I know, I know. This might seem like an odd question, but many out there wonder whether or not the U.S. really does have a culture. It’s debated by researchers and academics, even questioned by many Americans themselves. Well, you know I’m going to give you my opinion. But, what is culture in the first place?
All countries have one (there goes your answer right there), and most countries have specific regional cultures within them. Even many cities have different “cultures” depending on the side of town. This usually happens in a north-south and east-west frame. Think of, say, Eastern and Western China, East and West Russia, North and South Italy, or North and South India. The same differences happen in the U.S., where you get different cultures from north to south and east to west and diagonal and so forth.
Probably the reason many would question whether America or Americans have any culture has more to do with having a culture of their own. Since everybody knows it’s a nation composed almost entirely of immigrants, it’s easy to see why people might question whether the U.S. even has a culture in the first place. Especially for visitors, often the first things they see are Uber and Lyft drivers that can hardly speak English, a Chinese restaurant on the left, a Mexican restaurant on the right, an Indian bazaar, a building that looks just like any other in Europe or somewhere else.
A lot of that is just on the surface, though. First and foremost, we just need to look at the first nations within our nation. Native Americans were here before “America” was even a thing. They have used hundreds of languages to express their many musical styles, customs, dressing traditions, and cuisines. Many of the food items common in current American cuisines like corn, turkey, different berries, and tomatoes are homegrown, original to the continent. And indigenous art and design are still highly influential, especially in regions like the Southwest and parts of the Midwest.
The Anglos and other British settlers also had a chunk of influence. They brought their heritage, sure, but established a distinct set of folklore, musical styles, attire, and identity altogether. Generally those identities differed from North to South and urban to rural too, where differences in lifestyle, accent, and ideology would diverge those two parts of the country even more. Besides setting the foundation for the United States as we know it, they also gave the nation its main language, now the most prominent and influential version of English on the planet. (Brits, please don’t get mad at me!)
With all that going on, others from Europe like the French, Dutch, Swedes, and Spanish were all pushing their own traditions and styles onto the locations they’d settled. This left Dutch architecture in New York, Spanish architecture in California and Texas, and French architecture in Louisiana. It also gave way to celebrations like Mardi Gras, and the establishment of some of America’s greatest and most iconic cities.
The Africans that were brought over to the New World also made their cultural impact. From their influence on cuisine, especially in the South and Mid-Atlantic, they helped to produce and invent many of the nation’s most iconic and preferred dishes, several with ingredients from the ancestral continent. Lyrical storytelling and passing down vocal history allowed many to preserve their musical traditions. This continues to impact American and World music in a huge way till this day. With some of the most important black social leaders and intellects, African Americans have become some of the most recognizable and admired black individuals known all over the world. Many black people from other countries and colonies also had a huge impact on the nation’s ID. And America’s obsession with athletics, TV, and movies have helped to solidify that role.
Oh, and let’s not forget the many immigrants that came to establish their own unique cultures in the U.S. different from their home lands. I mean, Chicano isn’t quite Mexican, and Nuyorican isn’t quite Puerto Rican (even though Puerto Rican is still American, as much as Guamanian, American Samoan, Mariana, or Virgin Islander is). Just name all the religious sects and denominations that sought refuge here. Heck, many still were persecuted when they got here. Many of their traditional cuisines and customs have been modified to U.S.-style, but there are still places where their customs have been preserved like in their ancestral countries.
Just the Beginning
And that’s just looking at individual groups. I haven’t even begun to talk about consumerism and capitalism, the phenomenon of malls and suburbs, movie culture and car culture, skateboarding and surfing, baseball and basketball, football and the bashing of any other sport that claims to be football, Americana and jukebox nostalgia, hostility and hospitality, Broadway and Hollywood, Main Street and Middle America, country living and the urban rush, the woes of yards and pounds, love-hate feels about war and the admiration of military, the superiority complex and the self-loathing, “pulling up your bootstraps” and the mental health crisis, ranches and rodeos, guns and cowboys, hippies and hipsters, donators and volunteers, scammers and schemers, big enterprise and social media craze, an app for everything and a distrust in politics, religious fundamentalists and homegrown extremists, luaus and hula dancers, freezer food and barbecues, bison and bald eagles, conservative rules, and the sex, swearing, and drugs that never seem to get ruled out.
