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Etymology and Cardi B.

By Tiffany Marcum 

If you use Instagram, Vine, listen to pop radio, or have seen any of the Love and Hip Hop series, you may know who I am describing already. Cardi B., born as Belcalis Marelnis Almanzar, posted an insightful story to her Instagram. It begs the question, “Why am I told that getting a Hermes Birkin bag “DEPRECIATES THE VALUE”, is it because I am a rapper? Hip hop has added positive value to fashion and culture…” 

The smash collaboration with J. Balvin and Bad Bunny “I Like It”, which samples “Oh That’s Nice” by Pete Rodriguez, leads us directly into some comparisons. “…I like those Balenciaga’s, the ones that look like socks, I like going to the jeweler, I put rocks all in my watch!…  

We know cardi for her ever changing hair and nails and also recognizable catch phrases. “Eoww!” (sassy/ good news reaction), “Okurrr!” (understand?), “Regular Shmegular” (everyday girl), “Shmoney” (rich), and the greeting, “Wash Poppin?”. As a cat lady, I use Eoww. I love that her catch phrases are so accessible and light-hearted. 

Instagram art communities have welcomed my projects, and the slang terms: “Bomb”, “Dope”, “Fly”, “Hella”, “Word, and “Yo” have been weaved into my everyday lexicon. And I can verify that my mom remains unamused. 

I have been a rap fan since around 1996, and MTV and VH-1 still played music videos. Popular at the time were Busta Rhymes, Tupac, Coolio, and the Fugees. I was taken aback by the visuals, caught quickly onto the intense wordplay and was inspired.  Rap and R&B were so different compared to the dominant country and southern gospel environment I grew up in. 

Bomb may seem pretty straightforward and a weird piece of slang. It can mean the physical object, to fail or to be a success. The tone appears to change in context whether you place “the” in front of it. With “the” it is slang for success. In the collaboration with her on again off again husband Offset, “Clout”: They know I’m the bomb, they be ticking me off, saying anything to get a response…”  


Instagram User: Your art is the bomb!

Me: Thank you!! 

Dope has been a pejorative known as slang for drugs and slackers. To use the phrase “Your art is dope!” in 2020 would not mean “your art looks like you took a bunch of drugs and made poor decisions”. In fact, we have transformed it into a compliment! Cardi B. uses double entendre to express a physical compliment in her song “Money Bag”: “He said I’m protein thick, you look like a dope fiend sis, He make sure he put Cardi down on his grocery list…” 

Fly is also a tricky one. It is a comment on someone’s attractiveness and style. Cardi B. in her song “Bartier Cardi”, from her debut album “Invasion of Privacy”: “Who that be fly as a martian?” I tried to drop this casually on a text to a local friend once.

Me:  “I am going to do some fly makeup!”

Friend: “Fly?”

Me: “See also cool, pretty, trendy…” 

Friend: “OH! I thought you meant like an actual flying bug.”  

Hella came into my rural scene with a song “Hella Good” by No Doubt. This single came off an album they recorded only in Jamaica and returned a bit to their ska roots. I am convinced that this word came from the island and translates to “a major amount” of something. Cardi has used it to describe a level of fakeness and confrontation in “Pull Up”: Hella fake, you better pull up on me, I hope you feel the same when you see my face, you better pull up on me…”

Word is my most used and go to text. I picked it up from my brother and college friends from the early 2000s. This is also the phrase that catches new friends off guard. “You say “word?” I also follow that with a popular Giphy from Tenor Keyboard of Cardi B. using the phrase. I use it in place of confirmations such as “ok” or “understand”. But I have learned- never use that Facebook thumb.

Yo is the oldest out of these slang terms. 14th century England claims its earliest use as a greeting. The film “Rocky” and surrounding Italian and African American Philadelphia culture catapulted the word into our lexicons. And is used in nearly every single rap freestyle ever.

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