Oh stewardess, I speak jive
March 2, 2006 6:45 AM   Subscribe

Is the phrase "Jive Turkey" offensive?

I think it's a funny thing to say, in a sort of 70's throwback way, and completely harmless. My girlfriend thinks that it is innappropriate for me (a 27 y/o white male) to say because of its origin. Is this like me saying "my nigga" (which I'm sort of uncomfortable even typing), or is she being a square?
posted by Who_Am_I to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It all depends on the context and how well you know the people you're talking to.

Anyway, some people find "Jive Bunny" offensive, too.
posted by iviken at 6:52 AM on March 2, 2006

Well, considering a turkey is a bad person....
posted by jon_kill at 7:01 AM on March 2, 2006

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posted by ND¢ at 7:03 AM on March 2, 2006

There's nothing wrong with it as a term. "Jive" has a long history, in the various forms and meanings associated with "jive turkey," back to 1928. It's simply strongly associated with usage by Black Americans; it does not denote nor connote them.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:09 AM on March 2, 2006

"Is is offensive" is a relative question, and apparently around your girlfriend the answer is yes; but yeah, she's definitely being a hypersensitive square. ...Or, you might say, a "jive turkey."
posted by cribcage at 8:03 AM on March 2, 2006

The phrase itself is not offensive, but perhaps she is bothered by the way you are saying it. Are you trying to sound like a 1970's black man when you use that term? That might be problematic for some people.
posted by Julnyes at 8:14 AM on March 2, 2006

Its only lame.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:18 AM on March 2, 2006

Jive Turkey is the Gormless Nit of a more recent era.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:31 AM on March 2, 2006

Not any more offensive then you saying "fo' shizzel". It wouldn't offend any black people, I think.
posted by delmoi at 8:35 AM on March 2, 2006

It is offensive in the sense that it's an insult, just as calling someone an idiot is offensive (at least to the idiot). Is it somehow racially proprietary? I doubt it, but I am the wrong race to be definitive about that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:58 AM on March 2, 2006

Sherman Helmsley for the win (seriously, nice work NDCentsign). Completely fine, at least among MY distinguished circle of undistinguished people.
posted by sluggo at 9:00 AM on March 2, 2006

Sorry, I should have been clear: I do mean it as an insult to the recipient, in a joking way. Thanks everyone for the input.
posted by Who_Am_I at 9:08 AM on March 2, 2006

Now, if you're saying it with an affected caricature voice, that particular caricature might be offensive. Or it might just be embarassing for your GF, so she's trying to think of a persuasive way to get you to stop embarassing her by calling people "jive turkeys." Or maybe you just say it way too much.
posted by JekPorkins at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2006

She's being a square! Seriously, I use 70s slang all the time just for fun. I personally think that because it's such a classic and dated term it's completely harmless...I mean, I can't imagine someone (especially if you're saying it in a joking manner) who would respond "Did you call me a 'jive turkey' you FUCKING ASSHOLE??". No. That said, someone who for whatever reason finds it offensive will probably have trouble changing their spots. Unfortunately you can't say "I polled a bunch of people and they disagree with me" and change her mind, ya dig? Maybe just tell her that lots of slang today has origins in "jive," like cats, hip, "later," etc, and the reason she's probably so sensitive to this is that it's so retro that she doesn't even know what to do with it.
posted by apple scruff at 9:38 AM on March 2, 2006

I'd imagine it's offensive to her because it's a term that she views as stereotypical slang for a black man in the 70s. By using it to be entertaining, she feels that you're attempting to caricature a black man. I think there's a large difference between adopting terms like "jive turkey" and dressing up in blackface for a minstrel show, but obviously there's some discomfort for other people. It doesn't help that a lot of this slang existed within groups that were proudly black, despite how silly it may now sound.
posted by mikeh at 9:48 AM on March 2, 2006

I just imagined a young, white male saying "you jive turkey" without affecting a "slick '70s black man" voice while doing it.

That's freakin' hillarious. Try saying it with the intonation Homer Simpson uses when saying "...you nerrrrrrrd!" and also use a sort of computer geek autistic high-pitched nasal voice at the same time. That's a beautiful thing.

So yeah, it's not the words that are offensive, it's the total lameness of doing the "black dude" voice.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2006

nobody owns words, dogg.
posted by fishfucker at 12:17 PM on March 2, 2006

or inflections.
posted by fishfucker at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2006

I'm sure fish find the above poster's username very offensive
posted by matteo at 12:30 PM on March 2, 2006

If somebody is a jive turkey, who cares if they get offended when you call them on it?

Only a jive turkey would disagree.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:04 PM on March 2, 2006

Homer said it on the Simpsons. If it made it past the network censors, it can't be offensive, right?

