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Ebonics Into English

Updated on October 23, 2011

Ebonics into English: here are a few phrases that are translated from Ebonics into English. Translating Ebonics into English might come in handy if you have a black friend from the inner city, or, if you wonder what your teenage "wigger" (a white person who wishes they were black and listens to a lot of gansta rap) is talking about to their friends. You'll notice a pattern after a while:

"Weed Smoke" or "Lye" means Marijuana.

"Pie" means a kilo of cocaine.

"Fly" means you have new clothes on; or--"I be fly to dat" means you understand something.

A"whip" is a car.

"Kicks" are sneakers or running shoes.

"Chips" is money.

A "crib" is where you live.

A "box" is a radio.

An "ox" is a razor blade.

"Jakes" are policemen.

A "jack" is a payphone.

"Busta" is a guy.

"Caps" are friends; alternately, if you "cap" someone, you've shot them.

"Smack the monkey" means to make love or have sex.

"Whaddup?" means "What's up?"

"Dawg" means your friend, it can have a faintly derogatory flavor. "You ma dawg", means, "You're my dog"..."I own you", in a kidding kind of way.

"Wigs" means bullets.

If you "got lef" it means you got killed.

If you "caught and F" it means you got sent up for a felony.

If you "got the dragon" it means you have bad breath.

"Hit me on the hip" means "page me".

"Sherm" is angel dust (an evil street drug).

"The germ" is AIDS

A "hat" is a condom.

"Phat" means "Excellent!"

"Kitchen" is the kinky hair of a black person at the nape of his neck.

"You ashy" means your skin has a whitish overtone from being dried out.

"Bling-bling" means expensive jewelry...

Getting the idea? Some of the phrases remind me of English Cockney speech, in the use of a slang vernacular substitute for a common word, with a little taste of humour or poetry about it.

Many times the final consonant in the words aren't pronounced:

"pas" means past

"han" means hand...

Many times the whole sentence is abbreviated in certain ways (ebonics is particularly unkind to verbs):

"Ama do it" means "I'm going to do it". "She trippin'" means "she is tripping"; "they allright" means they are all right."

So if someone comes up to you on the street and says:

"Mo fo, i tink dis busta gets his caps outta da club"

You know they mean:

"Motherf*****, I think this guy needs to get his friends out of the bar."

Or if the guys says:

"Fo drop da dime on dat whip; i gots ta pimp dat chrome."

You know the guy means:

"That mother fu***** spent a lot of money on that car, I'd love to drive it."

Ebonics DOES translate into English: you have to listen very closely to hear the key words that you recognize as actual English. You can sometimes guess from the tone, the meaning of the rest of it.

Is Ebonics a legitimate language? Why do we need to make it legitimate by recognizing it? Why do we need to validate it as a separate language by translating Ebonics into English? Why not just insist everyone speak English. Period.

I'm really of two minds about it. The word itself, 'ebonics', is a portmanteau word, a combination of "ebony" and "phonics". I'm old-fashioned enough not to like portmanteau words. They reek of a short-hand, mangled use of English to me; also--they seem made-up, not like real words at all. The same goes for the whole Ebonics thing. Why not have everyone on the same page with American English? Better yet, why not have just one English language, world-wide? It would certainly save some confusion on the part of people learning English as a second language.

My other mind says, "Dialect is legitimate in its place". We come from different regions, we come from different backgrounds and areas, and our speech naturally reflects that.

I came from rural America. I spoke rural American English, and had to be more or less trained out of using certain phrases or pronouncing words certain ways, in order not to be thought ignorant or countrified by prospective friends, boyfriends or employers. "Walkin' down the road" became "walking down the street". I dropped the phrase "I reckon" or "Reckon so" (which means, "I think so") altogether from my vocabulary. I love to read, I love books, so it was fairly easy for me to pick up on a more grammatical use of English in my speech, and better diction.

It might be much more difficult for people who don't read and aren't very much exposed to books and writing, to understand the grammatically correct way to use the English language. Spoken English, verbal English, is only half the language. What Ebonics misses is the other half: the written language.

Ebonics doesn't translate into a written language at all. It looks like spaghetti; it looks like garbage, in print. English has a form and structure, and underlying grammatical rules, to make it READABLE. Ebonics just doesn't have that. It isn't so consistent or meaningful as to be legible or readable.

Still, the use of Ebonics is so widespread that we will in the future need to know how to translate Ebonics into English.

Where did the word "Ebonics come from? In 1973, some black scholars started to use this term instead of the phrase "Nonstandard Negro English" to describe how urban black Americans speak. They found the phrase "Nonstandard Negro English", or NNE, to be pejorative and negative.

