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October 11, 2007



Last summer I saw a family magazine that was advocating jazzing up your little girls' Keds with the title "Pimp Up Her Sneakers!" And I thought, whoa, the word must have totally lost its meaning because to me, that is just not an appropriate word for a little girl's sneakers. But maybe, hopefully, your blog is a sign that the battle's not over yet!


Reminds me of having to explain why the Flinstone's theme song refers to a "gay old time" or why my old report cards list my "sex" as female. Even the traditional slang of "hot" has a hyper-sexualized connotation now. Seems like sexual references are becoming mainstream, while average words become the new sexual references. Is that a subconscious attempt to keep our society from making judgments about sexual issues, since they sound so harmless?

Kelly Paal

I am really starting to resent how words that were never, or rarely, spoken (because of their sexual references)are now mainstream. Do people who do this think they are changing the meaning to something good? How do we explain this sort of thing to young children? Or older people for that matter?

Dusty Brahlek

I am not so sure it is all that deep. It is not just sexual words that are changed. The idea of death and murder, reference to drugs, and many more. We as a people have always used worders differently. The Etimology of most words is ALWAYS changing. It does not mean it is always right; however, it is an issue as old as the language.


Reminds me of a rant comedian Patton Oswalt did about that MTV show "Pimp My Ride":

I got waylaid by one of the producers of MTV's PIMP MY RIDE. You know what a pimp is, right? He's a dude who tricks, frightens, or flat-out bullies a woman to [have sex with] other men for money, which she then gives to him. Just wanted to clear that up. 'Cuz there's a show called PIMP MY RIDE. Maybe they can do another show called RAPE MY CRIB.

Victor Lectus

Dusty's comment got me thinking on this, and although the etymology, or history, of words shouldn't change (unless Winston, O'Brien and the Ministry of Truth have been at it again) I'm pretty sure that murder still means murder, and it’s still bad thing. But what if we apply MSFT's sophomoric ad campaign - substituting the word "pimp" for "customize" - to other things? Could a priest "pimp" my penance after confession? Or a doctor "pimp" my radiation for a malignant tumor? How about "pimping" my kid’s prescription? If I don’t like the legal terms and conditions of MSFT Live’s service agreement, can I “pimp” my contract? (I bet $5 Bill Gates says “no”….).

Let’s be clear; this is a Madison Avenue Hip-Hop-homage advertising gimmick, not the reflection of a people’s collective linguistic evolution. It‘s an assault on a word that denotatively and connotatively means “bad”. Marketing it with a nod and a wink and cute little emoticons, as to say “Well it’s not THAT bad…” is to confound virtue with vice. It is not a philological inevitability that pimping will ever be considered a good thing any more that murdering would be.

BTW, Liz is bang on with her 1984 reference! The essence of Newspeak is that a word can hold two completely different and opposite meanings at the same time; the essence of Doublethink is for a person to not see any problem with that verbal contradiction, be disturbed by it and to forget it quickly.

Orwell is more prescient all the time!

Ironic indeed, that Microsoft can't define "alchemy"-- the
'science" of turning lead into gold-- but it pushes the rest of us into turning our beautiful language (gold) into lead.

Anna S

Yet another disturbing evidence of how little our culture values the purity and innocence of children, and how unprotected they are. When I see what clothes are sold now in the little girls' department, what music is targeted at them, what sort of toys they play with, I shudder. How does one shield one's children? I know it can't be done for all their lives, but I think I'd want the earth to swallow me if a young daughter asked me, "Mom, what's a pimp?"

ellen p.

Orwell also has a brilliant essay called, "Politics and the English Language." It is worth reading.

Dusty Brahlek

What I ment is that "Pimp" did not always mean someone who controls prostitues. check out the meaning of "Pimp" from OneLook (http://www.onelook.com/?w=pimp&ls=a). It has several different definitions from several different dictionary sources... Here are a few that show that not only did this word not always me what we take it to mean, but also that over time the words DO change the meanings. It may not always be for the good. But simply attacking a word because it is being used out of the normal context is not going to win any wars of the words.

Compact oxford: 2. informal a telltale or informer

Merriam-Webster: Etymology: probably akin to British dialect pimp small bundle of sticks, Middle English pymple papule, German Pimpf young boy, kid, literally, little fart,
Date: 1600

OK Dusty-- we get your point. How does it negate or supersede the point made by the blog post? Do you not agree with the concept, explained by Orwell and referenced here, that the manipulation and destruction of language is a very effective path to enslavement??


Luthor Rex

According to http://www.etymonline.com:

1607, perhaps from M.Fr. pimper "to dress elegantly" (16c.), prp. of pimpant "alluring in dress, seductive." Weekley suggests M.Fr. pimpreneau, defined in Cotgrave (1611) as "a knave, rascall, varlet, scoundrell." The word also means "informer, stool pigeon" in Australia and New Zealand and in S.Africa, where by early 1960s it existed in Swahili form impimpsi. The verb is attested from 1636. Pimpmobile first recorded 1973"

So according to the above Microsoft was using the word correctly in the old sense of "to dress elegantly".