There’s a lot that makes America what it is, but one thing’s for certain; Americans do have a culture … but I’ll let others figure out what that culture actually is.
Thank you for reading! Follow the site or subscribe to receive updates as they happen. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Give Me a Shout to collaborate and one-to-one messages. Stay tuned for further posts on this topic!
From Donald Glover’s initial “ya, ya, ya’s” to Young Thug’s closing mumbles, “This is America” has become such an iconic song. Pretty much every country has done their own spinoff at this point. But for those of you learning English out there, did you understand the lyrics? This post isn’t an attempt to explain hidden meanings in the video or deep explanations in the lyrics. I’m just trying to explain some of the common expressions and slang he uses in the song, things that might be harder for non-native English speakers to understand. Watch the video if you like and accompany the song. Ready? So here we go!
Society: This sounds like what certain prejudiced Americans say to immigrants or groups they don’t like (black, Muslim, poor, etc.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, go, go away
We just wanna party
Informal Speech: *We just want to party
Party just for you
We just want the money
Money just for you (Yeah)
I know you wanna party
Party just for free
Girl, you got me dancin’ (Girl, you got me dancin’)
Grammar: *You’ve got me dancing… Also, You have me dancing…
Dance and shake the frame (Yeah)
Slang: “Frame” here refers to the woman’s body.
We just wanna party (Yeah)
Party just for you (Yeah)
We just want the money (Yeah)
Money just for you (You)
I know you wanna party (Yeah)
Party just for free (Yeah)
Girl, you got me dancin’ (Girl, you got me dancin’, yeah)
Dance and shake the frame (Ooh)
This is America
Don’t catch you slippin’ now
Slang: To “catch” someone doing something is to find or witness that person. It’s usually when you find someone doing an act that is not right. “Don’t let me catch you stealing.” “Slipping” here means to make a mistake or do something wrong.
Pronunciation: The lyrics I found say “now” but it sounds kind of like “no.” Gambino could be doing this intentionally. Either way, it has about the same meaning. “Don’t let them find you doing something you shouldn’t be doing, being weak, doing something illegal.”
Don’t catch you slippin’ now
Look what I’m whippin’ now
Slang: “Whipping” in slang usually means to make or come up with something. It’s mostly used like “whipping up” something. Whipping can also have to do with cars, as in “Look what I’m driving now.” Whipping traditionally has to do with using a whip to punish someone like a prisoner or slave, or turning milk into a “whipped” cream, for example.
Pronunciation: “Now” here kind of sounds like “on,” so it almost sounds like “Look what I’m whipping (beating, hitting) on.”
Culture: The “whip” is also a popular dance, by the way.
This is America (Woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now
Don’t catch you slippin’ now
Look what I’m whippin’ now
This is America (Skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (Ayy)
Look how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (Woo)
Grammar: *Police are tripping now…
Slang: “Tripping” here means to act in a way that is wrong or dumb to others, constantly making mistakes and bad choices. “My dad is always punishing me for stuff I didn’t do. He’s tripping.”
Figurative speech: His “area” can be his neighborhood, as in, he lives in an area with lots of guns. It can also be literally in his personal area, like in his possession. It most likely refers to America as a whole, though.
Slang: “Word” when used like this is just a way to acknowledge what someone says. It’s like saying “really, true, yep, etc.”
I got the strap (Ayy, ayy)
Grammar: *I have the strap…
Slang: A “strap” in this sense refers to a gun, gun strap.
Less Obvious Meaning: He has to carry guns, as if for protection or because that’s the stereotype.
Yeah, yeah, I’mago into this (Ugh)
Informal Speech: *I’m going to go into this…
Expression: “Go in” in this sense means to really do well, have a lot of success, really analyze, look hard at, and make an overall really cool song.