Episode #3F21, Homerpalooza.

I am such a nerd.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 2:11 PM on March 2, 2006

Hi everyone, Who_Am_I's "square" girlfriend here. I will ignore the fact that I was not consulted before this post went up and will present my view (I should mention that I just finished reading the autobiography of Malcolm X which has no doubt influenced my perspective):

As I see it, from my moderately-informed 22-year-old white girl perspective, the culture that invented "jive" came into existence because it was forced to do so by white America. The black societies of 1950s Boston, Detroit, Harlem, etc. came into being as a result of pressure to either become an "Uncle Tom" and join the mainstream or to instead live within the rebellious subculture created in these cities. To borrow from this subculture for entertainment purposes when its demands for basic human rights still have not been addressed to me constitutes an albeit unintentional insult to the culture which created the term.

Or something like that. Clearly, my perspective is a bit more difficult to explain than "I think it's funny." I'm still trying to wrap my head around why it offends me and I am willing to consider the possibility that I am being oversensitive. I do have this to say, though: I would feel funny calling my African American professor a "jive turkey," even over a beer.

Also, there's this: Who_Am_I sounds like a damn fool when he says it.

And to 5MeoCMP: He picked it up from that episode of The Simpsons and has been saying it ever since.
posted by Crushinator at 4:41 PM on March 2, 2006

Dude, your girlfriend goes by "Crushinator." If you're annoying her, stop!
posted by attercoppe at 5:06 PM on March 2, 2006

Crushinator, you probably wouldn't feel weird calling your African American professor a "jive turkey" if black people loved you. Back to the African American biography section with you.
posted by ND¢ at 5:13 PM on March 2, 2006

colonialist thought seems to declare that the sons and daughters of the colonizers can't ever have a good laugh because they were related to some dude who was totally a jerk. like seriously -- you only get the get out of jail free card if someone stole your country or countrymen for a bit.

that's jive, right there, negro.

more seriously:

my "ethnicity" (as people call it, right after they ask "where were you born", and I say, "uh, Sacramento") is partially Indian, and while I don't get offended with, say, Apu's character on the Simpsons, I DO get somewhat offended when people think I'm going to be like that simply because my dad grew up in India.

I'd argue that by considering black slang as some sort of essential character possessed and owned only by blacks is slightly more racist than just treating words as words. You're making a distinction between what belongs to black people and what belongs to everyone else.

I mean, really -- do you not listen to jazz or get mad when white people play it? Do you hate white rappers?

I realize that you may think black slang is a *negative* aspect of black culture, and by appropriating it we're not really "using it ourselves" but "using it to accentuate the difference between us and black people", and I'll readily admit that part of the intent of many non-blacks using black slang is probably to capitalize on the fact that it's funny because they usually speak a different sort of english. Still I don't think it contains as much malice as you believe -- in fact, it's usually more self-defacing humor, like "hey, look how much of a honky I am that I sound funny when I try to appropriate black culture".

Sorry to run on for so long, but this is once of the largest unanswered gripes I've had about colonialist theory. They really had no end to saying "oh, we're bad, we're evil", and it's like, at some point, that WE has to come to mean ALL OF US, not just white vs. black vs. brown vs. yellow.
posted by fishfucker at 6:57 PM on March 2, 2006

Crushinator: To borrow from this subculture for entertainment purposes when its demands for basic human rights still have not been addressed to me constitutes an albeit unintentional insult to tthe culture which created the term.

Wow, you must be a lot of fun to hang out with! Are you also offended by every single kind of popular music? And heck, the unpopular ones too?

fishfucker: agree. I can't see how treating black culture with kid gloves is "better" than appropriating aspects of their culture.
posted by apple scruff at 7:20 PM on March 2, 2006

I'm with rxrfrx. It's frickin' hilarious if you're laughing at yourself while you do it.
posted by salvia at 1:34 AM on March 3, 2006

Theres nothing wrong with any word by itself. Its only offensive if someone is offended by it. In other words, dont say this phrase around people who might conceivably be offended by it-- namely older black men with a chip on their shoulder or self righteous politically correct white yuppies.
posted by petsounds at 10:19 AM on March 3, 2006

...from my moderately-informed 22-year-old white girl perspective...
When you're 36, you're going to find that sentence hilarious.
Also, there's this: Who_Am_I sounds like a damn fool when he says it.
That's a reasonable objection. The other thing, not so much.
posted by cribcage at 10:26 AM on March 3, 2006

The "jive" part is what's offensive? So Willie and the Hand Jive and numerus other songs are offensive - at least when performed by White people? Like, say Eric Clapton?

posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:26 PM on March 8, 2006

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