Booyah for Girls: or, Only Connect

The other day, 8-year-old A. was playing Angry Birds and after destroying some pigs gave the universal hip-hop “wassup” hand gesture and said, “Booyah!”

A beatific expression of "Yo"

I love thinking about marketing people searching for stock photos with the key phrase "gangsta"

I asked A. whether she always said that–not really, it was just a joke–and whether boys and girls both said it. She said anyone could say booyah, but that only boys said “yay-oh.” Which I hope is said innocent of its received meaning, viz. cocaine…yikes.

The provenance of booyah is a lot more interesting. For one there is a kind of pre-history of booyah (thanks to the wonderful ngram word frequency search in Google), mainly referring to African kings and chieftains, in colonial works going back two centuries. My Wisconsin friends may have fled their native soil in order to avoid booyah, the “thick soup of unknown origin” which you can see here being cooked over an open fire in a disturbing video from Green Bay. And of course everyone knows that booyah now serves as a triumphant statement of in-your-face achievement: “Who’s got the hottest etymology blog up today? That’s right–BOOYAH!”

Why this particular tangent from A’s little gesture and pig-dissing exclamation? If I hadn’t gone down this road I wouldn’t know about the Portuguese French-speaking rap group with the hit song, “Booya.” But while it’s been fun, it also gives me melancholy pause to realize that it is easier to step through the Google wardrobe into my scholarly/time-wasting pursuit of minutiae than it is to connect with A. during the course of the regular day. Too much competition from siblings, work, friends, activities, and peers who teach her the hip-hop slang basics. That said, during the course of writing this, A’s sweet, surprisingly large paw rested on my arm as she learned with me about booyah-the-stew. So maybe the thing is to make one’s adult weirdness open to connection by the kids, at whatever level works for them. Then they dart off and return again to ask why you did that with their booyah.

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