When it comes to Black culture, everyone wants a piece, especially when it involves fashion, music, and the African American Vernacular English (AAVE) language. While we have the unofficial Urban Dictionary online, there will be an official Oxford Dictionary of African American English in the upcoming years. According to The New York Post, the dictionary will attempt to codify the contributions and capture the rich relationship Black Americans have with the English language.
The project stems from Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Oxford University Press. Henry Louis Gates Jr. will serve as the project’s editor-in-chief and is the Hutchins Center’s director. Henry says the dictionary will not just collect spellings and definitions but will create a historical record and serve as a tribute to the people behind the words.
Henry explains, “Just the way Louis Armstrong took the trumpet and turned it inside out from the way people played European classical music. Black people took English and ‘reinvented it,’ to make it reflect their sensibilities and to make it mirror their cultural selves.” Let’s get into this breakdown of the future dictionary.
Reports state the upcoming dictionary will contain words and phrases that were initially, predominantly, or exclusively used by African Americans, said Danica Salazar, the executive editor for World Englishes for Oxford Languages. Words like “kitchen,” which is a term used to describe the hair that grows at the nape of the neck, or phrases like “side hustle,” which was created in the Black community and is now widely used, may be included.
NBC News reports that words with African origins such as ‘goober,’ ‘gumbo,’ and ‘okra’ survived the Middle Passage and our African ancestors will also be explained. Henry advised, “And words that we take for granted today, such as ‘cool’ and ‘crib,’ ‘hokum’ and ‘diss,’ ‘hip’ and ‘hep,’ ‘bad,’ meaning ‘good,’ and ‘dig,’ meaning ‘to understand ’— these are just a tiny fraction of the words that have come into American English from African American speakers … over the last few hundred years.”
The dictionary is funded by grants from the Mellon and Wagner Foundations. Researchers involved are pulling the resources to prepare the dictionary. Some could include books like ‘Cab Calloway’s Cat-ologue: a Hepster’s Dictionary,’ a collection of words used by musicians, including “beat” to mean tired. As well as ‘Dan Burley’s Original Handbook of Harlem Jive,’ published in 1944; and ‘Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner,’ published in 1994.
The first copy of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English is expected to be released in 2025.
Roomies, ya’ll ready?