Yeah, yeah, this is guerilla (Woo)
Double Meaning: Like guerilla warfare where trained common civilians get involved in warlike fighting. “Guerilla” rhymes perfectly with “gorilla” which is kind of a derogatory term against black people. This is probably on purpose as if to say, “This is about black people.”
Slang: “Cold” in slang can mean a few things. It can mean that someone is “coldhearted” and doesn’t care about anything, or a mean person. It can also mean that someone is really cool and good at something.
I’m so dope like, yeah (Woo)
“Dope” can also mean really cool, something that’s liked by others.
Slang: “Blow” or “blow up” in slang means to come out and have a ton of success, become really popular. “Straight up” is slang that is usually used to agree with someone. It means something like “true, for real, etc.”
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (Woo, woo, don’t catch you slippin’ now)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (Ayy, woah)
Look what I’m whippin’ now (Slime!)
This is America (Yeah, yeah)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (Woah, ayy)
Don’t catch you slippin’ now (Ayy, woo)
Look what I’m whippin’ now (Ayy)
Look how I’m geekin’ out (Hey)
Slang: “Geeking out” is to be dressed in a really stylish but kind of formal way. A similar expression is “geeked up” with about the same meaning. This phrase became popular when a style of dance called jerking got famous. This term also means to get high on drugs, but that’s different from what Gambino’s talking about. “Geek” traditionally is a mean term used to make fun of kids that are seen as nerds or who have awkward style. The meaning was turned to be stylish in a weird way. “Geeking out” can also be to show off one’s intelligence or get excited by “nerdy” or “geeky” subjects.
Figurative Speech/Dual Meaning: “On Gucci” could mean that he is wearing Gucci and is in a phase where he likes this brand. This could be that he is “on” this brand like a drug since we usually say “on” when someone is using or is addicted to a drug. That would relate to being geeked out/up from before. “He’s on LSD.” It could also mean he likes or is acting like Gucci Mane, a famous rapper. Being “on” someone can also mean to make fun of them, so this line has a few probable meanings.
I’m so pretty (Yeah, yeah, woo)
I’m gon’ get it (Ayy, I’m gon’ get it)
Informal Speech: I’m going to get get it… “Get it” could refer to making money. “Get it!” is often what people yell to encourage someone to do something well, like dancing. The way he says it though, “Gon’ get it” is used commonly to mean that the person is in trouble or is going to have serious problems. “Ooh, you broke mom’s lamp. You’re gonna get it! (you’re in big trouble)”
Watch me move (Blaow)
This a celly (Ha)
Grammar: *This is a celly…
Slang: “Celly” here refers to a cellphone.
Society: This relates to some police officers that shot innocent black people confusing their cellphones with a gun.
That’s a tool (Yeah)
Slang: A “tool” here refers to a gun, saying the cellphone looked like a gun to the police.
Society: They could also be using this excuse as a “tool” to get out of trouble.
On my Kodak (Woo) Black
Culture/Figurative Speech: Now he’s on Kodak, which is probably that he’s taking photos or recording what’s happening. Kodak is a company that has produced lots of photography products. Kodak Black is a rapper, so he could also be saying that he is acting like Kodak Black. He could also just be saying Kodak to refer to the word black, as in, he is “being black,” acting in a stereotypically black way.
Ooh, know that (Yeah, know that, hold on)
Grammar: *You know that…
Slang: “Hold on” means to wait, or also to be strong and not give up, not stop.
Get it (Woo, get it, get it)
Ooh, work it (21)
Slang: “Work it” means to do something really well, especially related to dancing.
Rapper: “21” refers to 21 Savage, a rapper in this song.
Slang: A “plug” is someone who provides illegal contraband for another party, usually drugs. It also can be just a person who has anything another person needs.
Society/Geography: He’s saying he has a drug supplier in Oaxaca, a state in Mexico. This state isn’t famous for drug activity, but he says it likely because it’s in Mexico, a country infamous for drug cartels. He’s not being serious though.
Culture/Sounds: “Blocka” is the sound a gun makes. They’re going to find you and shoot you, basically. This sound has been popularized by rappers of Caribbean origin and is now used by all kinds of rappers, especially in trap music.