The term "Ebonics" didn't actually come into our American national vocabulary until 1996, when the Oakland, California school board recognized it as the primary language of its African American students, which were a majority in the school, and decided to take this into account in their English classes. In other words, offer these people a translation that they could understand of what they commonly spoke into what was commonly used in ordinary business or academic American English. The goal was to enable the students to understand standard English.

This goal was vastly misunderstood and caused a furor at the time. It was misrepresented in the press and on the Internet as "teaching Ebonics". Well, that got quite a lot of suburban California up in arms. Suburban California, both black and white, felt it was limiting to the students. They regard that type of speech as an evil corruption of standard English; they think it denotes ignorance, a complete lack of education, and renders the speaker of it unemployable. That was my initial reaction, too. I thought these people would be so much better off if they simply learned standard English like the rest of the people in the country. America is a melting pot; most of our ancestors came here not knowing a word of English. They learned as they went, in order to get ahead. They didn't persist in speaking their native tongues exclusively, or refuse to learn English. It was a question of survival.

I still think that, but I am afraid, in my heart, that Ebonics seems to be with America to stay. It has lasted long enough for me to think that I have to eventually accept it as an American language. I also thought rap music (if you can call it music; to me it isn't, but to so many people it IS!) was going to be a brief fad and go away. Huh. Not!

I might not like it but I might have to learn to accept both rap and Ebonics as a legitimate expression of American sub-culture. The kids think it's so cool. They go around in their gansta pants, with most of their underwear showing above the low-riding baggy pants. They think it's cool to call women "ho's" (and I REFUSE to translate THAT expression...use your imagination). They think it captures the urban angst; I know it's an expression of anger. Whether or not I think the language is legitimate, I must admit to thinking the anger is legitimate.

Part of the glamour of it for the kids is to talk this secret street talk that makes them feel street-wise and street-sophisticated, and is also a complete mystery to the suburban mom. I can understand that. When I was a (baby-boomer) kid, we had some teenage code words that our parents didn't understand.

For the urban black people, the real deals, the people actually from the hood, though, I think this whole thing keeps them back. It keeps them where they are: it keeps them down, jobless, on welfare, and in the ghetto. It keeps them segregated. It keeps them in unhappy ignorance. These people are not stupid people. They have great potential to add to our American society. What happens? Their world is so hopeless that the most successful of them are either pimps or drug dealers or both. There is some negative glamour of the street--I can feel it. The actual reality is grim...we wouldn't want to actually live there, for real. People have so few chances to rise. Their environment is dirty, ugly, unsanitary, and unsafe. They die young. They sell their bodies for drugs at a very early age. They get shot.

Legitimizing Ebonics is like saying that the environment that produced it is here to stay.

God help and bless us all. I can just imagine United Nations translators whose specialty is translating Ebonics into English, for the rest of the world!


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    • profile image

      Au Contraire 

      2 years ago

      *Whew!* I told you that'd take more than 8,192 characters (sorry for omitting the word "characters" in the previous comment). But thanks for listening so far--assuming that you did not just get upset and refused to post the comment. But assuming you did, here's one last point to follow up:

      7. On Language

      Any self-respecting, adequately trained, even amateur linguist, if they know virtually nothing else of the field, should know at least this one small fact: all languages, in terms of communicative effectiveness, are created just like the Constitution of the United States suggests all men (read: humans) are created: inherently, indisputably, and incontrovertibly equal. Now, this does not mean that they are all the same, nor that they have to be. But just because a language doesn't look or sound like the one you're used to, does not mean that it's inferior to your preferred language. Languages change every day. People invent new words, stretch the definitions of some, shorten the meanings of others, and every now and then forget a few altogether; languages meet, collide, mix, separate, differentiate, are born, and die every single day. And whether you like them or not has absolutely no bearing on their ability to convey meaning, substance, and serve as a medium of communication between people, which is what all languages do. AAVE does, in fact, have it's very own grammar--it has rules that must be followed for an utterance or sample to be considered 'grammatical', just like any other language, dialect, or code. It is not the result of miseducation or backwards thinking or anything else like that--it is the result of a myriad of peoples and cultures coming together in subordination and opposition to their English-speaking captors. It is the result of centuries of forced separation, by practice of chattel slavery, by backwards and detrimental social policies, by economic, social, political, mental, and spiritual disenfranchisement, by verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, and every other kind of abuse, and in general by decades upon decades of being treated as less than; but also, by beauty.

