Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

“Defending Booya”

by Patrick Stephenson,
devout descriptivist

TEMPERAMENTAL RIFT // Two weeks ago on AIM, an early 20s blonde friend of mine made her away message a single word: “Bath.” Partial to blondes since birth, I responded with a word of my own: “Booya.” I told my pal Annie of this, but she didn’t approve. Booya“If, in that situation,” said Annie, “a friend of mine said ‘booya’ to me, I’d look for new friends.” She went on: “Every time you say ‘booya,’ whoever you’re talking to loses a piece of her soul.” That I’d committed a faux pas was obvious, but Annie’s reaction was—I thought—harsh, and hurtful.

Mere weeks previous, another ‘booya,’ this one at the end of an Obscurant I’d written on David Foster Wallace, elicited a similar reaction. “As a fan forever of Wallace’s work,” I wrote, “I look forward to rereading [these essays] in some forthcoming, assuredly even more brilliant and mature collection. Booya.” My ‘booya’ jibed with Wallace’s slangy but intellectual style, I thought, and was an appropriate way of expressing my enthusiasm for his work. But a critic spoke up. Apparently my Aunt Ann, an elementary school principal, saw my ‘booya’ and disapproved. “I don’t think,” she allegedly said, “that ‘booya’ is a word.” I’m sick of people telling me what is and is not a word, and my aunt’s reaction angered me. First of all, it IS a word! Look at it, spelled out there in letters.

To wit, a story I wrote for a creative non-fiction class at university employed ‘aforedescribed.’ That’s an ugly, awkward word, sure, but a valid one as well, assembled from valid parts. But a snobby classmate, despised for her Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and Fiona Apple name-dropping, as well as her geeky red galoshes, objected. “Aforedescribed’ is NOT a word,” she said. Her anger produced anger in kind. “I assume your concern,” said I, “is that aforedescribed doesn’t appear in any dictionary, but why should we rely on dictionaries for self-expression? Dictionaries keep linguistic change under control, but if I’m writing a creative work, I should be allowed to break rules. Language doesn’t have innate rules about the validity of words anyway. We create those ourselves. Words are added as we use them.”

My argument for ‘booya’ is similar. Its meaning is clear: “I’m happy!”

For further support, I visited the Urban Dictionary, an online “slang dictionary” encouraging visitors to “define your world.” So far, UD browsers have provided 25 ‘booya’ definitions, some of which aren’t newspaper-appropriate. ‘Booya,’ says one, “is an exclamation, used when something happens that either surprises or makes you happy.” Another entry describes ‘booya’ as “a verbal expression of victory; usually derisive,” e.g. “In your face, booya!” An abberant entry calls ‘booya’ the practice of “driving on crazy backroads… under the influence of marijuana,” but we’ll ignore that one. Apparently, ‘booya’ is a derivation of ‘booyakasha,’ whose alleged translation is “death to all white men.” No solid proof on that, though.

Racist origins or not, ‘booya’ is rooted in Ebonics, or African-American English. Perhaps that’s why Annie disagrees with me—an auburn-haired, freckle-skinned white boy—using it to express enjoyment. Perhaps, by using ‘booya,’ I’m not being true to myself, to my pale-pallored European roots. But isn’t the United States a melting pot, where all cultures are welcome? Shouldn’t we, then, be encouraged to adopt aspects of other American cultures, including words we enjoy? Or, perhaps, because ‘booya’ is an Ebonic word, this denial of its value is revealing of racism. Only White Standard English is correct, hmm? That’s right. If you don’t agree that ‘booya’ is a word, you are a racist! Naw, that’s a bit extreme.

What else, then, is there to say? We’ve proven ‘booya’ has a function and complex origins. We’ve proven that, by using it, I’m adhering to American ideals. So, whether Annie and my Aunt get annoyed when I say ‘booya’ is immaterial. They are wrong, and I am right. I’ve been using ‘booya’ since age 15. At first, using it was a pose, a joke, but as years have passed, my ‘booyas’ have become more and more sincere. Now, I’m using it without irony, at every available opportunity. Because I’ve defeated Annie, my Aunt, and that snooty girl in her red galoshes, this seems like one of those times.



Written by patiomensch

March 4, 2007 at 7:20 pm

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