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June 10, 2004

Slang of the Week: poppin’ (adjective)

By four in the morning, the party was really poppin’, and the neighbors called the police.

Celebrity quote:
“I've been keeping it poppin’. I've been updating my act.”
- Actress Carol Channing at last Sunday’s Tony Awards

Poppin’ is generally associated with hip hop music and Channing is an 82-year-old white woman, so this was an unexpected use of slang. But since she was presenting at the Broadway Tony Awards with African American rapper LL Cool J, people found her adopted lingo more humorous than offensive.

This is not always the case. Often, taking on the language or culture of another group can get you into trouble. Justin Timberlake, who makes no secret of his adoration for all things Michael Jackson, is sometimes called a wigger. This term, meaning a white person who wants to be black, is a combination of the words white and nigger (a derogatory word for black people so offensive that some of you might not get this email!) though some people say the first part comes from the noun wannabe (a person who wants to be something they are not). Most people would agree that Jackson himself is the opposite of a wigger. The offensive term for a black who wants to be white is oreo, named for a chocolate cookie with a white cream center.

As for Carol Channing, though no one would call her a wigger, what to call her is difficult because of the subjective nature of defining race. Though she looks European, in her 2002 autobiography, she revealed that her father was a racially mixed man who “passed” as white. Strange as it may seem to those of you who don’t live in the States (and perhaps to some of you who do), that makes Channing black in Louisiana, according to a 1986 Supreme Court decision upholding that state’s “one drop” rule.

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