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, tell somebody
America, I just checked my following list, and
Media: His following list on social media.
You go tell somebody
You m********** owe me
Grandma told me
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Get your money, Black man (Black man)
Black man (1, 2, 3—get down)
Culture/Music: This is a popular line in funk and soul music from the mid-1900s, made most popular by artist James Brown. He usually said this before he started dancing, which is exactly what happens in the music video.
Expression: To “get down” in music means to start dancing and having fun. Similarly, “Get down!” is what people yell when someone starts shooting a gun.
Deeper Meaning: A “barcode” is that black and white code that people scan to buy something or check the price. He could be saying black people are seen as something to buy or that have a price. Just objects.
You just a black man in this world
Drivin’ expensive foreigns, ayy
Slang: “Foreigns” are foreign cars. Rappers usually love to sing about foreign cars.
You just a big dawg, yeah
Slang: “Dawg” is a word that refers to another person, usually a man. It’s the same as dude, bro, etc.
A “kennel” is a shelter where dogs are kept. This plays on the word “dawg” from before, meaning he puts this man in his place or probably buries him in the backyard.
No, probably ain’t life to a dog
For a big dog
Understanding: These last two lines I can’t really understand what he’s saying, but this is more or less it.
“This is America” is such a cool song because its lyrics are full of double meanings, cultural references, and sarcastic criticisms. Again, I don’t really want to get into the deeper meaning of the lyrics, but it’s apparent that he is criticizing lots of modern hip hop. The video expresses this even more and his criticism shifts against America as a whole, even though he focuses more on the black experience.
Violence, racism, discrimination, and constant stereotypical pressures are just part of what can make life in America very tough for anybody, and especially the disadvantaged groups of people. Of course, black Americans are one of the greatest examples of this, and we see proof of it time and time again. The song is fun to listen to and dance to. The video is enticing with just as much meaningful content as the lyrics, and this song was a hit since the second it reached our screens.
Do you want to know the meanings and uses of English words like “flip” and “flipside?” You’re in the right place! I’ll give you some examples of the words’ usual definitions as well as the slang definitions. We’ll also look at some examples in a dialogue with our buddy, Charles. You can find more of these dialogues and short stories using casual language in Adventures of Charles. I’ll also leave links for you to read more about these words if you’d like. Here we go.
This is one of those words that can have many meanings. You can flip a pancake, do a flip on the floor, a backflip in the other direction. You can flip things up and flip things down. As an action (verb), flippingsomething can mean making a profit from it. People use it more when talking about turning a smaller amount of money into a larger amount, or buying something with intention of selling it for more. People also use it to talk about making something with less value more valuable. This was commonly used to talk about selling drugs, but it’s now used for any activity of making a profit. You can “flip” clothing or houses, for example. There’s actually a show about flipping houses on the Home & Health channel. Flipping can also mean to suddenly change your opinion or to cheat someone. As far as being positive or negative, this word kind of goes both ways.
It was a wonderful day, just a beautiful day. Why? It was one of Charles’s very rare days off, of course. On his days off, he usually liked to stay up late, sleep late, and watch his turtles. He might eat at noon or he might eat at sunset. Who cared? It was his day off! Instead of doing those things, though, he decided to go and boast his day off to a friend he knew was working.
Charles — Hey, I’d like to order a coffee cake!
Ordering at the counter, he was happy to see that his friend, Jonah, was there to cater to him on the other side.
Jonah — Charlie? What are you doing here? You don’t have work?
Charles — Of course not! It’s my day off, so naturally I came here to gloat.
Jonah — You’re just mad cuz I’m flipping these cakes into some real dough.
I’m making a profit, making money from baking these cakes.
Charles — Yeah, well if you stopped trying to flip over your boss, you might actually get somewhere with it. Do you even like baking?
Trying to cheat your boss, taking advantage of him.
Jonah — No, but the bakers here before me were terrible. This place would’ve gone out of business if I hadn’t have flipped it. Here you go.
