When Did “Pimp” Become a Positive Term?
Much to my horrified amazement, I just ran across a Facebook page called Obama Is A Pimp.
The amazing thing is that the page is supportive of Barack Obama.
The horrified part of my discovery had to do with the fact that to me pimp is a despicable term for a person who practices a despicable occupation.
Apparently the word means something else to the person who created the Facebook page.
As a noun, pimp means a person, usually a man, who lives off the earnings of a prostitute. The word may come from Medieval French pimper “to dress elegantly.” The stereotypical pimp is known for a garish mode of dress.
Another French word, pimpreneau, meant “a knave, rascal, varlet, scoundrel.” In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, a “pimp” is an informer or stool pigeon.
As a verb, to pimp seems to have reclaimed some of the earlier association with elegant dress. “To pimp one’s ride” seems to mean updating or decorating a motor vehicle in some unusual way.
But while “pimping” a ride or a wardrobe may have become an acceptable usage, “to pimp” when applied to a woman is still the unlovely practice of sending her out to be a whore.
MSNBC host David Shuster learned the continuing unacceptability of the expression when he asked two guests: “Doesn’t it seem as if Chelsea is sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?” The remark got him suspended from NBC News.
For some of us pimp will always be an ugly, unacceptable word for any use other than to describe a trafficker in women. Younger people may not understand what the fuss is about. As Jesse Sheidlower says in a Slate article on the subject, “you can’t make someone feel a certain way about a word.”
To some extent, the gentrification of the word pimp can be said to be a generational thing, but it also carries cultural undertones. A dictum of General Semantics is that we see what we say. Language colors our view of the world. Pimps exploit, abuse, and degrade women. What kind of cultural perspective enables pimp to evolve into an inoffensive word?
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