“Shawty’s like a melody in my head that I can’t keep out, got me singing like na na na na everyday; It’s like my iPod’s stuck on replay.” Wow, how flattering. Apparently someone is also good with a calendar: “Go Shawty, it’s your birthday.” And it seems that Bieber is having troubles with a short friend, considering “shawty is an eennie meenie miney mo lover.”
As my idea of mainstream hip hop is *NSYNC, you could say I’m a foreigner in the land known as popular music. However, when I step out of my judgmental bubble and listen to some mainstream jams (usually in my sister’s car), I hear the word “shawty” over and over again. I sit there asking my Matt & Kim-listening self, “What the hay does this word mean?”
First off, it wasn’t until I did some lyrics Googling that I realized the artists were saying “shawty” not “shortie.” Distinction #1. According to the Wikipedia of words, Urban Dictionary, “shawty” has some pretty deep roots. The word was supposedly created in Atlanta, and was primarily used to refer to a short person or young child. However, as time has passed, it has evolved to describe all people. Especially attractive girls. Height is no longer attached to “shawty.”
In fact, the word has become so common that it can often replace “bro” or “dude” in everyday speaking. Example: “Yo shawty, how do I get back to Narnia?”
In terms of music, it seems that “shawty” most often refers to a woman of particular interest. So when 5-foot-8 Rihanna ponders: “I wanna know boy if I can be your shawty,” she isn’t concerned about being the short pal of some guy. She just wants to be his girlfriend. Distinction #2.
So let’s stop and think about this. If a boy called a girl shawty, would she be offended or flattered? I decided to ask some homo sapiens of the female persuasion to find out.
I first consulted my roommate, Mira Parekh, a sophomore evolution and ecology major. I consider Mira to be my in-house go-to hobbit for women’s rights.
Parekh explained how she sees “shawty” on two levels. One, she doesn’t find the word endearing. She would much rather be called by her own name. Moreover, as a 5-foot-2 woman, she doesn’t want to be slapped with another height label, even if it means someone is complimenting her fabulous looks.
Second, Parekh believes that the word “perpetuates unnecessary height-related stereotypes regarding heterosexual couples.” She shared that she would definitely not feel comfortable if her boyfriend referred to her as “shawty.” Hearing it would make her feel like a plastic bag. Drifting through the wind. Wanting to start again. Okay, maybe not so extreme. But I’m catching on, see?
As my search for females of varying height continued, my roommate Megan linked me to Kelly Findlay, a sophomore leaning towards a double major in psychology and human development.
Since she stands at 6-foot-3, I was really eager to hear what Findlay had to say about “shawty.” She shared how she doesn’t find the word to be particularly crass.
“In comparison to the many, many degrading things men say to women in lyrics, ‘shawty’ just doesn’t stand out,” Findlay said.
While she has been called “shortie” by friends, she never really takes it personally. She’s comfortable with her height, and isn’t afraid to joke about it. But she does see how the word can be interpreted as rather degrading.
Findlay made another point that really stuck with me. She explained how her unfamiliarity with the word is the only thing stopping her from fully accepting it. If she was exposed to it more, she wouldn’t mind it at all.
So yes, “shawty” has become very common in pop culture and harmless to some. But to say it lacks meaning is to disregard the power of words. Context is key here. Everything from a girl’s comfort level with her height to the type of music she is exposed to can affect how she perceives “shawty.”
I know the next time my sister gives me a ride to Quickly and I hear the word “shawty,” I won’t tune it out. While I wish the artists would throw in “tally” here and there, I can now associate the word with its contextual meaning. However, that doesn’t take away from the reality that “shawty” is a label that can definitely be hurtful. We have to be careful with how far we take it.
If you’re with me, I suggest we introduce some competition for “shawty.” I don’t know about you, but “Wizard is an eennie meenie miney mo lover,” sounds like a hit lyric to me. Hello, Grammys.
If you know a short way back to Narnia, please reach MAYA MAKKER at firstname.lastname@example.org. That wardrobe just won’t open.