Browsing the NYT Archives

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 5 15:11:36 UTC 2014

It's the intransitive "represent" that's relevant here, in terms of
the then-newish slang usage that the 1997 NYT definition is trying to
convey. OED3 is oddly silent on this, despite the entry for
"represent" having been revised as recently as 2009. MWCD's def is "to
perform a task or duty admirably :  serve as an outstanding example,"
which is getting there.

We've talked about this sense of "represent" a few times, most
recently in January:

In the mid-'90s, when that NYT article came out, "represent" was
enjoying a vogue in hiphop usage, thanks to songs like "Represent" by
Nas off his 1994 album "Illmatic." The ngram-style Rap Stats graph on
Rap Genius demonstrates this nicely (though of course it doesn't
distinguish transitive from intransitive use):


On Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 10:18 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> Is the "quotation" given by the NYT Archives writer the
> transformation of a metaphor into a literality?
> ''Michael Jordan represents the basketball court"  ["on" deleted]
> means that he is the epitome of great basketball (what, I think,
> Wilson had in mind).  Metaphor, with "basketball court" metonymy for
> "game of basketball"?
> ''Michael Jordan represents on the basketball court" means that he is
> literally representing something (the object of the transitive verb
> being left unspecified) while he is (standing, running, jumping) on
> the basketball court.
> Joel
> At 4/5/2014 03:30 AM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> >REPRESENT: to do something well. ''Michael Jordan represents on the
> >basketball court.''
> >
> >
> >
> >No, it does not. It means much more than that. It means "to represent." It
> >means to represent in the sense of presenting oneself to the relevant
> >subset of the outside world in a manner that will bring honor, glory,
> >prestige, and respect to someone or to something that you care deeply
> >about, whether it be yourself, your family, your 'hood, your school, your
> >city, your state, your team, Black America, or the entire United States of
> >  America. Needless to say, in his glory days, Michael Jordan did all of
> >this on the basket ball court. All athletes do their things well. But only
> >some of them "represent" in the relevant sense. Tiger Woods once
> >represented, but he has long since "done fell off."
> >
> >It takes only a trivial amount of thought to see that the NYT definition is
> >utter nonsense. When a rapper raps., "I represents my city," he can't
> >*possibly* mean, "I perform my city well."
> >
> >Back in '78, as he was preparing to fight Saint Louis's own Leon Spinks,
> >Muhammad Ali sneered that Spinks was "too ugly to represent the colored
> >people." Clearly, he wasn't saying that Spinks was too ugly to perform the
> >colored people well.
> >
> >BTW, to see what motivated this insulting but, sadly, accurate observation,
> >google-image "leon spinks teeth." Brother Leon really did look as though
> >he'd been hit is face with the "Ugly" stick or had been in a stick fight
> >and everybody had a stick but him.
> >
> >As for the quote, the sole Google cite contains total bullshit.
> >
> >--
> >-Wilson
> >-----
> >All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
> >come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> >-Mark Twain
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------
> >The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list