The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant would like to kindly request that the intertubes stop using the phrase, “throwing shade.” Although The Rant possesses many degrees establishing our grammatical and linguistic bona fides, The Rant isn’t one of those uptight English types that longs for the days of diagramming sentences on the blackboard and knowing when to use “who” or “whom.” The glory of English is its ability to embrace the slang and the street or rise to the heights of Latinate constructions. English likes to buy other languages drinks, sweet talk them over dinner, and then steal all their best nouns and verbs without so much as post-it note on the nightstand the next morning. Because if German is a straight jacket then English is a Snuggie; one you want to escape from and the other you secretly want to wear to work.

The French have the Academie francaise, a collection of forty fusty scholars, known as the Immortals1, that decide how the little people get to use the language. Although just advisory, they publish the “official” dictionary of the language and get their croissants in a twist when words from other languages try to creep into French usage. As a result, French has fallen woefully behind in having suitable words for technology and other new innovations. Meanwhile, English says, give me your tired adjectives, your poor adverbs, your huddled participles yearning to breathe free.

What was The Rant talking about anyway? Ah yes, throwing shade. Our real issue with this delightful phrase is that no one uses it correctly. As practiced by TMZ and Gawker, it simply means to hate on someone. Throwing shade is actually about subtly bringing the diss without the target knowing the diss has been deployed. Also, throwing shade is not side-eye. Side-eye is side-eye2 . Throwing shade originated in LGBT ball culture (see the documentary Paris is Burning). It involves speaking words of praise with an attitude that says, “you know I don’t mean one word of this, dearest.” Words of honey delivered with the vinegar tone. Which should you trust?

So while The Rant declares all words belong at the party, we can also make some effort to respect their context, nuance, and origin. We can work to use them in their original intention or we can make a compelling case to change their definition. “Only connect,” wrote E.M. Forster. Words give us the opportunity to make those connections, especially when we take the time to deploy them in all their glorious splendor instead of mindless mumbling.

  1. This would be the worst Marvel comic book ever. Just old French dudes smoking and arguing over the declension of nouns. “We cannot save the day. The day must save itself”
  2. The greatest side-eye ever cast was by Sophia Loren, side-eyeing in horror as Jayne Mansfield threatened to bust out all over. Classic, never to be surpassed

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