Close Modal

Historically Black Phrases

From "I Ain't One of Your Lil' Friends" to "Who All Gon' Be There?"

Look inside
Hardcover
$27.99 US
6.3"W x 9.3"H x 1.1"D   | 32 oz | 16 per carton
On sale Sep 19, 2023 | 304 Pages | 978-1-9848-6171-9
A fun and thoughtful dictionary of Black language you didn’t know you needed, Historically Black Phrases is a love letter to the Black community and the ways it drives culture.

“This perfect blend of explanation, definition and social commentary will have you laughing while learning.”—George M. Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of All Boys Aren't Blue and We Are Not Broken

Black vernacular doesn’t often get its due—despite its enormous influence on mainstream culture—but Historically Black Phrases is here to give Black language its flowers. A celebration of more than two hundred staples of Black conversation—from church sayings and units of measure to compliments and reprimands—this sharp and witty guide explores the unique importance of Black expression and communication. Historically Black Phrases offers definitions and notable pop culture moments, as well as tips on pronunciation and usage of phrases like “feelin’ yourself,” “don’t get it twisted,” and “pop off.” In addition to the phrases, short essays offer insight on different facets of Black language from scholars, entertainers, and pop culture commentators (i.e., everybody and they mama). 

Authors, journalists, and hosts of the award-winning podcast FANTI, jarrett hill and Tre’vell Anderson examine each phrase with humor and cultural precision, making Historically Black Phrases a vital ode to how Black language influences the world.
Historically Black Phrases is proof that Black folks all grew up in the same family. At a time when our words and sayings are often co-opted, this book reminds everyone that we are the originators. This perfect blend of explanation, definition, and social commentary will have you laughing while learning.”—George M. Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of All Boys Aren't Blue and We Are Not Broken
 
“The endless creative contributions of the Black community continue to be written off and dismissed—yet Historically Black Phrases fearlessly challenges this pattern. Black English is not ‘slang’ or ‘Gen-Z lingo,’ it is a documented and legitimate language. With everything from pronunciation to the proper contextual usage, this book teaches readers how our community communicates—and has them laughing along the way.”—Blair Imani, author of Read This to Get Smarter
 
“This colorful collection of words and phrases that connect us as a community and a culture reminds us that we do have a language—a lexicon that celebrates us and leaves us with a sense of camaraderie. With this book we are well reminded, with joy, who we are . . . Black and proud!”—Adrienne “Gammy” Banfield Norris, host of the Positively Gam podcast and cohost of Red Table Talk
 
“For anyone who has ever questioned the origin of the potato salad at the cookout or accused someone of reneging in a game of spades, Historically Black Phrases is for you. At a time when our culture is being widely appropriated, jarrett hill and Tre'vell Anderson give us a gift box of words filled with Black love, and they bring all the receipts. This book is a hilarious, provocative, empowering, informative, and inclusive celebration of Blackness, and I'm here for it.”—Keith Boykin, New York Times bestselling author
jarrett hill (he/him) is an award-winning journalist, sought-after host, moderator, and writer. He is president of the National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles and was named to the Ebony Power 100 in 2016. He is most notably known for breaking the 2016 Melania Trump/Michelle Obama RNC plagiarism story. He currently teaches at the University of Southern California and is a co-host of the widely popular podcast FANTI.

Tre’vell Anderson (they/them) is an award-winning journalist, social curator, and world changer. Named to The Root’s 2020 list of 100 most influential African Americans, they have dedicated their career to centering those in the margins, grey spaces, and at the intersections of life through a pop culture lens. Tre’vell is currently Editor-At-Large for Toronto’s Xtra Magazine and co-hosts two podcasts, Crooked Media's What A Day and Maximum Fun's FANTI.
Introduction

Do you remember the first time you recognized that Black people speak differently than others?

For media personality and journalist Shar Jossell, it was when, at four or five years old, she mistook “Lord have mercy” for “Lord ham mercy” and asked her mom for clarification. “That’s when I realized things were a bit different,” she says. “Because we had daily oral language as part of our language arts classes in elementary school, but around family and around church, tongues were a little bit more lax.”

For writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk, it was when, as part of the first generation of Black folks to go to desegregated schools in 1970s Mississippi, he found himself in classes with white students and became more conscious of an ability and need to code-switch as a means of fitting into two worlds.

