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.