Editors and researchers involved in creating the Oxford Dictionary of African American English recently unveiled the first 10 entries ahead of the expected March 2025 release, The New York Times reports.
Two of the first 100 words shared at a virtual presentation were “bussin,” which means impressive or tasty, and “boo,” a lover. When the three-year research project, first announced in June 2022, is completed, the dictionary will have an initial batch of 1,000 definitions.
The project, for which Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was tapped to edit, is about more than just defining words and phrases that are uniquely African American. Its deeper purpose is to underscore the significance of African American English, as well as providing a scholarly resource for the study of Black speech, history and culture.
To complete the task, researchers are drawing from multiple sources, including blues and hip-hop lyrics, Black literature, and even Black Twitter.
“The further back in history, the less we can find Black people having agency over how we’re written about,” Bianca Jenkins, a lexicographer working on the project, told The Times. “Due to enslavement, Black people were prevented by law from being educated, from being taught to read. Black people had to really take it upon ourselves and educate ourselves.”
Gates, a wordsmith, brings his longtime passion for learning new words to the project.
“When I was in the third grade, we studied the dictionary. We had a unit on how to use the Webster’s dictionary, and even then — third grade, that means I was 8 years old — I thought the dictionary was magical,” he said, according to The Times.
The project continues past the March 2025 publication date. People will have the ongoing opportunity to submit entry suggestions.
Here are 10 entries shared with The Times:
- bussin (adjective and participle): 1. Especially describing food: tasty, delicious. Also more generally: impressive, excellent. 2. Describing a party, event, etc.: busy, crowded, lively. (Variant forms: bussing, bussin’.)
- grill (n.): A removable or permanent dental overlay, typically made of silver, gold or another metal and often inset with gemstones, which is worn as jewelry.
- Promised Land (n.): A place perceived to be where enslaved people and, later, African Americans more generally, can find refuge and live in freedom. (Etymology: A reference to the biblical story of Jewish people seeking freedom from Egyptian bondage.)
- chitterlings (n. plural): A dish made from pig intestines that are typically boiled, fried or stuffed with other ingredients. Occasionally also pig intestines as an ingredient. (Variant forms: chitlins, chittlins, chitlings, chitterlins.)
- kitchen (n.): The hair at the nape of the neck, which is typically shorter, kinkier and considered more difficult to style.
- cakewalk (n.): 1. A contest in which Black people would perform a stylized walk in pairs, typically judged by a plantation owner. The winner would receive some type of cake. 2. Something that is considered easily done, as in This job is a cakewalk.
- old school (adj.): Characteristic of early hip-hop or rap music that emerged in New York City between the late 1970s to the mid 1980s, which often includes the use of couplets, funk and disco samples, and playful lyrics. Also used to describe the music and artists of that style and time period. (Variant form: old skool.)
- pat (verb): 1. transitive. To tap (the foot) in rhythm with music, sometimes as an indication of participation in religious worship. 2. intransitive. Usually of a person’s foot: to tap in rhythm with music, sometimes to demonstrate participation in religious worship.
- Aunt Hagar’s children (n.): A reference to Black people collectively. (Etymology: Probably a reference to Hagar in the Bible, who, with her son, Ishmael, was cast out by Sarah and Abraham [Ishmael’s father], and became, among some Black communities, the symbolic mother of all Africans and African Americans and of Black womanhood.)
- ring shout (n.): A spiritual ritual involving a dance where participants follow one another in a ring shape, shuffling their feet and clapping their hands to accompany chanting and singing. The dancing and chanting gradually intensify and often conclude with participants exhibiting a state of spiritual ecstasy.