For actress Danielle Pinnock, who grew up in a predominantly patois-speaking community of Black folks, it was when she went to private school and was made fun of for pronouncing “three” like “tree.” Or when a little white girl on her elementary school bus violated cardinal rule number one of Black communication—thou shalt not talk about people’s mama—and got mollywhopped.

As Black people, we all have a moment that comes to mind when we first realized just how unique our ways of speaking can be. All too often, however, we were and are told by broader society that how we weave together parts of speech is wrong, or a violation of grammatical mores. We’re given “all these narratives about things being broken, or our language being messed up, country, ghetto, lazy,” says Dr. Anne H. Charity Hudley, a professor of education, linguistics, and African-American studies at Stanford University. And the result is a great difficulty in getting people to understand—even other Black people—that “Black language is a language. It’s part of our culture [and] something that should be documented and studied and taught.”

How we talk that talk is special. “It’s got some seasoning on it,” says actor Marque Richardson, “but it’s also not monolithic.”

“I think of flavor,” adds media personality and actor Kalen Allen. “We put our own spin on how to say certain things. We add a lot of emphasis.”

Polk cited a particular musicality, rhythm, and attitude that we all seem to have or are able to more easily understand than our non-Black counterparts.

“It’s something from the outside looking in that you can’t understand, and from the inside looking out, you can’t explain,” says Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III, professor at the University of Michigan. Put more simply: If you know, you know.

Dr. Charity Hudley explains: “When I think of Black language and culture, what I think about is what it tells me about the human mind, the human condition, and how culture is formed. It shows how we as Black people have been able to share and create in these places and spaces in a way that now everybody’s trying to sound and be like us. It shows something way past resilience into how art is made in the world.”

Our speech is art made verbal. “I’m talking about the lexicon, the vocabulary, but I’m also talking about the grammatical practices, the sound,” she continues. “I’m talking about intonation. I’m talking about the way that I tell stories, the way that I express myself in the world, culturally and creatively.”

And even though there are variations in dialects and accents, the ways something may be said in the Northern California Bay Area is connected to what’s said in Charleston, South Carolina, which is connected to what’s said in Orange, New Jersey, which is connected to what’s said in Kansas City, Missouri, which is connected to what’s said in Chicago, Illinois. This is the impact of the Great Migration as evidenced by a joke Jossell heard growing up: “Chicagoans ain’t nothing but Mississippi niggas with coats on.”

How might you describe the ways we speak, the distinctly us, but difficult-to-pinpoint ways we communicate? Every Black person from here to Mozambique could answer in a different way and we would still never really explain the specific sounds, tones, inflections, and necessary gestures that make it all mean this and not that.

Historically Black Phrases is a celebration of that complexity. It’s a fun yet thoughtful documenting and recording into written history of the ways we’ve said what we said and told our stories in our way. Our culture-shaping way. Our industry-building way. Our neck-rolling, fist-dappin’, tooth-suckin’, stereotype-defying, community-building, boundary-breaking, justice-seeking, expectation-exceeding, always innovative way.

For far too long we’ve been told that our language is broken or unprofessional or difficult to understand. And so we’ve felt like we can only flex our true linguistic brilliance when we’re at the cookout or in the club or otherwise unconcerned with respectability and the white gaze. But the legitimacy of how we talk is not incumbent upon others’ approval.

As you flip through these pages, we hope it takes you down memory lane. We hope it reminds you of roasting each other on the playground or running home before the streetlights come on. We hope you’re transported back to the church pew or ball or house party where Blackness was on full display. We hope it’s the source of nostalgia-induced laughs and plenty of carryin’ on. And we know that you know there’s not just one Black experience, so no single text could fully represent the vastness of our language.

This book is about pride and preservation. Historically Black Phrases is our love letter to our people. We see you. We see each other.

About

A fun and thoughtful dictionary of Black language you didn’t know you needed, Historically Black Phrases is a love letter to the Black community and the ways it drives culture.