If I hadn’t turned things around, made this place better.
Jonah hands his friend a freshly baked coffee cake. Yum!
Charles — Thanks, my dude. Ey, you haven’t seen Sheila here today, have you?
Jonah — That’s three sixty-five. No, why?
Charles — Oh, nothing. She was supposed to meet me here today, but I guess she flipped on me.
I guess she changed her mind, decided not to come.
Now flip can also be used as a noun. When talking about a flip, one might be referring to a head-over-leg movement where they rotate their body over the ground. In slang, a flip can be the actual act of making a profit. Often, people express this by saying “make a flip” or “catch a flip.” It’s basically the noun version of the act of “flipping” above. Flip can also be a derogatory term describing a promiscuous woman, or at least a woman who the speaker thinks is promiscuous (I got to play it clean here, sorry). This comes from the idea that the woman “flips” (changes partners quickly) a lot or is “flipped” by different men. This use is not that important if you’re just learning English, though.
Jonah — Oh. Dang, bro, I’m sorry. She ain’t a flip, is she?
She isn’t a sleazy girl, someone who sleeps around, is she?
Charles looks at his friend a bit confused and frowns.
Charles — What? You don’t mean …?
Jonah — Yeah?
Charles — No! No way, Sheila’s not like that. She records music a lot, so she gets stuck in her work sometimes.
Jonah — Ah okay. I hope so. You know you’re holding up my line, right?
Charles — My bad. Mmm! This cake is so good. I might have to start selling them myself.
Jonah — Hey! Don’t you start trying to make a flip off of my hard work.
Don’t try to make a profit from my work, my product.
This one is pretty straightforward. The flipsidejust means “the other side.” People usually use it to mean after a situation is finished or after some event has passed. It’s often used in the phrase “Catch you on the flipside.” On occasion, one might say “on the flip” with this same meaning, taking out the “side.”
Charles — I promise I won’t. I’m too lazy to sell anything. That’s why I work in the theater and at the college.
The people in the line were getting impatient. Why was this immigrant guy taking so long to take his cake and leave?
Charles — Let me get out of here. I’ll see you on the flipside.
I’ll see you later, after work, after a few days, after I do some things.
Jonah — Alright, catch you on the flip. And let me know if you hear from Sheila.
I’ll see you next time, on the flipside.
Charles gave Jonah a nod and started to walk away. The customer said, “Finally!” and started to order his cake or bread or pastry. Just as he was leaving the bakery door, Charles had one last thing to say.
Charles — God! That man can make a cake!
In summary, “flip” is kind of a tricky word. Because of its history as being a word related to drugs or its use with women, it can be somewhat offensive if not used correctly. That one’s probably better to leave to native speakers to use and you can at least understand them, although you can challenge yourself if you like! It’s obviously not always bad, since it’s a common word for talking about making money or reselling something. “Flipside” is a very neutral word and you don’t have to feel weird at all for using it. I hope this has helped you understand the informal meanings of these terms.
Comment if you’ve heard these words before, know a different meaning, or want to practice using them. Here are some more definitions below if you’re interested. Until then, we’ll be talking later!
Some Other Definitions
Flip: [verb] to turn (something) over with a quick or intentional movement; [noun] a movement where an object or body turns over quickly or forcefully
Profit: [noun] a gain or earning in money, [verb] to make a gain or earning
Boast: [verb] to express too much pride in something about oneself
Cater to: [verb] to attend to or serve (someone)
Gloat: [verb] to express self-pride or admiration in an excessive or improper way
Promiscuous: [adjective] being highly sensual or overly sexual
Sleazy: [adjective] showing low moral values or loose behaviors, especially related to sex
Straightforward: [adjective] being easy to understand or do
Flipside: [noun] the other side or opposite end of something; another day
Pastry: [noun] dough used for making desserts like pies; a kind of dessert made from dough
Today’s terms: hit / slam / bang / rock / hit me up / give a ring, buzz / shoot a message
No, I’m trying to get you to meet my buddy. He’s a producer.
Jonah was trying enthusiastically to calm Charles down on their way to the music studio.