      By the beauty of resisting generations of torture and systematic eradication; by the beauty of creativity and innovation, infusing one's history with one's daily reality and aspirations for the future; by the beauty of maintaining one's history and heritage after nearly half a millennium of genocide.

      African American Vernacular English and the various Ebonics of the world, are, just like any other language, inherently, irrefutably, and indubitably beautiful, in their own special ways. Please do some serious research (not google, not bing, not random articles--walk into a library or onto the campus of a tier 1 research institution or grab a subscription to vetted, well-known academic journal) before you write a piece like this again. You could really do a lot more harm than good.

    • profile image

      Au Contraire 

      2 years ago

      I hope you still don't believe this... because you, and what seems to be everyone in the comments thus far, have proven to be woefully misinformed. I truly hope that you either take down this article or put in the effort to have it seriously and accurately revised, as much of the information depicted, from the beginning to the comments, is pedagogically ludicrous, egregiously racist, and just plain scientifically inaccurate.

      While it would likely take far more than 8192 to fully render inert the horrors that you have placed onto this page, I can at least start with this:

      1. "Translations"

      Many of your "translations" are either false, incredibly outdated, reflections of particular socio- or possibly even idiolects that should not be generalized at a whim without substantial empirical support, or some combination of the three. Unfortunately, the baseless suppositions and distorted experiences you've shared here don't speak to the true nature of the broader ethnolinguistic phenomenon known as Ebonics.

      A lot of the language you describe in your piece actually belongs to multiple different forms of language, including slang, colloquialisms, and Hip Hop Nation Language, or HHNL. While all of these as they manifest in MAE have been heavily influenced by African Americans and AAVE, they are not the same thing. Also, *none* of them are inherently vulgar or evil, so please stop including profanity, criminal, or other 'dubious' subject matter in your translations--Black folks do talk about things other than sex, money, weed, and motherf***ers. In fact--people of all races, colors, religions, sexualities, socioeconomic statuses and linguistic backgrounds talk about stuff like that all the time--so next time you're translating good ol' pure and sweet suburban talk for someone, please make sure you talk plenty about bulimia and heroine and divorce and suicide and how you don't know how to raise your kids and how you can't dance to save your life and how you don't know how to season your food (see--stereotypes suck, don't they?).

      2. Ebonics

      Yes, the word 'Ebonics' is a portmanteau of the words Ebony and phonics. It was coined by renowned Black psychologist Dr. Robert L. Williams in 1973. Williams used the word to refer, accurately so, to the history of the dialect: a beautiful code wrought from the combination of West African languages and the various languages with which they came into contact as the African Diaspora spread across the globe. Many languages, nations, and cultures have 'Ebonic' varieties: French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, and yes, English. Ebonics can develop in non-European languages as well, including Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Urdu, Russian (Eurasian), Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and so forth. Pidginization, the process by which new languages are formed by 2 or more languages that have come into contact with each other, and creolization, the process that occurs when a pidgin is used by the next generation (the one after initial linguistic contact) as their L1, or first language, can occur between *any* languages or dialects, and has been continuously occurring throughout history since... Baaaasically the beginning of time. Even Mainstream American English, or MAE (not "proper", not "correct", and not "grammatical"--don't worry, I'll explain later), was formed as a result of numerous rounds of creolization with other languages--the vast majority of the MAE we recognize today is the product of mixing between French, Spanish, German, a wide variety of Native American languages, African languages, and more.

      3. Portmanteaus

      Not that this really has anything to do with the Ebonics, or more accurately what you are trying to describe, which is the manifestation of Ebonics in English used in the United States, also known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), but since you included it in your argumentation: I'm sorry about your aversion for portmanteau's (you don't need to say portmanteau word--that's superfluously redundant), but that's really no reason to discredit the linguistic integrity or historical veracity of the word. Just for fun, here are a few portmanteaus that you probably use and/or have heard of on a regular basis:























































      ... sooooo yeeeaaaaa.... that happens a lot too. In a lot of languages....... Including English................. *whispers* We do it all the time....

      *whispers again* It's perfectly natural.......... and it's okay........................... XD

      4. Opinion piece

      The reeeeaaally creepy thing about this piece is that it seems as though you're mixing your own opinion in with what you claim is fact. Actually, what's even scarier is that I'm not sure if you know where your 'facts' end and your opinion begins.

      I get that this is supposed to be an opinion(?) piece, but you should really make that much clearer from the start and throughout--some people (like those in the comments, perhaps) may take what you're saying as the undisputed truth, when actually, any smiling faces resulting from reading your piece would have actually been told lies... And I got proof.

