'Rock' meaning 'wear' or 'sport'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 9 18:38:08 UTC 2008

Then there's the whole "Rock the Vote" campaign...

At 12:48 PM -0400 9/9/08, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On Tue, Sep 9, 2008 at 11:50 AM, Neal Whitman <nwhitman at ameritech.net> wrote:
>>  And returning to the original subject, thanks Jesse and Ben for the earlier
>>  attestations. I'm now reminding myself not to post these questions late at
>>  night, when I forget to look at easily available references like the OED
>>  before sending.
>Still, the evolution of the "wear with panache or pride" sense is
>intriguing. There's clearly a connection with OED sense 5c, "cause to
>move with musical rhythm" (with latent sexual connotations, all the
>way back to Trixie Smith's 1922 "My Man Rocks Me with One Steady
>Roll"). Objects for this sense can either be people or spaces with
>people in them (rock the joint/house/party/casbah). But early hiphop
>usage extended the verb to other objects, most notably "the
>mic(rophone)" (back to "Rapper's Delight" in 1979: "I'm gonna rock the
>mic 'til you can't resist"). "Rock the mic" = "rap admirably" is not
>yet reflected in the OED entry for "rock", but I see it as a vital
>link to the "wear proudly" sense, since it opened up the possibility
>for other rap accoutrements to be taken as objects of the verb --
>like, for instance, the Adidas sneakers of Run-DMC and their fans c.
>"My Adidas" came out in 1986, and here's a scene from a Run-DMC
>concert the following year:
>"Then, Run-DMC yelled out, 'Okay, everybody in the house, rock your
>Adidas.' On cue, three thousand pairs of Adidas shot in to the air.
>(Christopher Vaughn, "Simmons' Rush for Profits," Black Enterprise,
>December 1992, 67, quoted by Naomi Klein, _No Logo_, 2000)
>So there it seems to be more about displaying than wearing proudly.
>--Ben Zimmer
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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