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Holla Back: What Can We Say Other Than Whack?

July 9, 2012

Welcome to “Holla Back”, where we respond to reader questions and comments. We love receiving feedback from readers and we encourage you to keep it coming!

Darren, from Canada, sent us the following question via email:

I had a question about AAVE and alternative words used for “good” and “bad.”

A friend on FB posted this recently:

It’s interesting to me that African American Vernacular English has coined so many words for good (e.g. dope, fresh, def, bad, ill, nice) and only one for bad: wack.

I don’t think this is true, but I have had trouble coming up with specifics. Are there AAVE words for bad aside from wack?

Darren’s question is a great one, and in fact we had to put some thought into synonyms for “whack”. Here’s how we responded:

AAVE has a rich vocabulary that includes many words that can function as “bad”. As you mentioned, “whack” is a common one, but here are some others that you may not have heard of, along with examples from

busted– “unatrractive, lame, or boring”.

trifflin– “gross, dirty, ugly, nasty, poor, kife,custy”.

jank (or jankety)– “broken; unnecessarily redundant, superfluous, or meaningless; stupid or ridiculously moronic; bootleg or of questionable quality”

Obviously several of these words have meanings that can be narrower than simply “bad”, or that generally apply to a specific type of person or item. Unfortunately there’s presently no searchable AAVE Thesaurus, so coming up with synonyms can be challenging.

If readers have other suggestions that can help answer Darren’s question, we encourage you to post them here in the comments. Also, feel free to post questions or email us, and maybe we’ll answer your question in a future Holla Back!

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