Journal Details
First Published
10 Dec 2009
Publication timeframe
4 times per year
access type Open Access

Dissecting the Word: The Use of the Lexeme Shit in Selected Performances of Comedian Dave Chappelle’s Stand-Up Routine

Published Online: 04 Jun 2021
Page range: -
Journal Details
First Published
10 Dec 2009
Publication timeframe
4 times per year

The paper explores the use of the lexeme shit in the corpus of Dave Chappelle’s stand-up specials released between 2000 and 2019. It consists of two parts: theoretical and analytical. The first one presents theoretical and pragmatic considerations connected with stand-up routines, touches upon slang semantics, and depicts the links between Dave Chappelle’s stage persona and the hip hop community. Lastly, it presents the reader with the past and present-day status of the lexeme at issue. In the analytical section of the paper the use of shit in the aforesaid corpus is scrutinized from the semantic angle. The discussion is supplemented with the results culled from the corpus of rap lyrics compiled at the Faculty of English at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. The paper argues that (i) shit has lost its taboo status and is mainly used in both corpora as a less formal equivalent of stuff, anything and something and (ii) Chappelle’s stage use of shit, even though present in a different context and serving context-specific purposes, corresponds to the use of African American rappers in their song lyrics (assuming that rap lyrics depict African American English, this conclusion can be extended to the sociolect of African Americans).


Alim, H. Samy. 2004. Hip hop nation language. In Edward Finegan & John R. Rickford (eds.), Language in the USA: Themes for the twenty-first century, Cambridge University Press. 387–409. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511809880.023Search in Google Scholar

Alim, H. Samy. 2006. Roc the mic right: The language of hip hop culture. Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Allan, Keith. 2018. Taboo words and language: An overview. In Keith Allan (ed.), The Oxford handbook of taboo words and language, Oxford University Press. 1–27. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198808190.013.1Search in Google Scholar

Amdan, Nur Faatihah Binti & Azianura Hani Shaari. 2017. An analysis of profanity in English lyrics. Jurnal Wacana Sarjana 1(1). 28.Search in Google Scholar

Archer, Dawn, Piotr Jagodziński & Rebecca Jagodziński. (in press). Activity types and genres. In Michael Haugh, Daniel Kadar & Marina Terkourafi (eds.), Cambridge handbook of sociopragmatics. Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1981 [1935]. Discourse in the novel. In Michael Holquist (ed.), The Dialogic Imagination: Four essays by M. M. Bakhtin (translated by Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist), University of Texas Press. 259–422.Search in Google Scholar

Balliu, Sofie. 2015. The paradoxical position of the white rapper in hip-hop music: A genre fixated on authenticity. An analysis of the use of African-American English in the music of Eminem, Iggy Azalea, and Classified. An unpublished M.A. thesis, Universiteit Gent.Search in Google Scholar

Barish, Jonas A. 1981. The anti-theatrical prejudice. University of California Press.Search in Google Scholar

Battistella, Edwin L. 2005. Bad language: Are some words better than others? Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Baudhuin, E. Scott. 1973. Obscene language and evaluative response: An empirical study. Psychological Reports 32(2). 399–402. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1973.32.2.399Search in Google Scholar

Beal, Joan C. 1993. The grammar of Tyneside and Northumbrian English. In James Milroy & Lesley Milroy (eds.), Real English: The grammar of English dialects in the British Isles, Longman. 187–213.Search in Google Scholar

Beers Fägersten, Kristy. 2007. A sociolinguistic analysis of swear word offensiveness. Saarland Working Papers in Linguistics 1. 14–37.Search in Google Scholar

Beers Fägersten, Kristy 2012. Who’s swearing now? The social aspects of conversational swearing. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Search in Google Scholar

Blake, Barry J. 2018. Taboo language as source of comedy. In Keith Allan (ed.), The Oxford handbook of taboo words and language, Oxford University Press. 353–371. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198808190.013.19Search in Google Scholar

Boskin, Joseph. 1997. Rebellious laughter: People’s humor in American culture. Syracuse University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Bostrom, Robert N., John R. Baseheart & Charles M. Rossiter Jr. 1973. The effects of three types of profane language in persuasive messages. Journal of Communication 23(4). 461–475. DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1973.tb00961.xSearch in Google Scholar

Brezina, Vaclav. 2018. Statistics in corpus linguistics: A practical guide. Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Brodie, Ian Bernard. 2009. Stand-up comedy: A folkloristic approach. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland.Search in Google Scholar

