doonesbury cartoon. text below.

Dear AC,

RE: WORD (As in Doonesbury comic of 2-22-04)

A talk show host talks to the Rev. Pat Robertson over the phone about how God has foretold the presidential election results to Pat Robertson. The fact that God supposedly used the word "like" as in "Bush's margin would be like a blowout," is discussed. The radio person's response is “Word.” To which Robertson replies, “Actually God started that one.”

Am I reading this to mean that "word" is teenage slang? What does WORD mean in slang?

Robert C.

Dear Robert ,

This is an interesting question, because it doesn't just address word meanings, but also context. The humor of this comic strip relies on the reader's understanding of what kind of language people should use depending on their social status. Before I talk about word, let me give a little background. For those who haven't seen it, Doonesbury is a cartoon that comments on American politics and society.

In this edition, fictional radio show host Mark calls real-life religious conservative Pat Robertson after reading Robertson's claim that God had predicted a huge victory for Bush in next fall's presidential election. Here's the conversation from the cartoon:

Mark reading to himself from the paper: Latest polling numbers from margin of error.

Mark (on the air): We're talking to our old friend Pat Robertson, who, as we've all heard, has been talking to God. Pat, last month you said the Lord has already called this election for Bush. Did he mention the point spread?

Pat Robertson: No, he didn't get into specifics, Mark. All he said was that it was going to be like a blowout.

Mark: “Like a blowout”? God says “like”?

Pat Robertson: Sure he does. After all, he's father to hundreds of millions of teenagers. He's bound to pick up some of their slang.

Mark: Word.

Pat Robertson: Actually, God started that one.

Oddly enough, Robertson really did say some of that in January, 2004. His original quote was, "I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way." Cartoonist Garry Trudeau pokes fun at him not only for making such an outrageous claim, but also for using undignified slang expressions inappropriate for his age and position.

Like as used here is a meaningless word employed heavily by American teenagers to fill pauses in speech (for example: "The band was, like, so great and I was like dancing and singing along, like, you know?")

Mark responds with the equally inappropriate expression point spread, a term for the difference between winning and losing scores in a game (used primarily in sports gambling). But rather than returning to more formal language, Robertson continues the metaphor by using blowout (an easy victory), another casual word used largely in sports.

When Robertson offers an explanation as to how God may have learned to talk like a teenager, Mark agrees with him by saying "Word." In this sense, it shows his approval and is similar to the older slang expression, You said it! Word is also often used by rappers to emphasize that there can be no argument with what has just been said, as in having the last word. As an example, Nas says in the song Black Girl Lost, “Can't understand it, yo it should be a throne for us / But for now that's a whole different zone from us, word!”

Finally, Robertson goes back to his church roots (and demonstrates the limitations of his teen-speak understanding) as he tells Mark that God invented word - not teenagers. Of course, he is not referring to slang terminology but to John 1:1 which states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”(New Testament, New International Version).

Your pal,


A. C. Kemp

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