Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Lesson in the Urban Vernacular

“That’s dead,” one of my students says to another student. Oh god, I think, what is dead? Is it a huge cockroach? Possibly, a dead mouse or rat. Or even worse, maybe they’re talking about a fellow student. Much to my surprise it was none of those things.

“That’s dead” become one of my favorite phrases the students would say. It is used as a retort for a statement that the student thinks is absolutely impossible. It goes something like this:

“Man, you don’t even want me to come over there with my mans Jimmy. We press those niggas’ asses all night.” – Student A

“That’s dead.” – Student B

Now, that would be followed up with Student A “stamping” that this is truth. Usually, you stamp on someone who has died, such as a friend who has been shot. If you are really serious, you’ll stamp on your grandmother. And so, the conversation would continue with Student A stating:

“On my mans, Juju, I stamp that s***.” If this were a more serious conversation, Student A might stamp on someone in the neighborhood who died and was a little more famous than the aforementioned Juju. Student A might go so far as stamping on a dead relative.

Now, these are serious conversations that these students are having. They go from talking about what they did the night before to talking about dead people. I can’t think of anything more morose to discuss on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. But apparently they are ready to dredge up the past in order to look as though they are just honest characters.

I mentioned “pressed” above. I should have explained that one. Getting “pressed out” or getting you’re “a** pressed” means that someone has fought you and clearly if you were “pressed out” that meant you lost. “Pressed out” should not be confused with “pressed,” which I suppose would be the second definition in our urban dictionary.

“Pressed” means someone wants something from you and they want you to do it quickly or they want it done now. Let’s say, I’m in the classroom and I’m lecturing on resumes (I was a career teacher, I did this frequently) and a student pulls out his cell phone and starts texting. I’ll say something like, “Timmy, put that phone away.” Now, assume that Timmy does not comply with said request and I once again redirect him, Timmy might say something like, “Man, she be pressed.” Meaning that I can’t wait for him to finish his texting conversation. I want the phone to be in his pocket NOW.

“You just got me go.” That was another frequent expression said exasperatingly in my classroom. When I first heard the phrase, it confused the hell out of me. Could you say that again, “Did I get your goad?” “Nah, Ms. So-and-So, you just got me go.” It means that you got under somebody’s skin and made them angry. It usually happened when I told them what assignments had to be completed.

Another phrase to express disgust would go something like, “You’re blowing me, Ms. Teacher Lady.” Ah, this phrase was the crudest of all because I know what that phrase means in a sexual connotation. The students never meant it in this way at all. “Man, you're blowing me.” This was simply a shortened version of, what I’m sure used to be, “You’re blowing my mind.” I can’t handle what you’re saying because it is too much for my brain.

If a student was about to have a meltdown, I would usually hear the phrase, “I’m about to kirk off.” You can also "kirk out." Either preposition is acceptable. Or perhaps the students wanted to discuss someone who got restrained earlier in the day, one might say something like, “Suzy was kirking off at lunch and they restrained her a**.” I always wondered why they hadn’t come up with a slang word for when they were restrained. I guess it’s bad enough getting tackled to the ground by adults who have no clue what they are doing, maybe they didn’t want to make up a slang word. That might cheapen the event.

Oh, and let me not forget the world-famous “clappers.” No, this is not an STD, it’s what butt cheeks do when a woman walks. Well, mostly women with big butts. Their butt cheeks, well, they clap together when they take steps or generally move around. So, a girl might be said to “have the clappers.” Or a student might say, “Boy, she like to use them clappers.” It was sometimes said to me and it always made me want to hit the kid in the face. “Ms. So-and-So has them clappers. Mmm.” So, disturbing on so many levels. I’ve nearly slapped students for this disrespectful statement.

I must say, being in an inner city high school was not only like teaching, but learning a new language. Sometimes, the kids would think it was funny when I didn’t know what they were saying. They thought they were so smart for using their language, but it’s easy to learn a language when you are fully immersed in it. And I was and continue to be, for longer than I ever intended.

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