Help me understand jargon in "The Wire"
May 16, 2008 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Where online can I find a list of vocabulary from "The Wire" and some plain-language definitions?

Thanks to Metafilter, I've discovered HBO's "The Wire". Of course, I discover the show after five seasons have aired, but that just means I've got some DVDs to rent and some catching up to do.

I'm having a hard time deciphering the jargon used in the show, though. Having grown up in the Canadian suburbs, I never had much exposure to drug lingo. I can usually figure out the meanings of words via context, but not always...

There's gotta be a druglord on MeFi that can help out here...
posted by gwenzel to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
IANADL, but there are a ton of drug slang dictionaries online, if that's what you're looking for.
posted by phunniemee at 8:48 PM on May 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't worry, you'll pick it up. I think I remember David Simon saying in an interview how their goal was to never dumb down the dialogue like on network TV, but to use it so you could pick it up over time. They even go into a little bit about the cops themselves not understanding some drug slang.
posted by sharkfu at 8:55 PM on May 16, 2008

(Oh, I hope this counts as an answer, because I mean it so sincerely).
Please don't worry about it. Please just let the show wash over you. You aren't supposed to know what they're saying. And isn't that great? Isn't it fantastic not to have everything handed to you? Isn't it interesting to be at sea for once? Depending on context clues to suss out meaning like you haven't had to since you were a kid? One of the very best things about "The Wire" is that things like drug terms, cop terms, people's names, aren't spoon fed to you. You just go into that world and take it in - please don't think you need a glossary - you'll learn it all. It'll come together, I swear.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:57 PM on May 16, 2008 [5 favorites]

"burner" = disposable pre-paid cell phone
"re-up" or "package" = new large shipment of drugs, which is then distributed to corners
"po-po" = police, obviously
"lake trout" = not to do with drugs, but weird local African-American term for what I believe is carp

only ones I can think of offhand. Sorry. I am a Baltimore native, but not from that part of town.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:58 PM on May 16, 2008

I think i understand most of what is said on the show, so if there's any specific term(s) bugging you, feel free to post it or send it to me and I'll do my best.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:04 PM on May 16, 2008

Wikipedia is a tremendous source of info on The Wire, but if you're at say, season 2, episode 5 or something, you have to be careful not to catch any spoilers.

I generally would read the episode guides on Wikipedia after I viewed an episode. If I missed a term or someone's name and I missed a key plot point, the summaries would always fill me in.
posted by mathowie at 9:26 PM on May 16, 2008

Moxiedoll gives an excellent answer. You won't get everything on first viewing. I could hardly ever understand what Snoop was saying, and I really think you're supposed to be confused sometimes by the slang and vague, oblique dialogue.
posted by bluejayk at 9:32 PM on May 16, 2008

drjimmy11: "
"lake trout" = not to do with drugs, but weird local African-American term for what I believe is carp

I'll try to keep this vague so as not to spoil:

It's a fish, but two characters use it more as a metaphor for things that are dressed up and trying to be fancy when they're just the same crap.

It's also the name of a restaurant that figures into the plot. (episode 35)
posted by sharkfu at 9:53 PM on May 16, 2008

I don't watch The Wire but Urban Dictionary should be able to help you out.
posted by Kevbo947 at 10:22 PM on May 16, 2008

Just started watching season 1. I'd recommend simply viewing it with subtitles on. The context should allow you to pick up what's going on without resorting to a glossary. Kind of like reading Shakespeare.
posted by quadog at 1:01 AM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Moxiedoll: Thanks for the caution - I've definitely tried to "take it all in" over the first few seasons (I'm nearing the end of season 3 ATM) but some of the terms have just eluded me.

Two that come to mind are "shorty" (which I think means 'female' but I've seen it used to refer to a male also, so that doesn't make sense) and "hopper", which I think means the dealers at the bottom of the food chain.
posted by gwenzel at 7:44 AM on May 17, 2008

"Shorty" can either refer to a child or to a woman (as you might use "chick"). EG: "I used to play He-Man when I was a shorty." Or, alternately, "I saw shorty at the club, and she was looking fine."

And yeah, hoppers are lowest-rung dealers.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:08 AM on May 17, 2008

seconding subtitles.
helped me w/ the first season.
posted by brevator at 8:09 AM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Wall Street Journal has a glossary of some of the more common terms.

The lingo was also discussed at Language Log.

Be warned about the slang in The Wire: if you go around Ballmer talking like that, you're going to get smacked, whether you're a cop, a dealer, a hopper, a pol, or a journo. The use of slang in The Wire is overdone and overwrought.

David Simon, the show's creator, is from Baltimore and has said in interviews that he's done a lot of legwork on getting the "street" right. I cannot tell if this is a typical screenwriter's puffed-up claim to authenticity or if he does actually have a good ear for the street.

Certainly, his idea of "authenticity" has resulted in a very dense, almost poetic, dialog that lacks things we know that real discourse would have, such as heavy repetition and restatement. It's interesting to hear but it's scripted and dramatized, and so, therefore, unreliable as evidence on how people actually talk.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:40 AM on May 17, 2008

The journalism lingo is discussed here. It's probably the most authentic use of slang in the whole series.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2008

Snoop from The Wire is from Baltimore and.. IMHO talks the same off camera.. she's been on the radio here in DC sometimes, and can be a little hard to understand b/c of her accent.

Simon is kinda self-congratulatory about "authenticity" and there's such a tension in everything he says about the series between that & the drama of some storylines esp Stringer/Avon..
posted by citron at 11:35 AM on May 17, 2008

re: shorty.

It's often used specifically in reference to someone's own kids, not just a kid in general. You know, like your baby mama is watching your shorties?
posted by Justinian at 1:10 PM on May 17, 2008

I don't watch The Wire but Urban Dictionary should be able to help you out.
posted by Kevbo947 at 1:22 AM on May 17 [+] [!]

Urban Dictionary is seriously one of the worst, most useless sites on the internet. 90% of the definitions there are completely made up by bored 14-year olds and their bullshit is only legitimized by the fact that you can't edit a UD entry like you can on Wikipedia.

The fact that there are 39 definitions for "shorty" would certainly give anyone a clear idea of what a "shorty" really is.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 6:04 PM on May 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

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