Diss question
January 7, 2011 2:48 AM   Subscribe

When did the word "diss" pass into popular/mainstream usage (either in the US or Australia)?

From my memory, I think I started hearing it in rap songs and as slang in the early 90s (and, in fact, heard a song today - from 1990 - which used it) but when did it move from slang to more popular mainstream usage? I know I resisted using it for years, but I know it's part of my speech patterns now.
posted by crossoverman to Writing & Language (18 answers total)
It started showing up in rap in the mid 80s and passed into mainstream american english in the late 90s, as people who'd listened to rap in their teens and early 20s grew into their late 30s.
posted by jedrek at 3:00 AM on January 7, 2011

When this book was published, a review observed that diss must have lost its credibility as a slang term long ago if academics were using it in their book titles in a vain effort to sound down wit da kids on da street. That was in 1998.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:12 AM on January 7, 2011

I don't believe it is in popular usage in Australia... but I may simply be unpopular.
posted by pompomtom at 3:25 AM on January 7, 2011

The Corpus of Contemporary American English has the first appearance of it in 2003 (all the other hits from earlier years were abbreviations for "dissertation".
posted by lollusc at 3:29 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

UK datapoint - I never use it, but I do recall cringing when a middle-aged secondary school teacher of mine used it as an example of how 'cool dudes' speak about 17 years ago. Christ, I'm getting old.
posted by robself at 3:42 AM on January 7, 2011

OED says:

dis, n.

Failure to show respect; abuse, disparagement; an expression of scorn or contempt, an insult.

1986 Los Angeles Times 31 Aug. (Calendar) 87/4 Please give credit where credit is due—point an accusing finger at the Long Beach Police Department for not doing its job and stop the ‘dis’ (disrespect) on rap music for once and for all.

1993 Rolling Stone 18 Feb. 60/3 Tricks of the Shade, the Goats' debut, was recorded last year, when Bush-Quayle disses were less of a foregone conclusion.

2001 N.Y. Mag. 14 May 76/1 All fifteen tracks are one-dimensional disses and dismissals of scantily clad women, vengeful boyfriends, and the group's assorted doubters.

dis, v.

Pronunciation: Brit. /dɪs/ , U.S. /dɪs/ Forms: 19– dis, 19– diss. (Show More)
Etymology: Shortened <> slang (orig. U.S., esp. in African-American usage).

trans. To show disrespect for by using insulting language or dismissive behaviour; to abuse or insult, usually verbally. Also intr.

1980 ‘Spoonie Gee’ Spoonin' Rap (song) in L. A. Stanley Rap: the Lyrics (1992) 307 Ya wanna be dissed and then ya wanna be a crook Ya find a old lady, take her pocketbook.

1988 S. Lee Do the Right Thing (1989) (film script) 169 Buggin' Out. Next time you see me coming, cross the street quick. Ahmad. He's dissing you.

1990 Boston Globe 2 May 12/5 While taking a dispute to someone's home is the ultimate in ‘dissing’,‥there are other insults that can be just as deadly, such as sucking your teeth when another walks by or smiling too much. ‘You dis, you die,’ some youths say.

1996 Just Seventeen 14 Aug. 13/1 You're sitting in the local caff when you hear some girls dissing your mate. Do you tell her?

2000 Independent 11 May ii. 4/1 Seething at seeing his life's work in pesticide research being dissed by the organic lobby, he called in the Advertising Standards Authority.
posted by biffa at 3:49 AM on January 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

The Corpus of Contemporary American English has the first appearance of it in 2003 (all the other hits from earlier years were abbreviations for "dissertation".

That's definitely behind the times. I was using it in college in the late 80's/early 90's; and I am as WASPy as they come, so if I was using it, that's definitely a sign it's become mainstream.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:09 AM on January 7, 2011

As a decidedly un-hip teen in the decidedly un-hip midwest, I remember using this term very frequently in high school during the 1986-1988 period. I am sure it was common in the more trendsettier regions several years before that.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

When was Colombine? 1999? I remember seeing Bill Clinton in the aftermath talking to some teenagers on TV, using the term and finding it weird. So it was still, to my mind at least, a fringe usage then.
posted by philip-random at 8:19 AM on January 7, 2011

Google Ngram
posted by erikgrande at 8:45 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Don't Dis Me" by Robert S. was popular among my mostly white college friends in 1986.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:56 AM on January 7, 2011

I guess it depends on your definition of mainstream.

As a lot of folks are pointing out, it didn't take long to jump subculture on a personal level- but media-wise? It didn't hit black tv/movies that hard until mid-late 80's, though The Arsenio Hall show really sped up that process... white tv & movies took a long time to pick it up as well. Though, I generally always heard it being used sarcastically in those, "Oh, no, did I dis you?" (with the joke being "ha-ha, black people slang sure is funny!").

I remember the migration of "Bomb" - it started as "the bomb" for a short period, then quickly evolved into "hella bomb" or "Bomb as fuck", while people who weren't really in the scene kept using "the bomb" or "da bomb" (da makes it more street yo!) for almost the next 10 years.
posted by yeloson at 10:23 AM on January 7, 2011

As noted above, it depends on your definition of mainstream. Here's a use of the term from Ebony magazine in August 1978: 'While every member of the older generation has his or her own set of pet peeves, there are a few danger zones that most of us must deal with at some time or another. The following are some general suggestions on how to get through those zones without dismembering your family (or whatever), with you being the "dissed" member. Of course, it is impossible to avoid every land mine, and sometimes you have to be satisfied with just making light of the explosion.'

The quotation marks around "dissed" demonstrate that at least for that writer, or that publication, the term was unusual enough to warrant having attention called to by offsetting it.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:45 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

PS: I still find numerous examples of "dis" and "diss" being offset with quotation marks through 1990, which may demonstrate its ongoing non-mainstream status.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:50 AM on January 7, 2011

It was popular by my 2nd year of college in 1993, when white kids everywhere couldn't get enough of gangsta rap and grunge. Howard Stern ridicules someone (an actress, iirc) for using it in his 1997 book Private Parts, implying that it was not only mainstream the year before, but that the backlash had already begin my then.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:15 AM on January 7, 2011

Chiming in: I heard it first in the mid 1980's while in high school in the suburbs of Chicago.
posted by marimeko at 11:55 AM on January 7, 2011

*snerk* I've just remembered a discussion from when a guy from acting class and I were rehearsing a scene from Uncle Vanya and I for class, in about 1991; in the course of discussing the scene, he sincerely and without irony referred to his character's mental state in one scene as "I'm mad because I don't get why your character's dissing me".

It's probably not the exact word Chekov would have used, but yeah.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:53 PM on January 7, 2011

Chuck D used it on the American Network news/interview show Nightline in January of 1993, but he sort of caught himself and then expanded it to "disrespected."
posted by NortonDC at 1:28 PM on January 7, 2011

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