      5. Pictures?

      What's with those pictures??? Like, seriously??? Just what exactly are you trying to portray? The 'real' life in the 'hood'? Daily activities in the 'ghetto'? How people who use AAVE must live and behave--like destitute criminals scrounging about in abject poverty. Good to know that your viewpoint isn't biased or anything.

      The stereotypes portrayed in the images that you just so tactlessly, haphazardly, and ignorantly slapped into various points throughout the text (wtf is with the freaking gingerbread house???) do nothing but belie any sense of erudite or learned understanding of the evolution of English, of any discipline of Linguistics, of sociology, history, or much anything else for that matter.

      **Newsflash**: 'AAVE speaker' does not equal 'dangerous', 'criminal', 'scary', 'evil' (a word that you use far too often throughout the piece) or anything of the like. That's called stereotyping, and your participation in/exhibition of stereotyping is extremely racist, to say the least. That would be just as preposterous as someone writing an article on Spanish, or Arabic, or Chinese, or Appalachian English and just throwing in random pictures of people in sombreros, or suicide bombers, or tiny, narrow eyed kung-fu masters in robes devouring bowls of rice, or filthy, squalid, disease-ridden, uneducated, redneck, drunk, vulgar, backwards White people dancing around in the front yard, playing banjos and sleeping with their siblings. Your mind, your schooling, your parents, your friends, your loved ones, mass mainstream media (especially the media) and a whole host of others may have told you, and still regularly tell you, that these depictions are not only true, but ubiquitously so, but let me assure you--the reality is that such portrayals are not only grotesquely exaggerated, but also the result of centuries of systemic oppression inflicted the groups who use these languages by White American imperialism.

      6. On "thug"

      I would advise against using the term "thug" to refer to men of color, especially Black people, but really any people of color. Whether you realize it or not, the word "thug" is really just code for the n-word. You may not intend it to mean so, but it has that effect (and others very well do), especially since it has been *disproportionately* used--key word being **disproportionately**--to describe young Black men. So, please, refrain from the using it. Thaaaaaanks.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      "properly". Thank you for the comment. I appreciate your input.

    • Mychole Price profile image

      Mychole Price 

      6 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      Ebonics and slang differ.Ebonics has plenty of slang in it, but that's mainly because 'Blacks' have created most of the slang that is used by many of Americans' today. Ebonics has it's own kind of sentence structure, it's own tone and rhythm. Some sounds are omitted and some are put in, much like an accent. Ebonics comes from way, way back in the day, slavery times to be exact. The whites aren't allowing the slave children to go to school, or teach them English properly. They have to learn from their parents. Depending on where you were in the America's you had creoles, patois or whatever. That accent stuck, and the grammar used by the parents was passed down. With generations of non-native English speakers you create your own dialect from what you understand. You create your own structure to get the point across, the past accent somehow sticks and makes pronounciation of words different from what they usually would be. Thus your born with Ebonics. Now slang can come from any language and community. If you're not corrected how to speak before that "language" period in your brain turns down, then it won't stick as easily.

      I grew up in a working class, I'm 19, and I was taught "Standard" English. I pronounced my words to the T because that's how I was forced to speak. The only reason was to be seen as "educated" by the sadistic society. However I don't have to speak that way unless I'm working for a company that can't understand my "dialect" of speaking.

      Hip-hop was created by the Blacks to speak the truth on the opression, to have fun in their dire times. It was about fighting the power and the love of our identity. Then it transmuated into RAP in the 90's and Hip-hop began to fade away into the shadows. The RAP culture is about saggy pants which is from prison, it's about being angry and violent towards one another. It's extreme vigilante, angst behavior. It's a darker side of "Hip-hop" and not really the greatest thing to hear.

      Now being of mixed race, I love Ebonics, it's the side of me I embrace. It sounds amazing if you know how to speak it, without the overuse of slang. I love to speak it with my friends, because it's apart of my history and culture. I'm not going to change the way I speak because it's apart of your genocide agenda to end the black culture. Only when I need to talk proper will I do so, but overall, get used to me speaking my language because that's not changing for you one bit.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I'm not sure, other than the libraries recognize it as a language. In my heart, I don't--I just think it's very corrupted English, or slang.

    • smcopywrite profile image


      6 years ago from all over the web

      i am not certain if ebonics has evolved yet into a language. of course there are phrases and words that are being used that were uniquely created in ebonics. however, you are still using english and plugging in ebonics where you can. Therefore, wouldn't ebonics be slang?what makes ebonics any different from the slang that is being used today or in the 1950s?