Bucaria, Chiara. 2017. Audiovisual translation of humor. In Salvatore Attardo (ed.), The Routledge handbook of language and humor, Routledge. 430–443. DOI: 10.4324/9781315731162.ch30Search in Google Scholar

Bull, Peter, Judy Elliott, Derrol Palmer & Libby Walker. 1996. Why politicians are three-faced: The face model of political interviews. British Journal of Social Psychology 35(2). 267–284. 10.1111/j.2044-8309.1996.tb01097.xSearch in Google Scholar

Cressman, Dale L., Mark Callister, Tom Robinson & Chris Near. 2009. Swearing in the cinema: An analysis of profanity in US teen-oriented movies, 1980–2006. Journal of Children and Media 3(29). 117–135.Search in Google Scholar

Culpeper, Jonathan & Dan MacIntyre. 2010. Activity types and characterisation in dramatic discourse. In Jens Eder, Fotis Jannidis & Ralf Schneider (eds.), Characters in fictional worlds: Understanding imaginary beings in literature, film, and other media, Walter de Gruyter. 176–207. DOI: 10.1515/9783110232424.3.176Search in Google Scholar

Cutler, Cecelia. 2007. Hip-hop language in sociolinguistics and beyond. Language and Linguistics Compass 1(5). 519–538. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-818X.2007.00021.xSearch in Google Scholar

Driscoll, James M. 1981. Aggressiveness and frequency-of-aggressive-use ratings for pejorative epithets by Americans. The Journal of Social Psychology 114(1). 111–126. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00224545.1981.9922733Search in Google Scholar

Dylewski, Radosław. 2019. Semantic bleaching? A study of the f-word in the corpus of (gangsta) rap lyrics. Presentation delivered in April 2019 at the Faculty of English at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.Search in Google Scholar

Dynel, Marta. 2012. Setting our House in order: The workings of impoliteness in multi-party film discourse. Journal of Politeness Research 8(2). 161–194. DOI: 10.1515/pr-2012-0010Search in Google Scholar

Eble, Connie. 1973. Slang and sociability: In-group language among college students. The University of North Carolina Press.Search in Google Scholar

Gillota, David. 2015. Stand-up nation: Humor and American identity. The Journal of American Culture 38(2): 102–112. DOI: 10.1111/jacc.12301Search in Google Scholar

Green’s Dictionary of Slang. Available at https://greensdictofslang.com.Search in Google Scholar

Green, Jonathon. 1999. The slang thesaurus (2nd edn.). Penguin Books Ltd.Search in Google Scholar

Green, Jonathon. 2015. The vulgar tongue: Green’s history of slang. Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hughes, Geoffrey. 2015 [2006]. An encyclopedia of swearing: The social history of oaths, profanity, foul language, and ethnic slurs in the English-speaking world. London & New York: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Jay, Timothy. 1977. Doing research with dirty words. Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression 1. 234–256.Search in Google Scholar

Jay, Timothy. 1992. Cursing in America: A psycholinguistic study of dirty language in the courts, in the movies, in the schoolyards and on the streets. John Benjamins. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/z.57Search in Google Scholar

Jay, Timothy & Kristin Janschewitz. 2008. The pragmatics of swearing. Journal of Politeness Research 4(2). 267–288. DOI: 10.1515/JPLR.2008.013Search in Google Scholar

Kaye, Barbara K. & Barry S. Sapolsky. 2004a. Talking a “blue” streak: Context and offensive language in prime time network television programs. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 81(4). 911–927. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/107769900408100412Search in Google Scholar

Kaye, Barbara K. & Barry S. Sapolsky. 2004b. Watch your mouth! An analysis of profanity uttered by children on prime-time television. Mass Communication and Society 7(4). 429–452. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327825mcs0704_4Search in Google Scholar

Lawrence, Novotny. 2009. Comic genius or con man? Deconstructing the comedy of Dave Chappelle. In Kevin A. Wisniewski (ed.), The comedy of Dave Chappelle: Critical essays. McFarland & Company, Inc. 31–46.Search in Google Scholar

Levinson, Stephen C. 1992. Activity types and language. In Paul Drew & John Heritage (eds.), Talk at work: Interaction in institutional settings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 66–100. [originally published in 1979 in Linguistics 17(5–6). 365–399.]Search in Google Scholar

Lewis, Paul. 2006. Cracking up: American humor in a time of conflict. The University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar

