Obama and Black English in the NY Times

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue Sep 11 00:30:15 UTC 2012

On Mon, Sep 10, 2012 at 8:19 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> Why call it "signifying" instead of "sarcastic understatement"?
> Because the authors want to show how delightfully exotic Black English is.

Note that Geneva Smitherman (co-author of the column, as well as the
new book that it's tied to, _Articulate While Black_) has long used
"signifyin(g)" in this way. In _Talkin That Talk_ (1999) she defines
“signifyin" as "the verbal art of ceremonial combativeness in which
one person puts down, talks about, ‘signifies on’ someone  or
something someone has said. This rhetorical modality is characterized
by indirection, humor, exploitation of the unexpected, and quick
verbal repartee."


Ben Zimmer

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list