Date: Tue, 23 Jan 1996 19:42:09 -0500
From: Ronald Butters amspeech[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]ACPUB.DUKE.EDU
Subject: Re: street slang
On Mon, 22 Jan 1996, Mary Bucholtz wrote:
I'm doing some pro bono work for a public defender, and I'd like to know
what the expression "break yourself" can mean, especially in its
use among African American urban youth (but other groups' use of it is
also important). I'd appreciate any citations anyone might have, including
music or pop culture attestations, as well as anything scholarly that may
have been written about it.
I don't have time to quote the passage for you, but if you look in Geneva
Smitherman's new dictionary, BLACK TALK (Houghton Mifflin) s.v. BREAK
you'll see that at least one highly important meaning is 'embarrass
yourself' or possibly 'fake yourself out'. This appears to be the way
that BREAK YOURSELF would most likely be used in African-American
vernacular today, according to Smitherman's book. I suppose it could also
mean 'run yourself down; talk negatively about yourself', given what
Smitherman says in the dictionary (page 69).
The use of linguistics to answer legal questions is one of my chief
interests. If you can send me further particulars about the case I would
really appreciate it.