Dictionary of African American English Update.

Last year I posted about the Oxford Dictionary of African American English (ODAAE); now Sandra E. Garcia reports for the NY Times (archived) on how it’s coming along:

The researchers say they aim to publish a first batch of 1,000 definitions — some words and phrases will have more than one — by March 2025. But the more important goal of the project, which will be edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., a scholar of African American history at Harvard University, is to underscore the significance of African American English and to create a resource for future research into Black speech, history and culture. […]

To support their etymological claims, researchers and editors from Oxford Languages and the Harvard University Hutchins Center for African & African American Research have drawn on lyrics from jazz, hip-hop, blues and R&B as well as letters, diaries, newspaper and magazine articles, Black Twitter, slave narratives and abolitionist writings. Individual entries will be explained using quotations pulled from Black literature, including examples from Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison and Martin Luther King Jr. […]

The dictionary will exist as a living record well after March 2025 has come and gone: According to Professor Gates, the public will continue to be able to suggest entries for consideration even after the first edition is published. Professor Gates recalled asking his cousin, who fought in the Vietnam War, to add a few words. He submitted 200, Professor Gates said, his wide smile revealing the apples of his cheeks.

In April, Oxford Languages and the Hutchins Center shared 10 entries with The New York Times. Below are selected definitions, variant forms and etymologies.

bussin (adjective and participle): 1. Especially describing food: tasty, delicious. Also more generally: impressive, excellent. 2. Describing a party, event, etc.: busy, crowded, lively. (Variant forms: bussing, bussin’.) […]

kitchen (n.): The hair at the nape of the neck, which is typically shorter, kinkier and considered more difficult to style. […]

old school (adj.): Characteristic of early hip-hop or rap music that emerged in New York City between the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, which often includes the use of couplets, funk and disco samples, and playful lyrics. Also used to describe the music and artists of that style and time period. (Variant form: old skool.) […]

In addition to appearing in the Oxford Dictionary of African American English, the entries will also be added to the wider word bank of the Oxford English Dictionary, Professor Gates said. “That is the best of both worlds, because we want to show how Black English is part of the larger of Englishes, as they say, spoken around the world,” he said.

A correction points out that “Although the researchers plan to publish a first edition by March 2025, it will not necessarily be in print.” I’m sorry to hear that, and I hope that it will eventually be possible to produce a real book instead of an online resource, valuable as that is; in any event, this is a Good Thing. Thanks, Sven!


  1. ktschwarz says

    The NYT story opens with a mention of a “recent online presentation”, but doesn’t give the link. It’s on the OED’s blog, The Oxford Dictionary of African American English: First 100 words. The video shows the draft quotation paragraphs for some of the showcase entries (I was hoping there’d be a list of all 100 words, but didn’t see it).

    Kitchen ‘hair at the nape of the neck’ was added to the main OED in September 2020 along with the full update of the standard kitchen, as a separate headword since it’s unknown whether it has a separate etymology or not, with a first quotation from 1964. This project has now antedated it to 1918.

  2. This project has now antedated it to 1918.

    Very nice!

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