ear, or in my bracelet." Again in "Jewelry," Mane wears "so much ice it make ya eyesight blurry." The OED finally figured the connotation was not going away and included diamonds as an informal definition for ice in its 2012 edition. And of course, Vanilla Ice won't be forgotten, but the chill tag in his moniker was inspired by his signature breakdance move called "The Ice," not by a penchant for precious stones.
First Used (And Popularized) by: TLC in "No Scrubs" (1999)
A scrub is a guy who thinks he's fly
And is also known as a buster
Always talkin' about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass
The traditional definition of scrub - to vigorously wipe away dirt and filth - had been used in countless songs before TLC gave the word a creative twist in their Grammy Award-winning hit "No Scrubs." These "busters" were jobless nobodies who wouldn't take no for an answer and were no better than the grime that needed to be washed away.
Kandi Burruss, songwriter and future Real Housewives of Atlanta star, was driving when she freestyled the famous opening.
The hip-hop group Sporty Thievz shot back at the trio with the parody "No Pigeons," about lazy girls who will use a guy for rides and free drinks:
Cause I don't want no Pigeons
Them be them girls who gets no dubs from me
Playin' the bar dumb broke with her best friend's coat
Tryin' to holler at me
Although a few rappers like Gucci Mane and Snoop Dogg have resurrected the word in 20th-century Rap - in Mane's "Volume" and Snoop's "10 Lil' Cripps" - none has equalled the impact of TLC's "No Scrubs."
First Used by: L'il Kim in Puff Daddy's "It's All About the Benjamins" (1997)
All that bullsh-t you kick
Playa hatin' from the sideline
Popularized by: Ice-T in "Don't Hate the Playa" (1999), Jay-Z feat. Kanye West in "Hate" (2009)
"Hater" floated around in hip-hop songs for a few years before the Internet took notice. Ice-T called out his haters in "Don't Hate the Playa" in 1999: "All you haters out there actin' like a brother done did somethin' wrong 'cause he got his game tight," while the group 3LW blasted them in "Playas Gon' Play" the following year: "The playas gon' play, them haters gonna hate, them callers gonna call, them ballers gonna ball." LOX even dedicated an entire song to haters in the scathing "F--k You." Still, The Urban Dictionary didn't define the word until 2003:
"A person that simply cannot be happy for another person's success. Instead of giving acknowledgment in courtesy, a hater often pursues his/her point by exposing a flaw in the target subject. Hating, the result of being a hater, is not exactly jealousy. The hater doesn't really want to be the person he or she hates, rather the hater wants to knock someone else down a notch."
As hip-hop has become more and more about rappers flaunting their wealth and status, there are almost as many songs about haters as there are haters. Lil Wayne can "hear you talkin' hater but you ain't sayin nothin," while J. Cole's "Blow Up" is "a song for my haters, yeah, you got me feeling like the greatest."
Rihanna's advice in "Dem Haters" is to simply cut them out: "Get dem haters out your circle, smile in your face but all they wanna do is bring ya down." Of course, that's after you publicly compare a photo of said hater to a photo of a goat, like Rihanna did in 2013. Then you can ignore them.
Kanye West prefers to be a hater-baiter. In "Bring Me Down," he laments: "There'll always be haters, that's the way it is, hater ni--as marry hater bitches and have hater kids." He teamed up with Jay-Z in 2009 for "Hate," where the rappers question why they're hated in the first place because they made themselves so easy to love. But in the end, you're not really loved until you're hated, or something like that:
You can't fade us, you hate us
I need you, stay there
I breath you, like air
First Used by: Slaughterhouse feat. Melanie Rutherford in "Killaz" (2009)
Turn myself in then, beat the case for it then
Turn around and put "I really did it" on my Twitter
Popularized by: Chris Brown feat. K-Mac in "Twitter (Follow Me)" (2009)
2009 was a big year for Twitter in music, starting with Slaughterhouse's "Killaz," followed by Trey Songz's "LOL :-)" just a couple weeks later. For Trey, it was just another bit of jargon in a song that's mostly about sexting ("twitter me a picture," "Go to my page and follow, and if you got a body like a Coke bottle"), but Slaughterhouse made a prescient point about what should be common sense on social media: don't post anything you wouldn't want your boss or, in this case, the police to see. Plenty of people didn't heed the warning and are still regularly canned and locked up for posting their inappropriate or unlawful actions for all the world to see.
In Chris Brown's "Twitter" song, he compared the number of women he could get to his number of followers. That number is now over 13 million - minus one for when Rihanna unfollowed him after he called her an "old bitch" in "Way Too Cold" - who are entertained by his famous rants about important topics like the legal system, "rap ni--as" and Perez Hilton. I guess someone isn't a Slaughterhouse fan.
First Used by: DJ Jubilee in "Do the Jubilee All" (1993)
Twerk, baby, twerk, twerk, twerk
Popularized by: Beyoncé in "Check On It" (2009)
Dip it, pop it, twerk it, stop it, check on me tonight.
(and Miley Cyrus' butt)
It was only recently that we needed a word to describe a style of dance where you bend over and pop your rump up and down. "Twerk" dates back to the early '90s, when the dance became a big part of the bounce music scene in New Orleans. Since then it has been a part of the hip-hop dictionary with mentions by 2 Chainz ("Used 2"), Lil Jon and Friends ("Get Low") and T.I. ("Like I Do").
It was only in 2013, however, that the word was added to the Oxford Dictionary, following Miley Cyrus' provocative performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Over the next few weeks, the adventures of Miley's posterior made news as a distraction from stories of congressional follies and natural disasters. The upshot was an alarming repetition of "Twerk" across all media. (Note that Cyrus doesn't have any songs about twerking.)
The Oxford dictionary's decision to recognize the term once it became associated with a skinny white girl certainly makes a statement about cultural appropriation.
First Used by: Steppenwolf in "Born To Be Wild (1968)
I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Popularized by: Don Felder in "Heavy Metal (Takin' a Ride)" (1981)
There are so many sub-genres of metal music, from death to thrash, from gothic to nu, that it's amazing to think that the genre has only really existed for about fifty years. You would think that a disc jockey or journalist came up with the term in an attempt to describe the unprecedented work of Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, but the phrase originated in a Steppenwolf song about bikers.
It really is the ideal descriptor for this brand of music: two perfectly balanced words that sound downright ominous when you say them together. Chevy could have used it for the name of a truck (introducing the 2014 Heavy Metal... now with more towing power).
In literature, the term can be tracked back to William Burroughs (the man who provided Steely Dan's moniker) in 1961 when he described a character in his novel The Soft Machine as "the Heavy Metal Kid." Hollywood didn't apply it to film until 1981, when the campy animated movie Heavy Metal hit theaters with a soundtrack featuring Nazareth, Blue Öyster Cult and Sammy Hagar.
First Used by: R. Kelly in "Back to the Hood of Things" (1993)
We going back to the hood of things
Got to get my bling-bling.
Popularized by: B.G. in "Bling-Bling" (1999)
Bling is the aural embodiment of shiny jewelry - a staple of hip-hop lyrics. The term entered the Oxford English dictionary in 2006 once the word started showing up in pop songs like "Most Girls" by Pink ("Most girls want a man with the bling bling...") and "Gone" by Jack Johnson ("Cars and phones and diamond rings, bling bling - those are only removable things").
It was around this time when rappers abandoned the term, completely disowning it in 2008 when Mitt Romney said it on the campaign trail. Fat Joe even addressed the subject, explaining that the term is officially passé.
January 23, 2014
~Amanda Flinner and Richard Law