In their podcast, Black Tea hosts Andray Domise and Melayna Williams explain swagger jacking – the act of stealing someone’s swag without even realizing it. Domise expresses that swagger jacking can be cultural appropriation adjacent, and to understand where your language comes from. Here are 11 common words and phrases you have a Black person to thank for.

1. Bye Felicia 

Actually spelt “Bye Felisha”, the phrase comes from the 1995 film Friday. According to Ice Cube, who co-wrote and starred in the movie, “Bye Felicia” is a dismissive send off to get someone out of your face.

2. Bae

Bae is the abbreviation of “babe” and the word’s lyrical use dates back to 2005. It became more widespread through hip hop and R&B, particularly in 2014 when Pharrell released his single “Come Get It Bae”. Bae was runner-up for the Oxford Dictionaries’ 2014 Word of the Year.

3. Ratchet

Ratchet has been traced back to Shreveport, Louisiana, specifically the Cedar Grove neighbourhood. Its first lyrical use was in 1998 in rapper E-40’s track “Lieutenant Roast a Botch”. It was used a year later by rapper Anthony Mandigo in his song “Do the Ratchet”, who learned the term from his grandmother. Ratchet received widespread attention in 2012 when YouTubers Emmanuel N Phillip Hudson uploaded their original song, “Ratchet Girl Anthem”. The video has been viewed nearly 1.9 billion times. Ratchet often carries negative connotations of Black people, specifically women, and reinforces the negative portrayal of Black women in the media. Comedian Hannibal Buress describes it as “diet-n—–“.

4. Squad

In 2015, the hashtag #squadgoals took off online, most notably with white women showing off the accomplishments of their friend groups. In reality, the word originates with ties to Black solidarity and today’s Black Lives Matter movement. Rappers Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame have been incorporating squad into their lyrics since 2007.

5. Twerk

No, Miley Cyrus did not invent twerking. Black people did. Similar movements have been traced back to traditional West African dances, most notably the mapouka ceremonial dance of Cote d’Ivoire. The modern version of the dance first arrived in 1990s in New Orleans. The city was home to “bounce” music, a genre of hip hop that requires call-and-response chanting. In 1994, DJ Jubilee released the track “Do The Jubilee All” with the lyrics “twerk baby, twerk baby, twerk, twerk, twerk” and a new dance was born.

6. Yas

Yas originated in the 1980s with queer Black people, particularly those involved in ball culture. Balls are underground events where contestants are judged and awarded based on their most opulent costumes and fierce runway walks. Jose Xtravaganza was a dancer and teacher during the ’80s and describes the word as part of queer people’s code. Their own language allowed them the freedom to speak openly about their lives without fear of racism, homophobia or transphobia. The iconic documentary Paris Is Burning offers an in-depth look into ball culture.

7. Fleek

The word fleek is relatively new. The word was invented in 2014 by then-16-year-old Kayla Lewis after she had her eyebrows done for the first time and uploaded a video to Vine stating that her brows were on “fleek”. But like a lot of other Black women, her work was taken from her without credit. Countless companies have profited from the word without Lewis seeing a penny.

8. Shade

Just like yas, shade originated in ball culture. The phrase dates back to the 1920s term “to shade”, which means to defeat someone. In Paris Is Burning, a queen named Dorian Corey explains that shade is an indirect insult. E. Patrick Johnson, a professor of African-American studies at Northwestern University, has written on insults in queer and Black communities and found that shade has been a part of Black culture since slavery when a direct insult could result in death. He told The New York Times that Black people “developed these covert ways of communication, which, over time, have morphed into the traditional ways that they interact with one another.”

9. Woke

As Andray Domise and Melayna Williams explain in their podcast Black Tea, to stay woke is to not believe everything you hear. Black people have been saying it for decades, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the word became more mainstream with the Black Lives Matter movement. As Domise explains, when a white person says they’re woke, what they’re basically saying is that “you care about a thing that I don’t feel that I should have to care about but because you care about it, you’re just too politically correct for me and I don’t care for what you think.”

10. G.O.A.T.

In 1992, Muhammad Ali’s wife, Lonnie Ali, named their company G.O.A.T. Inc., standing for “greatest of all time”. The phrase caught on and was popularized even more by LL Cool J in 2000 when he released his album G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time). He told Rolling Stone that “without Muhammad Ali, there would be no “Mama Said Knock You Out”, and the term G.O.A.T. would have never been coined.”

11. Mood

The first use of mood was on Black Twitter in 2015 to describe relatable images like crying over a new puppy or letting No Caller ID calls go to voicemail.  It became more popular in 2018 after white people discovered it.

Filed under: Black History Month