—Come on, man. You know I don’t like to be around these kinds of people. I get nervous.
Jonah reassured him; —Yeah, Mike is a real scary kind of guy. A real gangster off the streets! Come on, bro. There’s nothing to worry about. I’ll hold your hand.
Charles tapped Jonah’s hand away as he reached for it.
—Nobody likes sarcasm, bro, Charles protested.
Eventually, they drove up to the studio parking lot. There were a group of teenagers smoking in the front, maybe add the smell of spilled liquor on the floor. Everyone looked calm but suspicious. Although, when they saw it is Jonah, they all smiled and signaled “hello” to him.
—What’s up everybody! Are y’all rocking today?
Everyone nodded, made mumble sounds, and they turned back to their joints. Charles gave them a shy nod. Then the two friends strolled inside.
Once inside the studio, there were strong musical beats coming from all over the place. Smooth instrumentals blended with fast rhythms. The noise was chaotic but artful, all the same. Jonah saw one of his colleagues coming towards them.
—Yo, my brotha! What’s happening with ya? Y’all just got all the beats banging today.
—Well, you know how I rock, Jonah. Who’s your friend?
Charles felt a quick pain in his belly.
—Oh, my name’s Charles. What’s up?
The man reached out his hand and gave Charles a mixed handshake and hug in a friendly manner.
—Classic Mike. Gotta show them love. This is my buddy, Charles. He comes from another country, but he knows a lot of English.
—He seems like he can handle his business, isn’t that right, Charles!
They all laughed for a few seconds. Charles then spoke up.
—Yeah, I get by pretty well out here. I just didn’t understand when you said “banging” and “rock.” I didn’t really get it.
—No prob, man. Banging is what I say when something is really good, especially when it comes to music. I can say, “This song bangs.” It’s the same with Hit or Slam for something that’s really good, like a piece of music, some good food, or even a cute girl, for example. All my music slams and hits.
Charles was reminded.
—Oh, right. You are the producer!
—Correct-o! But that’s different from banging, like to be a part of a gang. I don’t bang. But, those kids outside, I don’t know. All of them look like they bang. Now, Rock is basically the same thing. If something rocks, that means it’s really good, amazing. And what’s cool is you can rock something, like a song, a test, or a sport. It all means that you do really good in it.
—Yeah, my buddy Mike here rocks as a producer, by the way, Jonah added in.
As they talked, a young lady appeared from one of the recording booths and made her way towards the exit.
She turned around. Yep, it was the same Sheila that Charles had been out with.
—Charles! Woah, I didn’t know you were into music.
Charles puffed up his chest.
—Oh, yeah. I’m really into music. Recording, he coughs, Really into recording. What do you do here?
—I’m a singer, remember? I thought I told you when we were texting a few days back.
Charles scratched his head.
—Anyway, I gotta go. Nice seeing you here! Exciting, am I right? Hit me up tonight, okay?
In a hurry, Sheila left from the studio and into her busy life. Charles looked confused.
—Why did she want me to hit her up? Is that, like, sexual?
Jonah and Mike stormed with laughter.
Jonah then explained.
—Hit me up, man! It means the same as “send me a message,” or “give me a call.” It’s not sexual at all. Well, I guess not.
Mike added, —Yeah, it’s the same as saying give me a ring, shoot me a message, or give me a buzz. It all means “call me” or “message me.”
—Oh, I guess that makes sense.
—Charlie’s got a girlfriend!
All three of them laughed and pushed each other around playfully. Oh, guys.
—So, are you gonnahit her up tonight? Jonah asked Charles.
—You know I will!
Despite his outward confidence, Charles still felt pretty nervous. Not to mention guilty, having forgotten so quickly that Sheila was a singer. He dug for a little more information.
—So, Mike. Sheila records her songs here?
—Yeah. Just a few samples for SoundCloud. Why?
—Is she any good?
—For sure, bro! Sheila slams in the recording booth!