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, platinum Owl.

    • platinumOwl4 profile image


      7 years ago

      Number7, Not to very long ago, there were other people assigned to a ghetto. Matter of fact the word ghetto origin is with them. When you want to make a point that"these people" , as you describe them in many instances are not making progress ebonics makes for a great component. You failed to include in your hub how much money is made by the lawyers, accountants and agents surrounding the gansta rap. The clothing manufacturing make huge amounts of money along with the California school board who found another way to dummy down a group of people. This will ensure their continued failure. Jo_Goldsmith11 claims the photos broke her heart. And they probably did, I could post photo of a group of people who were the object of scorn in the 30's and your heart would freeze. When I read this article I can only say "how quickly we can forget" And for the record I am familiar with that community and there are many successful people who are not Drug dealers and Pimps.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, scarytaff. I had to check out where you live, that you haven't heard of it. In my heart, I was thinking, "lucky you!".

    • scarytaff profile image

      Derek James 

      7 years ago from South Wales

      Very interesting hub No.7. This is the first time I've heard of ebonics. Good work.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Sally, and thank you, Dean, for your comments. Sally: The "Kitchen" is "fug-willies" in Creole. Go figure--I'll never know where these things actually came from.

      Dean, do that for me, tell the grandson to get his pants back up and cover up the Calvin Kleins. I don't enjoy the sight of underwear all over the place. This amused the heck out of me--my sister told me the reason for the baggy pants with the extra, extra long rise, crotch down to the knees look--the person is bragging about the size of the male equipment he has stashed--apparently he NEEDS all that room in his pants for the monkey-smacker.

    • cheaptrick profile image


      7 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      Hi P.This is one of your best and...I'm Down wit it Sista!So good to read an objective analysis of this corrupted English.Now,I'm going to have a long talk with my grandson and tell him to,for Gods sake,Pull his Pants UP!


    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      7 years ago

      Like your earlier comments - very interesting and thoughtful hub. I had actually heard most of the phrases. I have teenage boys that listen to rap. I still can't figure out: "Kitchen" is the kinky hair of a black person at the nape of his neck.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Jo, thank you so much for that insightful comment: "we live in the richest country in the world, and we fight instead of teach." I'm going to remember it.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you all for your comments.

      Jean: I agree with you wholeheartedly. Lowering the standards in teaching English does no one any good. These people have to learn to read and write proper English in order to rise above the circumstances of their births. They are capable of it, I'm sure of that.

      Gypsy Rose: I believe the people CAN go from the language of the hood, the language of the street, to the language of business and academics. If they want to. If they try. Part of the problem is that peer pressure, the pressure to conform to the environment they are in, makes it so very difficult for them to even work on escaping it.

      Epi, my main man!! You're up early, with the birds! Me, I just awoke, and it's after 9 am in upstate New York. (After all, it's Sunday!)

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image


      7 years ago

      I must say thank you for this wonderful well written hub! I learned quite a bit. I think what struck me the most was the photos. It broke my heart to see humans living in those kinds of conditions. I think the real shame is that as one of the richest countries in the world, we fight instead of teach. Slang has no place in society if you really want to have a meaningful relationship with another person. I have a couple of family members who could be considered " wiggers". sigh!

      Take care..and blessings!

    • epigramman profile image


      7 years ago

      ...always always love your hub selections and subjects - they are so diverse, interesting and fascinating and that's what make you the ultimate hubber my friend - so glad I found you ......lake erie time 5:58am

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      7 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Wow I don't think I could ever truly understand Ebonics myself but it is good to know that it's out there. I teach English to individuals in Riga, Latvia. All levels from beginners to advanced so this article was of special interest to me. That only leaves me with one question - Can anyone go from Ebonics to grammatically correct English?

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      A very good take on the culture of Ebonics. I think that the use of English is really going downhill, and encouraging Ebonics and Spanglish isn't helping these people to be able to understand how to speak and write in the business world. It dooms them to being unqualified for anything except listening to rap music and hanging out in bars. English has to be taught at a higher level.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, MK. That was exactly my point--the language of the hood isn't going to help anyone to rise up out of there. For every rapper that makes a million or two there's a million or two wannabe rappers that don't make a dime and are stuck right there in the ghetto.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Northeastern Oklahoma

      I found this a very intelligent discussion of ebonics. Better yet, I learned from it. I hadn't made the connection of ebony and phonics. I am an English literature person and I've had my bouts with linguistics. Spanglish (if I got that right) seems to be a creation from two languages. Ebonics seems a combo of the street and English. The scary idea you had was that it can keep you there.


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