floss and ghetto

Joe Pickett Joe_Pickett at HMCO.COM
Thu Nov 2 14:32:49 UTC 2000

Smitherman's book tends to support Jesse's evidence that these are recent

Neither term appears in the 1994 copyright of Black Talk.  Both are in the
2000 copyright.


Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM>@LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on 11/02/2000
09:28:07 AM

Please respond to American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>

Sent by:  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>

Subject:  Re: floss and ghetto

> Two queries.  Someone asked about the meaning of ghetto, as in "that was
> ghetto."  It must be fairly new; it's not in the HDAS.  My son uses it
> isn't a great definer so wasn't really helpful.  What's its earliest

I don't think this is slang; it's just something like 'characteristic of
or suitable for inner-city life'. A more common noun-to-adjective shift
is _street_ in a similar sense. An example from a rap magazine:

1997 _Source_ Oct. 146/3, I was so ghetto, threatening the crowd, talking
about if anybody takes it, I'ma see you.

> I recently attended an Afrocentric poetry reading in which two of
> the poets used the word "floss" in their poems.  It seemed, from the
> context of both poems, to be a pejorative reference to an
> undesirable trait/behavior in African Americans. In one poem the
> subject was a woman, and the other, a male "type". I think they both
> used the term as a verb.

This seems to be a relatively recent addition to the lexicon, but
I've come across numerous examples in the last few months. Sample:

2000 W. Shaw _Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood_ 218
'Flossin'' is pretending to be something that you aren't. Archetypally,
hip-hoppers are accused of flossin' when they pretend to be affiliated
with gangs, when in fact very few are.

The earliest example I have right at hand is from 1995, but I don't
have any likely earlier sources.

Jesse Sheidlower

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