Other words in the english language have lost their original meaning. Such as gay meaning 'happy' and faggot meaning 'a bundle of sticks'.

It's not a conspiracy, it's just the natural evolution of language.


I don't know...to me that point about "faggot" meaning a "bundle of sticks" just reinforces Liz's original point. Faggot may mean a bundle of sticks in the minds of less than one percent of the population, but that's why when people use the derogatory meaning, they are held accountable because for the majority the derogatory meaning is what is currently in use.

Similarly, it would be nice to imagine that Microsoft is using the obscure meaning of pimp which no one uses anymore, but somehow I doubt that. What is totally obscure is not very commercially viable.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I think it's more logical to assume that they're capitalizing on the generally accepted meaning and the fact that, for example, 'pimp and ho' Halloween costumes are now seen as appropriate for small children.

No way to spin that one when it's paired with ho--agreed?


I remember when I first heard a student use the word "pimp" to greet a friend. I took him aside and told him why any man over 30 (several years ago)would have punched him hard for DARING to do that. Here in the South, for some of us, REAL economic hard times are something we remember- and a pimp was the lowest of the low, a man who would sell his wife or sister for an extra dollar. Now to use the term to mean "customize" is beyond repugnant. We need to take our language back. Read old books to your kids. Encourage them to have a real vocabulary. And show them what linguistic poverty does to create shallow, materialistic, relativistic culture where debasing, dignity-stealing slavery is "cool".


Glad to know that I'm not the only one weirded out by all the "pimp" talk. I'm usually pretty open-minded when it comes to linguistic change, but this time it's just creepy.

Luthor Rex

One word can often have variuos meanings depending on the context. Yes, 'pimp' can mean a man who prostitutes women. When it's used as "to jazz up" it takes back some of the original meaning.

Virtue (manliness) is one of those words that has also become awkward in the English language. "Vir" means "man" in latin and we get words like VIRility and VIRgin from it. But the word manliness has been so tainted that it almost always signifies negative traits. Yes, that probably was done purposely.

Some words change their meaning due to natural changes (faggot for example was associated with burning heritics and thus made its way to becoming a derogitory term for homosexual). Whereas manliness has been consciously vilified.


'Pimp my virtue!'
'Dress my manliness in an elegant way!'


Dusty Brahlek

See for me the word "Pimp" has not had a consistant meaning for me anyway. I have grown up with the term being used for custimzed or cool. As well as "Bitch" being a common word for a woman that is not a negitive thing (men also refered to themselves as "dogg" as well). So I never really saw that danger of the change of this word leading us into enslavement. I do however, think that legal jargon is what REALLY enslaves us. Anymore everything is so legalistic we have to define the terms such as life, death, man, woman. It is the breaking down of these terms (and many like them) that bother me. If someone wants to be associated with a dog then it is their right to do so; however, it is not a man's right to be called a woman. I know many would argue that my reasoning is not sound, and it many not be; however, that is my reasioning.

(BTW I also did not know there were people (pimps) who controled the prostitues because the ones I knew did not have them.)

Mark La Roi

I quit wearing several of my more..."vibrant" suits around some of the youth groups I worked with because some of the young guys, with good albeit misguided intent, started calling me "pimp".

The weren't garish suits, just more detailed than the typical Olive or Black. I felt that I needed to do something to show the kids just how inappropriate the term is, so I made the change.

I'm happy to say that some of them took the message to heart. If it was serious enough for me to completely change how I do something, it was serious enough for them to wrestle with.

I haven't heard them use it in a long, long time!


I think that a lot of times we, as a culture, find ourselves in these situations because no one wants to be in charge. No one wants to be the bad guy, the 'prude,' who says, "You want to say WHAT? No! Are you crazy?"
I work at a vocational school where it's become quite clear that the students have rarely heard that certain forms of behavior are simply not acceptable. Not only because I'm on the conservative side, but also because there are certain things you don't say or do in polite company (and by polite company, I mean outside of your own living room). You don't use a phone in a library to curse someone out, and you don't use the word 'pimp' as a way to talk about jazzing up your kids' shoes, regardless of what the word used to mean. You just don't do it.

Guy Smiley

Dusty -

Shame on you. The term "bitch" is not a common word for a women. If it were, you wouldn't need to support the de facto-ness by highlighting an equivocation.

And what's with the dog thing???

ps...I don't mean this post to be too niggardly, I just wanted to give you something to masticate on.

There used to be people who sold other people sexually, but thanks to the internet, people can now skip that sort of middleman and sell themselves never setting foot into any kind of neighborhood where thay would even think to need a tough guy.

The times and the language, they have been a-changin'

Dusty Brahlek

In the mid 80's it was the "Valley girl" talk that coined the term "bitch" "bioch" and all of the off shoots. Also for anyone (such as Guy Smiley who is no up on the slang) that has NEVER heard guys talking to other guys and say "What's up Dogg?" (I think it is spelled with to gg's because Snoop Dogg is 2.) Same as the other. Again I have never heard anyone talking about the issue with that. Yes it is still used in many circles.