“This perfect blend of explanation, definition and social commentary will have you laughing while learning.”—George M. Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of All Boys Aren't Blue and We Are Not Broken

Black vernacular doesn’t often get its due—despite its enormous influence on mainstream culture—but Historically Black Phrases is here to give Black language its flowers. A celebration of more than two hundred staples of Black conversation—from church sayings and units of measure to compliments and reprimands—this sharp and witty guide explores the unique importance of Black expression and communication. Historically Black Phrases offers definitions and notable pop culture moments, as well as tips on pronunciation and usage of phrases like “feelin’ yourself,” “don’t get it twisted,” and “pop off.” In addition to the phrases, short essays offer insight on different facets of Black language from scholars, entertainers, and pop culture commentators (i.e., everybody and they mama). 

Authors, journalists, and hosts of the award-winning podcast FANTI, jarrett hill and Tre’vell Anderson examine each phrase with humor and cultural precision, making Historically Black Phrases a vital ode to how Black language influences the world.

Praise

Historically Black Phrases is proof that Black folks all grew up in the same family. At a time when our words and sayings are often co-opted, this book reminds everyone that we are the originators. This perfect blend of explanation, definition, and social commentary will have you laughing while learning.”—George M. Johnson, New York Times bestselling author of All Boys Aren't Blue and We Are Not Broken
 
“The endless creative contributions of the Black community continue to be written off and dismissed—yet Historically Black Phrases fearlessly challenges this pattern. Black English is not ‘slang’ or ‘Gen-Z lingo,’ it is a documented and legitimate language. With everything from pronunciation to the proper contextual usage, this book teaches readers how our community communicates—and has them laughing along the way.”—Blair Imani, author of Read This to Get Smarter
 
“This colorful collection of words and phrases that connect us as a community and a culture reminds us that we do have a language—a lexicon that celebrates us and leaves us with a sense of camaraderie. With this book we are well reminded, with joy, who we are . . . Black and proud!”—Adrienne “Gammy” Banfield Norris, host of the Positively Gam podcast and cohost of Red Table Talk
 
“For anyone who has ever questioned the origin of the potato salad at the cookout or accused someone of reneging in a game of spades, Historically Black Phrases is for you. At a time when our culture is being widely appropriated, jarrett hill and Tre'vell Anderson give us a gift box of words filled with Black love, and they bring all the receipts. This book is a hilarious, provocative, empowering, informative, and inclusive celebration of Blackness, and I'm here for it.”—Keith Boykin, New York Times bestselling author

Author

jarrett hill (he/him) is an award-winning journalist, sought-after host, moderator, and writer. He is president of the National Association of Black Journalists of Los Angeles and was named to the Ebony Power 100 in 2016. He is most notably known for breaking the 2016 Melania Trump/Michelle Obama RNC plagiarism story. He currently teaches at the University of Southern California and is a co-host of the widely popular podcast FANTI.

Tre’vell Anderson (they/them) is an award-winning journalist, social curator, and world changer. Named to The Root’s 2020 list of 100 most influential African Americans, they have dedicated their career to centering those in the margins, grey spaces, and at the intersections of life through a pop culture lens. Tre’vell is currently Editor-At-Large for Toronto’s Xtra Magazine and co-hosts two podcasts, Crooked Media's What A Day and Maximum Fun's FANTI.

Excerpt

Introduction

Do you remember the first time you recognized that Black people speak differently than others?

For media personality and journalist Shar Jossell, it was when, at four or five years old, she mistook “Lord have mercy” for “Lord ham mercy” and asked her mom for clarification. “That’s when I realized things were a bit different,” she says. “Because we had daily oral language as part of our language arts classes in elementary school, but around family and around church, tongues were a little bit more lax.”

For writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk, it was when, as part of the first generation of Black folks to go to desegregated schools in 1970s Mississippi, he found himself in classes with white students and became more conscious of an ability and need to code-switch as a means of fitting into two worlds.

For actress Danielle Pinnock, who grew up in a predominantly patois-speaking community of Black folks, it was when she went to private school and was made fun of for pronouncing “three” like “tree.” Or when a little white girl on her elementary school bus violated cardinal rule number one of Black communication—thou shalt not talk about people’s mama—and got mollywhopped.

