Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]

Tue Jun 1 16:15:17 UTC 2004

        This is extremely interesting information.  It shows that phat(t) was in use over 50 years ago, and that the acronymic etymology is quite old.  What it does not tell us is whether phat(t) actually originated as an acronym (though of course the age of the acronymic etymology is evidence in that direction).  After all, we know that pumpernickel does not derive from "C'est bon pour Nichol," even though that explanation accompanies the first use of "pumpernickel" in English.  Unless your cousin or one of her acquaintances actually coined "phatt," then her account is not going to be definitive.

        Jonathon Green and Arnold Zwicky may not be black (I'm guessing that they're not), but they're two of the most knowledgeable posters on ADS-L.  In any case, I think there is a plethora of examples to show that ordinary users of terms typically don't understand the terms' derivations.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Wilson Gray
Sent: Monday, May 31, 2004 10:25 PM
Subject: Re: Phat [was Re: gay/ghey/ghay]

In 1950, my cousin and I were both thirteen years old. I really doubt
that she would have been sophisticated enough at that age to have made
up this derivation. And, given that adults are extremely unlikely to be
aware of the slanguage used by children on the street, especially in
the 'Fifties, I doubt that some well- or ill-meaning adult took her
aside and explained it to her. I conclude, therefore, that the
definition - not hypothesis - that she gave was a genuine one from the
streets of New York City. Note also that my cousin spelled and defined
"phatt" and not "phat" and that this occurred more than five decades
ago. A whole lot of water has gone under that temporal bridge. It's
also the case that, until the advent of hip-hop slang, no form of this
word was used anywhere that I've ever lived - Texas, Missouri,
California, Massachuseetts, Pennsylvania - by anyone of any race or
social class or age group. Even my cousin didn't use the word, except
for that one time, when she was clearly trying to gross out her hick
cousin from the sticks by using language reserved for the use of males.
Hence, it was a hapax legomenon for me prior to coming of hip-hop. The
rest of your argument re acronymic derivation, given that "fuck" is not
slang but standard English, is irrevelant. Besides, Arnold, you're
white and I'll bet that  you've never had any occasion whatsoever to
live among or come to know intimately black people. I, on the other
hand, am black and, naturally, have always lived among black people,
except for the time that I spent at M.I.T., back in the day. An
argument based on what is typical with respect to whites won't map onto
what is typical among blacks.

-Wilson Gray

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