Locher, Miriam A. & Richard J. Watts. 2005. Politeness theory and relational work. Journal of Politeness Research 1(1). 9–33. DOI: 10.1515/jplr.2005.1.1.9Search in Google Scholar

Mabry, Edward A. 1975. A multivariate investigation of profane language. Central States Speech Journal 26(1). 39–44. DOI: 10.1080/10510977509367817Search in Google Scholar

Mattiello, Elisa. 2008. An introduction to English slang: A description of its morphology, semantics and sociology. Polimetrica.Search in Google Scholar

McEnery, Tony. 2006. Swearing in English: Bad language, purity and power from 1586 to the present. Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Mencken, Henry Louis. 1963. The American language. (Abridged and edited by Raven I. McDavid Jr.) Knopf.Search in Google Scholar

Milroy, Lesley & Sue Margrain. 1980. Vernacular language loyalty and social network. Language in Society 9(1). 43–70. DOI: 10.1017/S0047404500007788Search in Google Scholar

Moloney, Martin James & Hanifah Mutiara Sylva. 2020. “‘And I swear...’ – Profanity in pop music lyrics on the American Billboard charts 2009–2018 and the effect on Youtube popularity. International Journal of Scientific & Technology Research 9(1). 5212–5220.Search in Google Scholar

Mooney, Paul. 2009. Black is the new white. With a foreword by Dave Chappelle. Simon Spotlight Entertainment.Search in Google Scholar

Moore, Robert L. 2012. On swearwords and slang. American Speech 87(2). 170–189. DOI: 10.1215/00031283-1668199Search in Google Scholar

Moore, Robert L., Eric Bindler & David Pandich. 2010. Language with attitude: American slang and Chinese lǐyǔ. Journal of Sociolinguistics 14(4). 524–538. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2010.00453.xSearch in Google Scholar

Morgan, Marcyliena. 1993. Hip-hop hooray! The linguistic production of identity. Paper presented at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC.Search in Google Scholar

Nachman, Gerald. 2004. Seriously funny: The rebel comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. Back Stage Books.Search in Google Scholar

Nancy A. Niedzielski & Dennis R. Preston. 2000. Folk linguistics. De Gruyter Mouton.Search in Google Scholar

Oxford English Dictionary. Available at https://www.oed.com/.Search in Google Scholar

Pérez, Raúl. 2013. Learning to make racism funny in the ‘color-blind’ era: Stand-up comedy students, performance strategies, and the (re)production of racist jokes in public. Discourse & Society 24(3). 478–503. DOI: 10.1177/0957926513482066Search in Google Scholar

Pérez, Raúl. 2015. The hurtline and the colorline: Race and racism in American stand-up comedy from Civil Rights to color-blindness. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of California, Irvine.Search in Google Scholar

Prussing-Hollowell, Andrea. 2009. Standup comedy as artistic expression: Lenny Bruce, the 1950s, and American humor. VDM Verlag Dr. Mueller,Search in Google Scholar

Ross, Alison. 1998. The language of humour. Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Schwarz, Jeannine. 2010. Linguistic aspects of verbal humor in stand-up comedy. Sierke.Search in Google Scholar

Seizer, Susan. 1997. Jokes, gender, and discursive distance on the Tamil popular stage. American Ethnologist 24(1). 62–90. DOI: 10.1525/ae.1997.24.1.62Search in Google Scholar

Seizer, Susan. 2005. Stigmas of the Tamil stage: An ethnography of Special Drama artists in South India. Duke University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Seizer, Susan. 2011. On the uses of obscenity in live stand-up comedy. Anthropological Quarterly 84(1). 209–234. DOI: 10.1353/anq.2011.0001Search in Google Scholar

Smitherman, Geneva. 2006. Word from the Mother: Language and African Americans. Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Thomas, Jenny. 1995. Meaning in interaction: An introduction to pragmatics. Longman.Search in Google Scholar

Tottie, Gunnel. 2002. An introduction to American English. Blackwell.Search in Google Scholar

Trotta, Joe & Oleg Blyahher. 2011. Game done changed: A look at selected AAVE features in the TV series The Wire. Moderna Språk 105(1). 15–42.Search in Google Scholar

Yates, Kimberly A. 2009. When “keeping it real” goes right. In Kevin A. Wisniewski (ed.), The comedy of Dave Chappelle: Critical essays, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. 139–155.Search in Google Scholar

Zoglin, Richard. 2008. Comedy at the edge: How stand-up in the 1970s changed America. Bloomsbury.Search in Google Scholar

Recommended articles from Trend MD

Plan your remote conference with Sciendo