Pale Wire (Popscene)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Slangin'
Watch The Washington Post get 'jiggy' with it.

Besides its snuggily tone, here's what most struck me about Peter Slevin's front-page profile of Tammy Duckworth (Feb. 19), an Iraq veteran with two prosthetic legs who's running for Henry Hyde's old seat in Illinois' suburban 6th Congressional district. From today's Washington Post:
...Sen. Richard J. Durbin and Rep. Rahm Emanuel appealed to Duckworth when she was still recovering from her injuries, dissing the up-and-running campaign of fellow Democrat Christine Cegelis, who took 44 percent of the vote against Hyde in 2004. (emphasis added)

Yoiks! Is that the word "dissing" on the front page of The Washington Post? While I'm sure you've heard the term used before, here's its entry from, believe it or not, Mirriam-Webster's online dictionary:
Main Entry: dis
Pronunciation: 'dis
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): dissed; dis·sing
Etymology: perhaps short for disrespect
1 slang : to treat with disrespect or contempt : INSULT
2 slang : to find fault with : CRITICIZE

Not one to be left behind, the Oxford English Dictionary also includes an entry.
dis, n.
slang (orig. U.S., esp. in African-American usage).
Forms: 19- dis, diss. [Prob. shortened < DISRESPECT n. after DIS v.3]
Failure to show respect; abuse, disparagement; an expression of scorn or contempt, an insult.

Usage:
  • 1986 Los Angeles Times 31 Aug. (Calendar) 87/4 Please give credit where credit is due{em}point an accusing finger at the Long Beach Police Department for not doing its job and stop the ‘dis’ (disrespect) on rap music for once and for all.
  • 1993 Rolling Stone 18 Feb. 60/3 Tricks of the Shade, the Goats' debut, was recorded last year, when Bush-Quayle disses were less of a foregone conclusion.
  • 2001 N.Y. Mag. 14 May 76/1 All fifteen tracks are one-dimensional disses and dismissals of scantily clad women, vengeful boyfriends, and the group's assorted doubters.
A quick search of the archives via Lexis Nexis shows this is far from the first time the Post has put the word in print. A search returned 190 articles, though a quick survey shows a number of those hits are proper nouns (Click here to learn more about the Norfolk city of Diss in the UK). The first reference to the word in the Post seems to have come on March 15, 1987, when a feature in the Washington Post magazine known as J Street included this brief glossary of slang words then in vogue with America's youth:
bumpin' (bum'pun) adj. First-rate, of high quality, attractive; usually in reference to material goods, esp. clothes, as in "That jacket is bumpin'."

bumpin' like a mug. Trend-setting and of high quality, again in reference to material goods; e.g., to describe the hottest portable stereo ("box"): "That box is bumpin' like a mug."

dis (diss) verb. To show disrespect, esp. to a teacher or other authority figure. Also, to harass, to ridicule, as in "The boys on the bus were dissing that girl."

junks (junks) noun. Basketball shoes, usually expensive ones; the only kind of shoe any self-respecting teen-ager is wearing (as this edition goes to press).

The first reporter to use the word seems to have been Joe Brown, who wrote it into a profile of the "divas" Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, Stephanie Mills, Natalie Cole and Chaka Khan in August of 1989.

It seems that from the very start, the Post opted to expend the ink and use the two 's' version diss instead of the 25 percent shorter dis. Maybe because its closer to the phonetic pronunciation?

As far as I can figure, Slevin's usage today was the word's first appearance on the Post's front page. The editorial board has used it repeatedly for headlines (ex. Dissing Darwin, Dissing the District), but the only other front page article returned by Lexis was a Nov. 2004 story on the troubled basketball player Ron Artest. And that mention comes well after the jump. Plus it wasn't used by the reporters, but appears in scare quotes inside a quote from sports psychologist Paul Beard, who provided this insight into Artest's now legendary rampage (video link):
One intensity comes out of a self-drive. The other one is a desperate kind of intensity, 'You're not going to 'diss' me, I'm a star.' It's psychological. When a player's primary source of self-worth is tied up with being a star athlete, any threat to that status, real or imagined, becomes psychologically life-threatening."

Beard believes a sort of "psychological fusion," happened to Artest the moment he was hit by that cup.