By its very definition, slang is simple. It is informal language used by a group of people to discuss or describe certain concepts or characteristics that are implicitly understood if one is a member of said group. As such, approaching slang as if it is some layered, highly nuanced matter in which the individual who uses it reveals something about both themselves and society at large, is unnecessarily complicated and possibly insane.
If you have to think hard about slang, not only do you not understand it, but it’s probably not for you.
Perhaps it is because the internet has made slang more available to a wider group of people who would have previously found themselves left out that we are inundated with think piece after think piece breaking down modern slang—which is to say, black slang. Or maybe it is because members of the media elite are so desperate to insert themselves into the cultural landscape that they glom onto any seemingly unique angle or idea no matter their incompetency on the subject.
Whatever the reason, it must stop. In the latest wave, the term “fuckboy” has unnecessarily been put under the microscope by confused white people, unaware that this language was never for them in the first place.
To be clear, white people can use black slang—provided they know what it means. But what you cannot do is appropriate words that we’ve established to mean something and change the language because you feel like it or, more likely, because you’re confused.
Fuckboy is a term that most will agree was first introduced publicly by the rapper Cam’ron and later became of the larger hip hop lexicon. (That being said, you can almost guarantee that it was because the term was floating around Harlem in the first place that led to Cam’ron using it in a song.)
To call someone a fuckboy is to insult them. It falls into a similar category of terms like bitch-ass or scrub. A fuckboy is a man who is lame, who sucks, who ain’t shit. Insults don’t need to have some deeper meaning. They’re meant to cut someone down quickly and decisively. It is precisely because they are so uncomplicated that they are so difficult to respond to.
However, if you read Vanity Fair’s harrowing look at Tinder and the neurotic dating lives of rich white people in Manhattan, you’ll be led to believe that the definition of fuckboy is thus:
A “fuckboy” is a young man who sleeps with women without any intention of having a relationship with them or perhaps even walking them to the door post-sex. He’s a womanizer, an especially callous one, as well as kind of a loser. The word has been around for at least a decade with different meanings; it’s only in about the last year that it has become so frequently used by women and girls to refer to their hookups.
(Note: The word din’t come into frequent use in the last year, it came into frequent use by white people Vanity Fair writers in the last year.)
If you stumbled upon Huffington Post’s unnecessary dive into the word, you’d be met with this:
In essence, a fuckboy (sometimes stylized “fuckboi” or “fuccboi”) is a (usually straight, white) dude embodying something akin to the “man whore” label, mashed up with some “basic” qualities and a light-to-heavy sprinkling of misogyny. But consensus on a singular definition is a work in progress.
In its original context, the word was used to insult a man for lack of traditional masculinity. On Urban Dictionary — the respected authority on such matters — the first definition of a fuckboy, from December 2004, is “a person who is a weak ass pussy.” Nothing new. But in the second entry, written nearly ten years later, fuckboys take on a different set of traits, like “relies on his mom but doesn’t respect women” and “can’t find the clitoris.”
(Note: Again, the definition is a work in progress for white people.)
I should add that fuckboi or fuccboi is not simply a stylized spelling of fuckboy. It is a derivative of the word that has a unique meaning—specifically in the fashion world—which Julianne Escobedo Shepherd helpfully explored last year.
You almost have to marvel at the flagrant ignorance put on display here. How both Nancy Jo Sales of Vanity Fair and Sarah Boboltz of the Huffington Post are basking in their cluelessness. What is also clear is that neither woman seemed to bother asking a single black person about what the word means.
Quite obviously neither of these women know what the hell they’re talking about. Boboltz seemed to rely almost solely on Urban Dictionary and Sales just made some shit up. What’s worse, however, is that in their explorations, they provide absolutely no context for where the word came from: BLACK PEOPLE. Without that context, they completely erase black people from a word that they not only coined but have been using for years.
You don’t get to change the meaning of words because all your white friends are using it incorrectly. This isn’t the evolution of language—it is an outright hijacking. And the fact that these people think they have any right to do so is white privilege of the highest order.