Saying that something slams, hits, or bangs is saying it’s really good to the senses (That food looks slamming! That rhythm hits hard! This song is banging!) These are more colloquial slang, so not all communities across the country use them. Otherwise, “hit me up,” “give me a buzz/ring,” and “shoot me a message” are all pretty common nationwide to tell someone to send you a message or to call, though these terms are very informal. Using “bang” to talk about being in a gang can be a problematic word, so I underlined it. It’s best not to use it unless you really know what you’re saying, and most people don’t even have to use it. Do you know why the other terms are underlined? Can you use today’s terms in your own sentences? Share with me down below!
*The language used in this dialogue is meant to reflect how different Americans might express themselves. Significant incorrect grammar or sensitive words will be underlined for reference. Did you recognize the mistakes in this story?
Having “blue blood” means to be privileged, an aristocrat, or well-off. There also might be a connection to Blues music.
And every single bone in my brain is electric
This reminds me of the phrase “hard-headed” or “having a hard head.” This means that the person doesn’t listen or follow directions, and they like to do things their own way. Having “bones in my brain” might be a reference to having a hard head.
But I dig ditches like the best of ’em
Adding “like the best of them” to an action means that you can do it as well as the best. “He’s a great guitarist. He can play it like the best of them.”
Yo trabajo duro
For those that don’t speak Spanish/Castilian: “I work hard”
Como en madera y yeso
“Like in wood and plaster.” Like he’s a construction worker, basically.
Como en madera y yeso
And even God Herself has fewer plans than me
Referring to God as a “Her” in English is not common, but it’s a rebellious way to break the idea that God is a male figure. A biblical reference, but he’s saying he has even more plans than God has. Very busy.
But she never helps me out with my scams for free, though
A “scam” is some plan that is discreet, undercover, or malicious, usually trying to trick someone or to do something you’re not supposed to. Again, referring to God as a female.
She grabs a stick and then she points it at me
This is like people who are outcasts or have severe diseases. People are too afraid to touch them with their hands, so they only touch them from far away with a stick. It’s like being disgusted or frightened by those who are different than us. It also reminds me of the story of Moses parting the Red Sea with his staff, for some reason.
When I say nothing, I say everything
Yeah, when I say nothing, I say everything
They threw me down in a lazaretto
“Lazaretto” was a special kind of quarantine for people with a disease called leprosy. Historically, people with leprosy were secluded from the rest of society. This relates to him feeling like people threw him away into isolation, maybe because of his style or ideas.
Born rottin’, bored rotten
To “rot” is to go bad, like when a fruit or piece of meat is left out of the fridge for too long. If he was “born rotting,” this means he was born into this state of quarantine, or he’s never fit in with others since he was a kid. To be “bored rotten” is to be extremely bored. Similarly, a kid that is “rotten” is spoiled, or gets whatever they want even if they act bad. There are a lot of mixed meanings in this small lyric.
Makin’ models of people I used to know
Out of coffee and cotton
And all my illegitimate kids have begotten
An “illegitimate child” is one born out of a relationship that is not approved of or outside of marriage, for example. To be “begotten” is to be forgotten and left alone. It’s not such a common word in English nowadays and has more of an archaic or biblical feel to it.
Thrown down to the wolves, made feral for nothin’
“Thrown to the wolves” is a popular phrase for when someone is thrown into a situation that they obviously have no chance to win. A similar phrase is “thrown to the lions.” “Feral” means wild or like a wild beast. Also, he pronounces “nothing” like “nuttin,” which is common in certain regions and accents.
Quarantined on the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is a small island off the coast of Great Britain.
And I’m trying to escape any way that I can, oh
Any way that I can, oh
Damn, I have no time left, time is lost
No time at all, throw it in a garbage can
And I shake God’s hand
I jump up and let Her know when I can
This is how I’m gonna do it
They wanna burn down the prison
They’re lighting fires with the cash of the masses
With the public’s money.
And like the dough, I don’t fall down
“Dough” is a slang term for money. Real dough (used to make bread) rises in an oven. “Bread” is also slang for money.
