Articles, quizzes, and grammar tips for word-lovers everywhere

Matt Kohl

Matt Kohl is a Language Technologist at Oxford University Press. He also writes The Right Rhymes, a historical dictionary of hip-hop slang.

Articles by Matt Kohl


money coins

How did bread, cheese, and dough come to mean money?

Back in the day, the hip-hop duo OutKast released a song called “Aquemini” that goes: Street scholars that’s majoring in culinary arts, you know, how to work the bread, cheese, and dough from scratch This is a little André wordplay, talking about hustlers out to earn their pay. When I heard this and clocked the […]

I’ll teach you how to “stunt”

bling dollar

In 2003, 50 Cent and his fellow G-Unit rappers released a song called “Stunt 101”, in which they claim to “teach you how to stunt”. I’ve been listening to this song for years without a second thought, but now it occurs to me that this verb stunt is completely baffling–what on earth does it mean!? […]

‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’, find out what it means to me

‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’, find out what it means to me

Most of us can rattle off the ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ bit of Aretha Franklin’s signature tune, but how much do you know about the rest of the lyrics? See if you can fill in the blank below: I’m about to give you all of my money, And all I’m askin’ in return, honey, Is to give me […]

Hip-hop on ‘ice’

Hip-hop on ‘ice’

This week the Oxford English Dictionary published their final quarterly update for 2012. Among the recently revised entries is the noun ice, which has got me thinking about the lyrics of “Thrift Shop”, a song by the hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Check it out: I’m just pumped, I bought some sh*t from a thrift shop. Ice […]

Hip-hop’s “dead presidents”

Hip-hop's "dead presidents"

With the 2012 election looming next week, are you sold on another four years with Obama? Perhaps you’re looking to change things up with Mitt. Which candidate will you choose to represent you? I’m out for dead presidents to represent me. Say what?! Rather than get mixed up in all that political business, I’m here […]

Feelin’ “aight”?

Feelin' "aight"?

In the early 90s hip-hop artist Doug E. Fresh released a single called “I-Ight (Alright)”. The song wasn’t what you’d call a smash hit, but I mention it today because the editors of the OED have just put its namesake aight into the dictionary. Looking at the entry, it seems that Mr. Fresh was a bit of a lexical trail-blazer in […]

Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

Ghost like Swayze: a bit of hip-hop slang

As we rolled on, I seen the patrol on creep, so we got ghost. —“Alwayz into Somethin’” , from N.W.A.’s Efil4zaggin (1991) For me, this lyric represents one of the great potentials of hip-hop. An otherwise unremarkable sentiment, when channelled through the mind and mouth of a deft MC, can become something poetic and memorable. […]

Ballin’ for real: What’s the OED say about hip-hop’s ‘baller’?

Ballin' for real: What's the OED say about hip-hop's 'baller'?

The other day I had an earworm stuck in my head, an old rap song which goes:  Wanna be a baller, shot-caller, 20-inch blades on the Impala…  [N.B. 20-inch blades are wheels, and the Impala is a type of car] After mouthing that line to myself for a few hours, it occurred to me that […]

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