Oxford Announces the Creation of the First “African American English Dictionary”

The Oxford English Dictionary is preparing to publish a new set of volumes for the lexicon associated with African American culture.  

The World’s First Black Dictionary 

In collaboration with Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, the OED aims to take into account slang and terms related to events in black history, in addition to references in expression and music.  

The project seeks to document at least 1,000 known words by March 2025, potentially indicating an effort to educate audiences about language specifically related to a single ethnic demographic.  

Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center, has been appointed editor-in-chief of the OED’s project.

According to Gates, black Americans had to be creative and innovative with language, developing a sort of double-voiced discourse.  

Gates believes the project will add extensive “depth” to the English language, showing the black lexicon is simply an extension of the greater family of English spoken across the globe.

Slang, History, and Art 

The Oxford University Press released ten of these words to the New York Times as part of a preview for the upcoming dictionary. 

“Bussin” is an adjective with a duel meaning, whether it be flavorful food or a crowned physical location. “Grill” refers to part of a dental overlay, comprised of metal, silver, or gold, sometimes inserted with gemstones. 

“Pat” is a verb about the top of someone’s foot. The term “cakewalk” is an example of a term related to history, either meaning an easy task or back to slavery when slaves would perform a stylized walk in pairs. 

Addition phases include terms such as “Promised Land,” a Biblically based definition of reaching freedom and Aunt Hagar’s children. This refers to blackness collectively and is likely inspired by Hagar in the Old Testament. 

The directors say the project is open to suggestions, but it is unclear if these modifications will be published. The project is expected to take three years to complete. 

This article appeared in The Political Globe and has been published here with permission.