The slang meaning of the verb "rip off"

Wilson Gray hwgray at EARTHLINK.NET
Fri Jun 4 02:03:07 UTC 2004

On Jun 3, 2004, at 8:09 PM, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM>
> Subject:      Re: The slang meaning of the verb "rip off"
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> On Thu, Jun 03, 2004 at 06:28:57PM -0400, Wilson Gray wrote:
>> I first heard "rip off" used as slang in 1966 in Los Angeles. Three
>> (black) women were downing [= putting down] a fourth woman who,
>> obviously, was not present. One of the women, in the course of her
>> critique, said, "[Whatever her name was] is a stone loser. Why, she
>> even lets guys rip her off in the backseats of cars!"
>> From the context, it was clear that "rip off" meant "have sexual
>> intercourse with."
>> And, in my mind, the term's history was totally obvious. When I was
>> living in Saint Louis in 1950, the phrase, "tear off a piece [of
>> ass],"
>> came into use among black males. (Interestingly enough, the phrase
>> "knock off a piece [of ass]" simultaneously came into use among white
>> males. (Though I lived black, I was educated white. My all-male prep
>> school had 800 white students and seven black ones.)) Sixteen years
>> later, ay walah, *rip off.
>> What bugs me is this. _This is the *one and only time* that I've
>> *ever*
>> heard "rip off" used with a sexual connotation.
> Though as a white man I am no doubt unfamiliar with most
> aspects of black culture, I can tell you that _rip off_ 'to
> have sexual intercourse with' or 'to rape' is reasonably well
> attested in the 1960s, esp. in AAVE. We have examples from one
> or two prison memoirs, from a Hell's Angel memoir, and from
> several of the Iceberg Slim books.
> The longer phrase _rip off a piece/hunk/etc._ does indeed
> exist, and is attested at least as far back as the 1930s; I
> assume it is the origin.
> Jesse Sheidlower

I've already been taken to task wrt to my unfortunate habit of failing
to express myself clearly. For that, I must again beg indulgence. I
have no problem whatsoever wrt the sexual reference of "rip off." My
question is, what could have motivated the total *loss* of the sexual
reading and what could have brought it about so quickly, so that I've
heard "rip off" with the sexual reading used in live speech only one
time by one person, despite the ubiquity of the locution? The word
"screw," for example, retains its sexual reading. Even "jazz" retains
its sexual reading. Why not "rip off"? There's probably no answer to
that question, but it never hurts to ask.
I'll keep my opinion of Iceberg Slim to myself, since it has nothing to
do with his writings. But I do hope that you'll spare me any further
reference to him.

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