As Black people, we all have a moment that comes to mind when we first realized just how unique our ways of speaking can be. All too often, however, we were and are told by broader society that how we weave together parts of speech is wrong, or a violation of grammatical mores. We’re given “all these narratives about things being broken, or our language being messed up, country, ghetto, lazy,” says Dr. Anne H. Charity Hudley, a professor of education, linguistics, and African-American studies at Stanford University. And the result is a great difficulty in getting people to understand—even other Black people—that “Black language is a language. It’s part of our culture [and] something that should be documented and studied and taught.”

How we talk that talk is special. “It’s got some seasoning on it,” says actor Marque Richardson, “but it’s also not monolithic.”

“I think of flavor,” adds media personality and actor Kalen Allen. “We put our own spin on how to say certain things. We add a lot of emphasis.”

Polk cited a particular musicality, rhythm, and attitude that we all seem to have or are able to more easily understand than our non-Black counterparts.

“It’s something from the outside looking in that you can’t understand, and from the inside looking out, you can’t explain,” says Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III, professor at the University of Michigan. Put more simply: If you know, you know.

Dr. Charity Hudley explains: “When I think of Black language and culture, what I think about is what it tells me about the human mind, the human condition, and how culture is formed. It shows how we as Black people have been able to share and create in these places and spaces in a way that now everybody’s trying to sound and be like us. It shows something way past resilience into how art is made in the world.”

Our speech is art made verbal. “I’m talking about the lexicon, the vocabulary, but I’m also talking about the grammatical practices, the sound,” she continues. “I’m talking about intonation. I’m talking about the way that I tell stories, the way that I express myself in the world, culturally and creatively.”

And even though there are variations in dialects and accents, the ways something may be said in the Northern California Bay Area is connected to what’s said in Charleston, South Carolina, which is connected to what’s said in Orange, New Jersey, which is connected to what’s said in Kansas City, Missouri, which is connected to what’s said in Chicago, Illinois. This is the impact of the Great Migration as evidenced by a joke Jossell heard growing up: “Chicagoans ain’t nothing but Mississippi niggas with coats on.”

How might you describe the ways we speak, the distinctly us, but difficult-to-pinpoint ways we communicate? Every Black person from here to Mozambique could answer in a different way and we would still never really explain the specific sounds, tones, inflections, and necessary gestures that make it all mean this and not that.

Historically Black Phrases is a celebration of that complexity. It’s a fun yet thoughtful documenting and recording into written history of the ways we’ve said what we said and told our stories in our way. Our culture-shaping way. Our industry-building way. Our neck-rolling, fist-dappin’, tooth-suckin’, stereotype-defying, community-building, boundary-breaking, justice-seeking, expectation-exceeding, always innovative way.

For far too long we’ve been told that our language is broken or unprofessional or difficult to understand. And so we’ve felt like we can only flex our true linguistic brilliance when we’re at the cookout or in the club or otherwise unconcerned with respectability and the white gaze. But the legitimacy of how we talk is not incumbent upon others’ approval.

As you flip through these pages, we hope it takes you down memory lane. We hope it reminds you of roasting each other on the playground or running home before the streetlights come on. We hope you’re transported back to the church pew or ball or house party where Blackness was on full display. We hope it’s the source of nostalgia-induced laughs and plenty of carryin’ on. And we know that you know there’s not just one Black experience, so no single text could fully represent the vastness of our language.

This book is about pride and preservation. Historically Black Phrases is our love letter to our people. We see you. We see each other.

Books in Bloom

Springtime means warmer weather, a season of renewal, and fresh new books perfect for spring holidays, blooming garden parties, and outdoor adventures! Whether you’re hosting the holidays or looking to flex your green thumb, we have everything you need to gift, garden, and grow this spring. Check out our highlights below to browse our favorite

Read more

Reflect and Rejoice during Black History Month!

For the month of February and beyond, join us in celebrating Black excellence in all its forms! Whether you want to read up on pivotal Black changemakers who have and who continue to fight for freedom and justice; share Black heroes like Simone Biles, Harriet Tubman, or Rosetta Tharpe with young readers; or celebrate the

Read more

Bright and Bold Giftable Books

You have our permission to judge these books by their covers! These bright, bold, and eye-catching books are just as lovely inside as their beautiful outsides suggest. This season, shoppers are scouring stores for the perfect gift. They want to give their friends and family something that feels special, something that will light them up

Read more