Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon May 31 19:13:59 UTC 2004

On May 31, 2004, at 11:15 AM, Wilson Gray wrote, in response to James

> ..."Phat" is by no means a new spelling or a
> new meaning for "fat.

this is a very likely source.  extensions of "fat" to cover 'abundant,
desirable, good, etc.' are well known.  and re-spellings to distinguish
an original item from its metonymic extensions are also well known;
"ghey"/"ghay" is how we got into this.

>  However, your alternative solution is way off
> the mark. Given that "phat" is black street slang, the idea that "phat"
> might somehow be derived from "phatic" is improbable, to say the least.

i think we can all agree on this.

> "Phat" is actually a  modification of "phatt," which is initial-slang
> meaning "Pussy, Hips, Ass, Thighs, Tits." This term dates back to at
> least 1950, when its meaning and use were described to me by a cousin
> visiting Saint Louis, my home town, from New York City. Its original
> use was to describe a good-looking girl or woman, as in, e.g. "That
> chick is phatt!" I know of no reason for the loss of the final "t." I
> could make some guesses, but I won't waste anyone's time doing so.

we've been down the acronymic road on this one, and it's about as good
as Found Under Carnal Knowledge for "fuck".  acronymic derivations are
very very rare outside of technical and administrative contexts, but
they are suggested again and again for vernacular vocabulary, usually
-- as in this case -- in many different versions (Pretty Hot And
Tempting, Pussy Hips Ass Tits, Plenty of Hips And Thighs, Pretty Hips
And Thighs, Perfect Hips And Thighs, PHysically ATtractive, Pretty Hot
Ass 'n' Titties, Pritty Horrish At Times, Pretty Heavy And Tubby,
Pretty Huge And Tubby).  i certainly wouldn't trust *my* cousins'
hypotheses about etymology.  (one of my cousins, a guy ten years older
than me, once carefully explained to me that asian women were, umm,
oriented differently from western women.  he'd been around, but even at
the age of 10 i was dubious.)

but "phat" does seem to be a black street thing originally, and it does
seem to have been around for quite some time (decades, not years).

arnold (zwicky at

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