Category Archives: Language

Otherworldly Videos: Wicked Scientist

This song is by English rapper, Juice Aleem (sounds like Jerusalem) and it is from his Wicked Scientist Mix. Reminiscent of the visuals of early Hip Hop & Rap video, it was partly inspired by an old VHS and TDK tape footage. Not only does Aleem use mystical elements in his song, but also the video contains Andinkra symbols of the Akan people (indigenous West African group).


The N-Word…

In light of the recent controversy over the Dutch Magazine, Jackie’s ignorant article on Rihanna, in which she was called “de niggabitch” (reminiscent of the term “negro wench“), I decided to give my two cents on how I feel about the word. When I was younger, I was completely against the use of the word. I thought that it should never be said, either with the “er” or the “a.” However, I have realized now that it much more complicated than simply not saying it and I can understand both sides. There is not a clear answer to how to use the word.

I understand those who are against the use of the word. It was a word that was used against black people; a word that was meant to degrade them. N***er was one of the last words a black person might hear before they were lynched or murdered. The word was probably a bastardization of “negro,” which means black, a word that was labeled as bad. I agree that the over-usage of it does desensitize us in some ways and changing the word slightly does fully negate that cultural memory.

However, I understand the other side as well. Since it is a word used against us, we have the right to take it back for ourselves and only for ourselves. I find it very irritating when other races wonder why they can’t say a word that we say because that statement shows a lack of cultural sensitivity and historical knowledge. My question for them is why do you want to say it so much when it is not about you. With globalization and commercialization, the cultural and historical context is often lost and without someone to educate other cultures inside and outside of America about it, nuanced discussions are hindered.

For example, the changing of the ending of the word from “er” to “a.” The story of the “signifying monkey” is often mentioned as an important part of black culture and language development. We like to play on words and often that play on words is how we deal with our situations. One of the jazz musicians who influenced rap music was Cab Calloway. Cab Calloway put together the Hepster’s Dictionary and it shows black cultural use of metaphors, double meanings, and other figurative language skills (“bad” equals good). From that viewpoint, it is easy to see why some of us find it okay to change the word to have a different meaning, but only within our own cultural context (the intention seems different from people within our own group versus people outside of it).

Moreover, I often feel that some of us are blaming ourselves by saying that we need to stop saying the word for others to stop saying it. It is a naive viewpoint. In the past, whatever we did, whether it was act more like the dominant group or act more like our own cultural group, did not change how others viewed us. It should not be solely our responsibility to make others respect us when the problem did not start with us. Often when people use that excuse of us saying the word, too, it seems like a cop out to avoid any accountability or questioning of themselves.

Declaring the word dead or saying that we should not say it at all, sweeps that history under the rug. Earlier this year, a huge uproar over the removal of the n-word from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn was all over the news. What was the point of removing the word from the book? It is a part of history and the best way to handle it is to have dialogue about it and educate others about it. Censoring the word is not going to stop others from thinking it, and believing the prejudiced views that created the word.

If you want some other views on the n-word and language censorship, click on the links.

The Mambos

I have mentioned mambo a few times on this blog and this will be another one. Did you know that the word for the high priestess in Haitian Voodoo is mambo? Mambo, which means “important words, matters, etc” or “conversation with the gods,” in the Central African language of Kikongo, is also used for the name of the Cuban music and dance. In addition to those usages, mambo is a greeting in Swahili (“how are things”) and “king” in the Zimbabwean Shona language. It may also be related to “Mumbo Jumbo” or “Mambo Jambo,” which came from the Mandingo word “Maamajomboo.” “Maamajombo” (“mamagyombo) meant “a magician who makes the troubled spirits of ancestors go away,” and was a name for a masked dancer in a religious ceremony. Later it was used in the 18th century for the name of a West African god. Several of these languages are part of the Bantu language family, which explains why the word shows up in them.

The above clip is from the documentary, When the Spirits Dance Mambo, which was produced by Afro-puerto Rican author Marta Moreno Vega. The documentary is named after the book of the same name. For more on West African deities in the Americans, read Denise Oliver Velez’s article on Daily Kos.

Mayda Del Valle- Mami’s Making Mambo

The Power of Words: Revolution

Revolution: From the latin words, re + volvere, volgere, which means to roll back, turn back around or return.


(1) : the action by a celestial body of going round in an orbit or elliptical course; also : apparent movement of such a body round the earth (2) : the time taken by a celestial body to make a complete round in its orbit (3) : the rotation of a celestial body on its axisb : completion of a course (as of years); also : the period made by the regular succession of a measure of time or by a succession of similar events(1) : a progressive motion of a body around an axis so that any line of the body parallel to the axis returns to its initial position while remaining parallel to the axis in transit and usually at a constant distance from it (2) : motion of any figure about a center or axis <revolution of a right triangle about one of its legs generates a cone> (3) :rotation 1b
2 a : a sudden, radical, or complete changeb : a fundamental change in political organization;especially : the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governedc : activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situationd : a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm <the Copernican revolution>e : a changeover in use or preference especially in technology
As we witness revolutions breaking out all over the world, it seems that revolution and change are the only things that will always remain constant.