Hip-Hop Artists Rewrite the Dictionary

Oh boi. Thurr's some verry strange spelling on MTV l8ly.

Between "My Love Is Like … Wo," by Mya (search), "Right Thurr," by Chingy (search) and "Rock Wit You (Aww Baby)" by Ashanti (search), it seems hip-hop artists have decided to rewrite the dictionary.

Every generation invents its own slang (think of the ever-changing synonyms for "cool.") But this crop of artists is changing the spellings of already established English words.

"It's been going on for a while, but it’s getting big now," Mark Allwood, music editor of hip-hop magazine The Source, said of the intentional misspellings in song titles and lyrics. "They're trying to be creative and colorful."

But at a time when teachers are fed up with students using text- and instant-message lingo in their school assignments, not everyone is a fan of the new lexicon.

"It's already so hard for kids to learn the rules of language. If they start switching them around, it will make it much more difficult," said Lori Marinelli, a former speech teacher for the New York City Board of Education (search).

The first such "typo" to create a lot of buzz was the word "Herre" in last summer's mega-hit "Hot in Herre," by Nelly. Christina Aguilera soon followed with her controversial, lusty song "Dirrty," and now it seems every other song on MTV has a misspelled song title.

In "My Love Is Like ... Wo," for example, wo stands for "whoa," which seemingly would make as much sense as "wo" in that sentence. But, Allwood points out, "whoa" wouldn't get the same amount of attention among today's Internet-surfing, music-video addicted kids.

"It catches your eye," he said.

As for the double "r" in "Hot in Herre" and "Right Thurr," Nelly and Chingy are both from St. Louis, where pronunciation of the "r" is drawn out, Allwood explained. So the word "there" apparently sounds like "thurr" in their 'hood.

Allwood added that he's not sure why New York-born Aguilera uses the double "r" in "Dirrty," but guesses she wanted the slang title to emphasize rapper Redman's appearance in the song.

"It's partly just going against the norm, which is what hip-hop has been about from the beginning," he said.

Robert Thompson, professor of media and pop culture at Syracuse University, agrees with Allwood’s go-against-the-grain analysis of the trend.

"It's celebrating difference – you don't do a hip-hop song and try not to split the infinitive. It goes in the face of the school marm, creates youth identity," he said.

Thompson also said it's not a coincidence that the trend coincides with the rising popularity of instant- and text-messaging, where kids are more likely to "talk 2 U" than "talk to you."

"The Web has also become a forum for expanding spelling liberties. To use punctuation to make winking eyes, the deliberate casual use of spelling – the Internet is a place where all this is okay."

In fact, Avril Lavigne, more of a pop princess than a gangsta rapper, had a hit with her song "Sk8ter Boi," the title of which seems to combine the Net-lingo and misspelled song title trends.

Dr. Timothy Shanahan, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Literacy, said he thinks such creative use of words could actually help more kids than it hurts.

"My hunch is that for the occasional kid it trips up, it probably gives more an incentive to learn to spell English in standard form so they can get the jokes," he said. "And it eventually changes the language itself."

Thompson agreed, saying both hip-hop and the Internet have "sensitized kids to the complexity and vast possibilities of language."

"I don't see anyone complaining that this is the downfall of literacy. Advertising has been misspelling night as nite for a century and we never complained that it was hindering kids from learning how to read. The only way this will hurt kids is if they’re not learning the correct way to spell at school," he said.

Unfortunately, this is just the case for many students.

"Literacy is a big problem already," Marinelli said.