Chris Paul, Slang Doctor

In a GQ cover story, Chris Paul (I call him the black Joe Pesci) recounted his irritation with the Pau Gasol head-pat dustup this past season: "We call that sonnin'. Like when I take Li'l Chris to the bathroom, I'll walk with my hand on his head. That's my son. You know what I mean? I understand that Gasol is that tall, but don't do to me what I do to my son."

This sheds light on one of my pop culture pet peeves – people writing “son,” when they really mean “sun.”

The Chapelle Show popularized a term the hood and hip hop had embraced for a while. Everyone (everywhere) walked around yelling sun/son in the same shrill pitch as Dave Chappelle. Some were new to phrase – specifically non-urban squares (that is not to be strictly translated as “white”). Except, if I asked a friend if they wanted to get a night cap and they texted back “Yeah, son!”…well, technically they were disrespecting me. My friend should have texted, “Yeah, sun!”

Chappelle did not introduce me to sun/son – Wu-Tang did. If you weren’t intimately familiar with Five Percenter terminology, the Clan provided a crash course. The Nation of the Gods and Earths (a.k.a. the Five Percent Nation) was started by Clarence 13X (a former disciple of Malcolm X) in Harlem in the 1960s. They refer to man, woman and child as sun, moon and stars.

Remember Method Man’s hook on “Wu-Gambino” off of the Purple Tape? “Wu roll together as one/I call my brother sun, ‘cause he shine like one.”

When you greet another man with “Wuddup, sun,” it actually means something, no matter how matter-of-fact it may seem.

Around this same time, the phrase “sonnin’” gained steam. Any time one man disrespected another, he “sonned” that man. So it’s always stuck in my craw that a mass of louts started misusing “sun.”

Put it like this: In the first half of the 20th century, black men started calling each other “man.” “What’s happenin’, man?” “Man, that’s a cold suit you got on.” This was on purpose, as they first started using the phrase to combat the emasculating climate of Reconstruction and Jim Crow era America, where white men constantly called these grown men “boy.” Sun/son is akin to man/boy. The latter is an innocuous mistake, but, still…do the knowledge.

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