9 singers and groups you may not expect to find in the OED
Over two million quotations are included in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and, with approximately 33,300 quotations, Shakespeare is the author you’re most likely to encounter when looking up a word. While the Bard’s inclusion doesn’t seem very surprising, the dictionary also cites a number of people whose inclusion is a bit more unexpected. For example, who would anticipate coming across the Beastie Boys in the entry for mullet? Here we take a look at a few famous musicians whose inclusion in the OED may perhaps surprise you (and they aren’t always cited for their lyrics).
As we have discussed in a previous blog post, Alanis Morrisette is known for her unusual lyrics, so it shouldn’t come as too big a shock that the singer/songwriter is cited in the OED. Her 1995 song Head over Feet is actually the first instance for the usage of the phrase friend with benefits meaning ‘a friend with whom one has an occasional and casual sexual relationship’:
You’re the best list’ner that I’ve ever met.
You’re my best friend, best friend with benefits.
Rap group Run-DMC currently provides the OED with evidence for two US slang senses of ill. First there’s the verb sense of ill as in ‘to behave badly or irrationally’. The group’s eponymous debut is the first evidence of this usage cited in the dictionary. Other sources quoted in the entry include songs by fellow rappers Slick Rick and the Beastie Boys. According to the OED, both senses of ill originated and are chiefly in use in the language of rap and hip-hop.
The other quotation can be found in supportive of the adjective ill, meaning ‘aggressive, irrational, crazy’ or ‘unpleasant, bad’. Here the OED cites Run-DMC’s 1985 hit My Adidas:
Now me and my Adidas do the illest thing
We like to stamp out pimps with diamond rings.
The Sugarhill Gang
The earliest known evidence for this adjectival sense of ill, though, comes from the 1979 song Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang, which riffs on a passage from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, which declares that there is ‘a time to be born and a time to die / a time to plant and a time to uproot’, and so forth. The Sugarhill Gang’s variation on this is as follows:
Now there’s a time to laugh, a time to cry
A time to live and a time to die
A time to break and a time to chill
To act civilized or act real ill.
Ill isn’t the only OED entry where the Beastie Boys make an appearance, as Matt Kohl found out. Perhaps the most unexpected mention is in the entry of mullet. Their 1994 song Mullet Head is currently the very first evidence cited for the usage of the noun and, while the group certainly popularized it, the OED speculates that it might’ve even been coined by them.
You wanna know what’s a mullet? well I got a little story to tell
About a hair style, that’s way of life
Have you ever seen a Mullet wife?
However, some uncertainty surrounding the origin of the term. A while ago, we turned to our followers for help to find an earlier example of mullet or any proof that it truly was coined by the Beastie Boys. If you’d like to find out more about the mullet mystery, you can find out more in The Oxford Comment podcast.
Interestingly, it isn’t one of Madonna’s lyrics that is cited in the OED, but rather the cover of her second studio album Like a Virgin. On it the pop star wears a belt with ‘boy toy’ written on the buckle. This makes her the first to use the term with the sense ‘a young and attractive woman regarded as a plaything for men’ according to the current OED entry, though she apparently used it ironically.
Ice Cube’s ‘Who’s the Mack?’ from the 1990 solo debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted provides evidence of the slang term mack in the senses ‘a deceptive and convincing speaker’ and ‘a successful, respected, or influential person; specifically a man who is sexually successful with women, a playboy’. For the latter, the song is the first source cited:
You know that I’m a Mack in my own right
When it comes to rhyme and rap ‘cos all I do is kick facts
Unlike Iceberg Slimm and all of them be claimin’ be P. I. M. P.
The rapper’s former group N.W.A. also made it into the OED: credited with bringing gangsta rap into the mainstream via their seminal first album Straight Outta Compton, the OED currently attributes the first usage of the noun gangsta to them, quoting the title of their 1988 single ‘Gangsta Gangsta’. They also appear in the entry for the noun hap referring to ‘the latest events or information; the news’ with their song ‘It Was Good Day’:
Went to Short Dog’s house, they was watchin’ ‘Yo! MTV Raps!’
What’s the haps on the craps?
In a previous blog post, Matt Kohl discussed how bread, cheese, and dough became slang terms for ‘money’ and what special role hip-hop played in their evolution. The OED lists one such slang usage in the entry of government cheese and one of the sources cited in this entry is Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded, published in 2010:
We grow up knowing people who pay for everything with little plastic cards—Medicare cards for checkups, EBT cards for food… We stand for hours waiting for bricks of government cheese.
The expression initially referred to cheese imported by the British government for sale in Britain to help relieve food shortages caused by the First World War. In US colloquial speech, it later developed the sense ‘cheese provided by the United States government processed from surplus stocks and distributed to people in receipt of certain welfare benefits’, and from there came to represent welfare benefits in general in extended use.
In Decoded, Jay-Z also provides evidence for the noun handclap: ‘Thirty minutes straight off the top of his head, never losing the beat, riding the handclaps.’ Another entry in which the rapper shows up is the school of (the) hard knocks. Here his song Hard Knock Life gets a mention:
I’m from the school of the hard knocks; we must not
Let outsiders violate our blocks.
Snoop Doggy Dogg
Snoop features in the OED with his guest appearance in the song Fuck Wit Dre Day from the 1992 Dr. Dre album Chronic. He is quoted as the first to use bootylicious in the sense ‘of rap lyrics: bad, weak’:
Them rhymes you were kickin were quite bootylicious.
The OED notes that this sense is rare, and the adjective is more commonly used to mean ‘sexually attractive, sexy; shapely’, later popularized by the 2001 Destiny’s Child song Bootylicious. Besides that, the rapper’s single Gin & Juice provides further evidence for the verb roll meaning ‘to ride or travel in a wheeled vehicle’:
Rollin down the street smokin indo Sippin on gin and juice.
Justin Timberlake’s claim to wordy fame came with his and Janet Jackson’s joint appearance at the 2004 Super Bowl half-time show, during which one of Jackson’s breasts was momentarily exposed. Following the event, which turned into a widely discussed scandal dubbed ‘Nipplegate’, the Associated Press Online quoted Timberlake as saying:
I am sorry that anyone was offended by the wardrobe malfunction during the halftime performance of the Super Bowl.
The OED cites this article as the first instance of occurrence of the term wardrobe malfunction, referring humorously to ‘an instance of an article of a person’s clothing slipping out of position, tearing, etc., so as to expose part of the wearer’s body or otherwise cause embarrassment’.