What’s frustrating is that in some ways it’s difficult to counter Sales and Boboltz. These people seem to believe that made-up words are meticulously documented somewhere with verified definitions that are known and accepted by all who use the word and a lack of said documentation means they are free to create their own.
While they wouldn’t have landed on something as insightful and organized as an Urban Dictionary definition, both women simply had to conduct a Google search and click beyond the first page of results or, I don’t know, ask someone who is black. Because let’s be clear, whether or not they admit to in in print, these writers know that this is black language.
It’s this same lazy, white-centric research that results in inane stories where the term “squad” is attributed to Taylor Swift. It is as if the language of black people isn’t worth simple fact-checking.
When reading pieces like these, it’s hard not to feel like you’re watching a nature documentary on the Discovery Channel where the brave white journalists goes into the wild (but no further than 125th Street) and tries to figure out what all these negroes are talking about.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in Slate’s ill-advised piece: “What Is the F—k Boy?” (Please note their very SEO-friendly URL: what_does_fuckboy_mean.)
Writer Jacob Brogan must have bionic arms because the reaches he makes are downright laughable. The piece contains inaccuracy after inaccuracy that likely began with his decision to interview two white women about the meaning of fuckboy.
Their disagreement reflects the varied ways the word is used across a range of communities, designating whatever male behavior a particular culture—or even an individual—identifies as problematic.
The suggestion that fuckboy is universal and is used across a variety of communities that all ascribe a unique meaning to the word is asinine. The word was used primarily in the hip hop community which overlaps heavily—at least in terms of culture—with black culture. That is where it was born and that is where it has lived until very recently.
The shallowness and paleness of Brogan’s research is evident in one of his interview subjects, Alana Massey.
In our conversation, Massey claimed that fuckboy had entered her social world sometime in the past year, but acknowledged that it had a fuzzier past. “I was told that we stole it from gay men,” she told me. “I don’t actually know.”
This white woman admits on record to not knowing what the fuck the word means but, yes please, include her as an expert.
Brogan goes on to make such groundbreaking claims as:
But fuckboy probably found its way into popular parlance through hip-hop.
Probably. Or, you know, definitely.
For all that history, interest in fuckboy didn’t really start to spike until late 2014—a date that suggests the impact of hip-hop group Run the Jewels’ “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” released on Sept. 15 of that year.
Rather hilariously, when Brogan cites an actual black person, he is met with the only clear, simple definition present in the entire piece.
Asked to clarify what he meant, Killer Mike responded, “[Y]ou can identify fuckboys … because they are always doing fuck shit. Just the dumbest, weirdest, lamest possible shit ever.”
The black man explaining black slang isn’t enough to quell his curiosity, however. Because why would we take a man who has been a presence in hip hop for over fifteen years, and a black man for his entire life, at his word?
While it may not have been important to Run the Jewels to define the term, it must have been to some of the group’s listeners—and to those hearing the word in other contexts.
Run the Jewels doesn’t have to define the term. They’re in the circle. Dismissing them for failing to provide some involved definition of fuckboy is the same as when white people try to force a black person to explain in great detail—preferably with tabs and footnotes—why exactly it’s racist when a white people try to touch their hair.
It is not the duty of any people of color to provide handbooks to their cultures so that white people can feel more comfortable.
Brogan ends with the same faux-intellectual drivel that plagued his entire piece.
In the end, fuckboy resists complete explanation. That’s what makes it powerful. Or maybe it’s the reverse: Maybe the word is too powerful to permit explanation.
One must ask why these writers feel so compelled to dissect black slang like it’s a preserved frog in a tenth-grade biology class.
But just like fuckboy itself, the answer isn’t complicated. As slang continues to disseminate across the internet, white people outside of the culture, or who lack a cultural context, will continue to feel self-conscious about not being in the know. And as we see again and again, the way in which they are given country to publicly wrestle with their own discomfort leads to yet another platform for culture erasure. The cycle continues.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.