As far as Guy Smiley, goes, don't talk about the use of other people's use of words and then use a loaded word such as "niggardly"! Shame on you.

Everyone here is talking about the use of slang. I am saying that the slang (good and bad) is used everyday by almost everyone. I am trying to stop using it; however, the use of words change over a generation...

Here is a list of words that should not be used as slang or in proper situations; however, they often time are...

1. "That sucks"
2. "What's up dogg"
3. "Crap"
4. "Darn"

And the list goes on.

My entire point is who's job is it to regulate what terms we use and what ones we do not. My suggestion would be let us only use British, textbook proper English. No slang, no modifications, no changing of meanings. This of course is out of the question. So then you have to look at the trash talk of the culture and go from there. Should more respect be given to everyone, yes, but who is it to decide you know what one would consider respectful over another?

I am sorry for all of the posing; however, comments against slang bother me because usually the same people who are speaking against it use it. They also tend to use words to the exact meaning that has been modified over time (such as notorious). It all seems too arbtary to me.


I don't know who this Guy Smiley is, but I got his point which Dusty obviously didn't. Him using niggardly was to show that even correct meanings of a word are not necessarily in good taste, right? And Dusty's reaction to the use of this word--"shame on you"--doesn't that undermine his own point about how no one should decide "what one would consider respectful"? Well, Dusty just did that when he said "shame on you," so I guess he doesn't believe his own argument.

All this language relativism only muddies the waters, people. Let's get real, words have meaning.

Liz Neville

Oh, thank you Andre!! You got my point.


Dusty Brahlek

I missed his point, and I got his point at the same time. I understood he is saying there is good and bad language. In fact there is language that I would deem acceptable in my inner cirlces of friends that I would not use infront of my priest or at work. I (and others) read his comment as the fact he was saying there is good and bad words and then used a bad word out of ignorance. However, I see the point he was making about the language. :)

I am not saying that all language is OK, what I am saying is we need to take care on saying these words are "bad" and these are "good" and not looking at the context that they are being used in.

I mostly agree with everything people are saying. I just feel that we must allow for the transition of words and we should not simply cut off the language from the natural evolution of the words.

Guy (or Gal?) Smiley

No Dusty,

I couldn't have used a “bad” word, for as you say we must be careful judging a word as good or bad. And btw, my selected phraseology wasn't out of "ignorance", but carefully crafted to help prove my point. Clearly you didn't take “the context” into consideration before concluding it "bad".

You asked in an earlier post about whose "job is it to regulate what terms we use...". Obviously each person does for him or herself; the choice of the language you use, as well as that which you permit yourself to be subjected to, is your own. But marketing campaigns don’t work that way. They pop-up or are displayed at times or in places that you may not choose, or around your kids or others that you’d prefer not see them; in this case, the job of regulator was an ad exec working on a bonus, and not really concerned with transitive meanings or right and wrong. In this case, the wording was wrong. It was a bad choice. It was not good.

And regarding vocabulary evolution (or erosion really) - - evolution is defined as “to gradually develop”, or “to achieve or arise over time”, usually implying a bettering or improvement of condition over the original state. Who is raised and who is lowered in calling the man a dog(g) or the woman a bitch or a “ho”? Likewise, where is the evolution in calling the scholar the nerd, the modest the freak or the virgin the repressed?

Ah, the miracle of natural selection…..


Niggardly has NOTHING to do with the racial slur. It has a totally different etymology - like the word "niggling", it comes from an Old English / Scandinavian word meaning "petty" - which is connected to its (still-current) meaning, which is to be stingy and/or over-attentive to details. The racial slur comes from the French negre, which, like the Spanish "negro", means black. Completely different meanings; completely different languages of origin. If we're going to argue about words, let's get them right! :)

As for the original point - yes, language evolves, but it's also good to ask what we are connoting with the language we use. Are current marketers really going back to an archaic definition of "pimp" or are they evoking the flashy style of the guy who lives off the earnings of prostitutes? And if the latter, just because this expression becomes more "mainstream" do we all have to be comfortable with it?

Luthor Rex

You know... sometimes I do feel like I've hired a prostitue when I buy a Microsoft product...



It may be unfortunate that the language is used in this manner. But it seems unfair to Microsoft to blame them for merely following a trend. In the neighborhood where I live it is common to hear children use the word pimp in the way it is used here. Most of these kids have no idea what the term originally refers to. To them it is just another word. In the same way they might describe a pencil as "tight" not knowing at all where that slang came from.

So when they tell me my car is pimpin' should I chastise them for their language. It just doesn't seem prudent.

Liz Neville

Why would educating those kids as to the power of their words not be "prudent"? Don't they deserve the ability to better their lives through the power of language? And not holding the multi-billion dollar market giant Microsoft liable for its actions in denigrating our language, while it profits enormously from us as consumers? That's just nuts.

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