'Rock' meaning 'wear' or 'sport'

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue Sep 9 13:05:04 UTC 2008

On Tue, Sep 9, 2008 at 7:43 AM, Jesse Sheidlower <jester at panix.com> wrote:
> On Mon, Sep 08, 2008 at 11:11:25PM -0400, Neal Whitman wrote:
> > An advertisement on TV tonight set off my "once is weird, twice is queer"
> > sensors, when it used the word 'rock' to mean "wear", which I'd briefly
> > noted a few weeks ago somewhere.
> [...]
> > Anyone have earlier attestations [than 2003]...?
> <sigh>
> OED's entry for this, published in June 2007, has an
> earliest quotation of 1987, from the rap song "Elementary" by
> Boogie Down Productions.

And it's well-attested in rap lyrics ever since.

Beastie Boys, "The Sounds of Science" (1988)
Rock my Adidas, never rock Filas.

MC Lyte, "Start it Up Y'all" (1989)
Fellas wanna see me rock a bikini.

A Tribe Called Quest, "If The Papes Come" (1990)
I thought what I think, I rock a bead-link.

De La Soul, "Afro Connections at a Hi 5" (1991)
I rock an Afro, in '83, gee, yo.

D-Nice, "Rhymin' Skills" (1991)
I rock my Nikes instead when I strut (say what?).

Wu-Tang Clan,  "C.R.E.A.M." (1993)
A young youth, yo rockin the gold tooth.

Ice-T, "Watch the Ice Break" (1993)
I rock a perm, you rock an afro.

Das EFX, "Undaground Rappa" (1993)
See I rock a hoodie sweater, more wood than Woody Pecker.

Digable Planets, "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)" (1993)
When Butterfly rocked his light blue-suede Pumas...
He rocks a tee from the Crooklyn non-pigs.


--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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