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Scary or Not?

I have been off the block too long. I admit to being confused when I saw that the boxer Shakur Stevenson called out fellow boxer Vasiliy Lomachenko and deemed Lomachenko to be scary. I thought he meant scary as in frightening or terrifying. If so, why would Stevenson want to tangle in the ring with a scary person? My confusion lifted when I read a post by Stevenson directed to Lomachenko referring to him as “just as scary as everybody else.” I knew everybody else couldn’t be scary to a supremely talented boxer like Stevenson. I soon realized that Stevenson insulted Lomachenko, suggested that his potential adversary was actually afraid to face him and was ducking him.

I didn’t think of Stevenson’s diction in terms of right or wrong. “Right” is what the masses of people invested in the code say is right. Neither did I think that his usage was slang. The psychologist Robert Williams, who popularized the term Ebonics, taught me that the word slang was coined from sloppy language. This is not true in a strict sense, but it is true in spirit. So rather than think in terms of slang, I wondered if scary, as in to be afraid, was a semantic item in Ebonics. Again, if its use is widespread among language users, then it’s in the lexicon of that language. This does not mean that is exclusively so. Hotel means the same thing and is pronounced the same way in at least a dozen languages.

It appears that scary, as in to be afraid, is unquestionably Ebonics. In a comments thread on a boxing website, I discovered that someone experienced the same puzzlement about Stevenson’s use of scary. A second person explained that Stevenson had used Black language and that in Black language scary can mean afraid. By then, I had figured that out. Urban Dictionary reports, “If you’re scary you’re scared.” An example given is Phat Rat calling G-Unit “scary ass niggas.” (Not endorsing or discounting, just interested linguistically.)

How far back does all this go? I’ll have to investigate relative to Ebonics. Overall, however, this kind of scaryhas a history dating back to at least the 1800s. Merriam-Webster contains a definition for scary that means easily scared or timid. I’m told that this sense of scary might even go back to the 1500s.

I might call Shakur Stevenson.


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