Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Express' Crazy 90s Guide To "Street Slang"

In college, I dated a girl who applied for a job at an Express store in the mall. Part of her training involved something called the "Express You! Street Verbage [sic] Guide"—an almost unbelievably wrongheaded dictionary of street terms and slang that Express management wanted sales associates to learn so as to best relate to customers. My friend, a greeter-in-training, was instructed to review and memorize it. To be fair, this was the mid-90s. Illmatic had just dropped, Mariah Carey was putting out remixes with ODB, and it was virtually impossible to avoid TLC’s “Waterfalls.” But never mind that. The guide was funny even then—and as soon as I heard about it I asked her to snag me a copy.*

I recently came across it again during a move; and it was even more ridiculous/offensive than I'd remembered. The guide defines “crab” as “disrespect to a Crip,” and notes that a “Ni na” is a nine-millimeter gun. A full four years before the onset of those Budweiser commercials, the "Express You! Street Verbage Guide" was teaching trainees that “wassup” means “hi, what’s up.” In a potentially confusing turn, the document also states that “off the hook,” has two, quite different meanings: “1.) good 2.) bad.” There are definitions for “keepin it real,” and “narc,” and a really bizarre one for “jigga.” Things like “bodice” and “armscye,” meanwhile, are nowhere to be found. Now, 15-plus years on, let's all marvel at this corporate branding communication of yore.

* Or, put another way… the "Express You! Street Verbage Guide" way:

Back in my old hood, a former boo landed a bangin’ job with a dope company called Express. In order to make sure she wasn’t half-steppin’, and was keepin it real, the company asked wifey to represent by peepin’ some phat thug lingo that real hoodrats flow with. Feel me? I told her they were buggin’, but blahze blahze, she said it was ahite and told me to put my piece away. I felt like the gangsta lingo guide had to be chicken and straight garbage, so I was symphin’ and feinning for her to jack a copy for me. I asked her to snag one “from some slob at her store.” She looked at me like I was trick no good and warned me that I needed to watch who I dis, on the real. Otherwise, there could be some blastin up in this piece, since “slob,” she had recently learned, is something you say if you’re looking to “disrespect a Blood.” (My bad!) Luckily, boo’s manager at Express, Amanda (or Ashley, or something), wasn’t a Blood, son. So there was no reason to call jigga. When boo brought the street guide back to the cut, I thought she was frontin’, but that thing was the ill real deal. I couldn’t stop riffin on that messed up, stupid lameball, scandalist guide, on the real. Word is born, the thing was just plain whack—and also super racist and drowning in stereotypes, true dat. I told boo that Express was clearly looking to make some cheese and cream off street slang, but that the whole thing couldn’t be more crust. And, geah, I would have a hard time keeping this on the L forever. I decided to break it down for her, and got mad mad as I paged through the guide. Blahze blahze, I haven’t set foot in an Express since—I mean, not even sporadically, B. That place is off the hook, but in a definition number two way. Dialtone.

Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor living in Manhattan. Follow him on twitter @matthewjxmalady.

39 Comments / Post A Comment

Murgatroid (#2,904)

The usage of "dialtone" is like proto-hashtag rap.

@Murgatroid I'm bringing dialtone back. Bring it back with me!

@Choire Sicha@facebook I thought the same thing, that is already in use… The AWL… THE MORE YOU KNOW!

Cord_Jefferson (#2,111)

My favorite "street slang" word is "sporadically." LOLWUT!

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@Cord_Jefferson Sir, are you leveling an accusation of half-steppin' against this guide?

evenintherain (#232,292)

@Cord_Jefferson Apparently they get their street slang from 'Clueless'

KeithTalent (#2,014)

Very confused by the seemingly straightforward definition of "Sporadically".

rubyinthedust (#185,652)

@KeithTalent i was thinking the same thing. that is a prominent word in the movie Clueless though…coincidence?

IBentMyWookie (#133)


ejcsanfran (#489)

@IBentMyWookie: All I can say is that it's not the same as a "shawty."

willystaley (#7,688)

Crab is/was a slur for Crips, actually (q.v., "Rip a Crab in Half" off of the Bloods vs. Crips Bangin on Wax album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_ZO92jcHR4 )

LanaDelMeh (#207,596)

Something tells me that Contempo Casuals slang dictionary reads like a 50 shades of Grey.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@LanaDelMeh: My sister once observed to my other sister, as we strolled past Petite Sophisticate, "Well, you can't shop there – you're neither."

City_Dater (#2,500)

VERBAGE, n. (corporate-speak, English) misspelling of "verbiage," based on the assumption that "verbiage" means "words."

What, no cob nobbler? #lamestain

1staethyr (#234,109)

inclusion of "sporadically" = this was written the year clueless came out

questingbeast (#201,738)

@1staethyr This list just caused a Clueless-related epiphany on my part; I always thought Cher and Dion were saying 'I'm Audi', but it's 'I'm outtie'. I'm printing this list out and going to rewatch every teen film from the nineties.

evenintherain (#232,292)

@questingbeast Everyone should do that. 90s filmfest anyone?

blue (#245,200)

@questingbeast In Clueless it was indeed "Audi," which was a take on "outtie." It was slang people commonly used (NYC early '90s highschooler in the cut to represent!) In Clueless it was definitely a take on it—hence "I'm Audi 5000."

ericdeamer (#945)

As part of her training did she have to learn to speak the dun language?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)


@dntsqzthchrmn Newest Gawker expansion site.

GailPink (#9,712)

Embarassing and Ghetto.

If I recall correctly my days in gang infested Stockton, CA. "Slob" was the equivalent of Crab to the Bloods.

MaryHaines (#3,666)

When would an Express greeter have the occasion to use "piece," meaning "gun"? "Can I hold your piece while you're trying on those phat pants, B.?"

KenWheaton (#401)

I demand a pronunciation guide!

Lockheed Ventura (#5,536)

@KenWheaton "Fine" is pronounced "foin".

rich bachelor (#8,586)

"We here at Harsh Realm, The Store, want you to kick it on the flippity-flop, and not have to sell wack slacks."

How is it that "blahze, blahze," "dialtone," "feel me," "my bad," "off the hook," and "wassup" are figures of speech, but "up in this piece" is a noun?

I can't decide whether the fact that Express didn't sell men's clothing at this time (Structure did that for them) makes it even more weird or somehow less weird.

Mount_Prion (#290)

And here I am in 2012 still explaining my use of "boo"

Mackle (#446)

Sa da tay!

irroberts94i (#234,157)

@Mount_Prion same here also wondering what "boo" is..

BadKittenOnARampage (#234,163)

I had the misfortune of working (albeit briefly) at an Express in Salinas, California in the mid 80's. Other than being ordered to buy their crappy clothing and carry all my personal belongings in a transparent bag – there was no other forcible psychological trauma (such as this "whack" guide). Word.

Hello My Name Is (#234,171)

The attempts to assign parts of speech are priceless.

stuffisthings (#1,352)

I wonder what the training regime is like now. I mean, can I confidently discuss Nas lyrics with the employees while I'm buying work pants or not?

Brigdh's@twitter (#234,190)

What! This guide is straight frontin'.

It's not "keep it on the L" but "keep it on the D-L". Short for 'Down Low'. Interestingly, "to be on the D-L" is also slang for "gay man in the closet". I'm thinking Express didn't intend that meaning.

Michaela D@twitter (#231,577)

More than half of these words are still in use among my friends. Wow. but the rest are hilarious.

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