I’m so Detroit, I make it rise from the ashes
“I’m so…” is a way to compare yourself to something else. “I’m so Los Angeles, always hot and sunny!” Detroit is known for suffering a huge economic crash but has been steadily rising in importance again. This image of “rising from the ashes” comes from the myth of the Phoenix, a bird that burns and rises again from its ashes. Figuratively, it means to reinvent yourself, grow, learn new things, and come back better after failing.
This song centers around the idea of a societal outcast, like someone with a terrible disease like leprosy. His quarantine, as if on a lonely island, doesn’t come from a physical illness, but from his ambitions and personal style. The fact that he feels isolated turns out to be positive, since all this makes him unique. There are lots of references from the Bible or that could relate to religion, since leprosy is a disease that was prominent in the Bible. There’s this idea that he was born with some privilege, but he acknowledges this, accepts it, and it doesn’t stop him from working hard or getting his hands dirty. Him saying he works hard like a construction worker in Spanish is kind of a reference to many hard laborers in the U.S. having Mexican heritage, or Latin American heritage in general. What are your thoughts on this song? Do you understand why he would compare himself to a lazaretto? Share your thoughts!
So, this one is going to be more about my own opinions and experiences, though I did do a little bit of research just in case.
As far as the above question goes, the doubt about whether Americans are emotionally cold with others and guarded with their feelings usually comes from countries that have really (really!) open and social societies — places like South America or the Caribbean — or places that are super family oriented — the same places including most of Asia and Africa — at least to generalize. In my experience, I’ve found that many Europeans and Asians tend to see Americans as emotional, expressive of their feelings, and sometimes — in the best of cases — very giving and sweet. This doubt then, I would assume, comes from people in these very “open” societies that see the U.S. on the same pedestal as Europe or East Asia. I’m flattered, really! But yes, there is a difference.
America, much like Canada and other parts of the American continent in general, was constructed by very different types of people from diverse countries and even continents, that had to find ways to trust each other and work together. Given this culture of mixing and melding, many areas of America had to learn to be open and trusting of one another.
But, there’s always a contradiction;
Now, there are lots of Americans that are emotionally guarded, even seem kind of mean, but that’s also a cultural thing. Like I said, we’re mixed, and so we have a heritage of people that are very suspicious of strangers or that don’t share emotions as much. For men in general, it has been traditionally looked down upon to share your feelings, express emotions, and so on. This norm has been steadily changing though, and many of the younger people, especially, are becoming more comfortable with self-expression (just listen to Emo music or Emo rap). You all know who colonized us, and the English are famous for being sort of evasive emotionally. Again, to generalize.
Some factors that historically contributed to this were:
wars against foreign powers
wars within our borders
creepy child abductors
sometimes our media/government/next-door neighbor has intentionally scared us more than need be
But we get by like any other people.
Another factor in this difference in emotional expression is a matter of East vs West. Eastern cultures tend to connect emotion more to family and community, while Western cultures link emotion to the inner state, meaning it’s more of an individual thing. Even though Americans in general value independence, individualism, and self responsibility, we humans are made to live in communities. We rely on each other for emotional well-being, and a society that’s famous for individualism is vulnerable to certain emotional setbacks. There are scarily high rates of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, as well as hospitalized, suicidal, or self-harming individuals, not to mention the high amount of suicides. I’ll leave the stats out this time since this post isn’t about mental illness, but you can bet there’s a lot of it to go around.
Not to fear! In the end, Americans come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments.
You could easily visit the U.S. and meet the rudest, most guarded person ever on the same day that you meet the most expressive and kind person ever. I’ve met people who wouldn’t let their own momma stay a night in their home, and people that would shelter a whole block-full of strangers if they could.
We’ve got it all. Some might say it’s regional, since the South and Midwest are known for being more open, relaxed, laid-back; after all, they call it “Southern hospitality” for a reason. In my experience, kind and expressive people can be found all over the country, though whether you’re in a big, stressful city or a calm, small town also makes a difference in the quantity.
What were your experiences with Americans like? Were they nice and expressive? Were they really guarded and mean? Let me know what you think! And don’t forget to check out some other articles to learn more!