Monday, April 22, 2013

The REAL Meanings Of The Phrase "Be Owt"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on the African American orginated expression "be owt". Part I of this series provides definitions of and discussions about the phrase "Be Owt". Explanations of other Black Greel Lettered Organization (BGLO) acronyms and terms are also included in this post.

Part II showcases YouTube videos of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. footwork (steppin). Members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. (also known as "Ques" and as "Omegas") coined the expression "be owt" in the early 1990s if not before then.

Click for Part II of this post.

For the record, I'm an inactive member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc (Gamma Zeta chapter, 1967).

The content of this post is provided as a way of doumenting & sharing information about and examples of African American culture, with particular attention to examples of African American English as used by persons associated with Black Greek lettered organizations (fraternities & sororities). The Addendum to this post provides some information about little sister (auxilary) groups that are unofficially associated with those fraternities.

If you're searching on the internet for the real meanings of colloquial expressions, you're likely to come across erroneous information. Take, for example, the expression "Be owt". According to, the word "owt" means "anything". WRONG!!!

The first definition given in the lone entry for "be owt" on is closer to one meaning of that expression. Here's that entry with the numbers of site visitors who voted that definition up or down:
34 up, 38 down

1.) To be out supporting a certain black greek organization events.
2.) GID, or a person interested in a black greek organization.
3.) After probating, being out for your greek organization.
-Jessyce Apr 19, 2008
*In the context of this post, "Greek" means fraternities and sororities whose names are made from three of the letters of the Greek alphabet.
Of the examples, that Jessyce gave along with that entry, only the 3rd example is an appropriate usage of the phrase "be owt".
1.) I think Sean is a Be-owt for Omega.

2.) Those girls over there are Be-Owts for AKA.

3.) Go ahead Bruh, BE-OWT!!!!
There are nine nationally & internationally recognized historically Black Greek lettered organizations (five fraternities and four sororities). A link to information about these "Divine Nine" organizations is found in the Related Links section below.

I've found one video of "be owt" for a sorority-no link given. However, I'm not sure if other fraternities and sororities typically use the exclamation or statement "be owt". My online research indicates that "Be owt" appears to be almost entirely reserved for members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

For what it's worth, I've never seen the acronym "GID" related to a fraternity or sorority, and I've no idea what it means, if anything.

My daughter, a Que Pearl* from Western Pennsylvania, has a video of a 1993 step show that was held at Slippery Rock University which is located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I previously watched that step show and watched it today for the purpose of verifying my memories of it. As I recalled, the exclamation "Be owt" [or "Be out"] is clearly heard several times during the Que step team performance. That exlamation was shouted by one very pumped [meaning very enthusiastic] Que while he watched a Que step routine being performed during a step show. That Que shouted "Be owt, dogs!" ("Dogs" is the Omega Psi Phi "mascot" and a complimentary referent for Ques.)

Of course, since those words were spoken, and I therefore don't know how they were spelled. I wouldn't be surprised if "owt" was first spelled the standard English way, but was later changed to "owt" to distinquish it from that adverb.

*Some information about little sister groups is provided in the Addendum to this post which is found below.

Like other colloquial expressions, "be owt" has more than one meaning depending on the context of its use. It's highly likely that "be owt" came from the earlier slang phrase "be out", "owt" being an updated, cool way of spelling "out" although the two words are pronounced basically the same. Here's a 2002 urban dictionary entry for "be out"
50 up, 9 down

1. To leave a location.

2. To quickly depart from a location.

"I gotta be out holmes, I'll check you later."

by El-Keter Jul 24, 2002
However, it's important to recognize that "be owt" as used by African Americans usually doesn't mean the same thing as the meanings given for "be out". Instead, one meaning of "be owt" is to "hang out" [to spend some time at a specific location or event; to be present at a social event.] "To hang out" [attend a step show or other fraternity function] is probably the earliest source for the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity originated phrase. However, there's also another, apparently common meaning for "Be owt".

The second meaning for "Be owt" is "to do something very well" "Be owt!" is usually shouted as an exclamation in recognition that a fraternity brother is steppin hard [doing footwork very well] or doing something else very well. My guess is that the phrase "go all out" was the source of this meaning for "Be owt", but the word "owt" ["out"] could have also been a clip of the word "outstanding", although I think it's just fortuitous happenchance that the phrase "be owt" has the same meaning as the "outstanding".

Note: There's no history of "Be outstanding" having been a colloquial African American expression, but there is a history and present occurances of "to go all out" being a colloquial African American expression. "To go all out" when doing something means the same thing as being hard when you do something, that is to put your maximum effort into what your doing so that it is done very well. As part of that sentiment, another expression from at least the early 1990s was "Go hard or go home". That sentiment is also packed into the "Be owt" expression.

That second complimentary or declarative meaning of "Be owt" is given in the sentence "Go ahead Bruh, BE-OWT!!!! which is qiven in the urban dictionary entry that is found above. However, I think that most African Americans who would be shouting such an exclamation would probably say "Go 'head" and not "Go ahead".

Thus, in my opinion, the REAL meanings of "be owt" are
1. to hang out [to be present at a Omega Psi Phi Fraternity event] - probably the earliest meaning

2. a statement that a person is doing something very well [going all out], or an encouragement for the person to do something very well ["be hard", "Go all out"]. "Owt" has the same slang meaning as "bad" with "bad" meaning "very good". When "be owt" is given as an exclamation, it has the same encouraging and complimentary meanings as "Go 'head!", "Do it!", and "Go on, with yah bad self" (with "bad" here meaning "very good".)

The earliest online discussion that I've found about the meaning of the expression "be owt" was a Greekchat blog. As background, this three page discussion in 2002 began when someone asked about the meaning of the phrase "be owt". The fact that the meaning of "be owt" wasn't known to that person suggests that this may have been a relatively new expression. However, much of that often heated discussion revolved around the position held by some posters that non-Greeks shouldn't know the meaning of "be owt" as it was an expression that was coined by members of the historically Black Greek lettered organization Omega Psi Phi, Inc. (non-"Greeks" - those who aren't associated with a fraternity or sorority.)

These Greekchat forum entries include several different usages for the expression "be owt". These entries also include other examples of African American English. I'll provide meanings for some of these colloquial terms or expressions after each quote.

Quote #1:
01-02-2002, 10:39 AM
"OWT = to party, to hang out... he is OUT or OWT = he is the life of the party

“I think if YOU are considered OLD SCHOOL then YOU should show respect by example.....don't automatically think you should get respect cuz you are OLD SCHOOL..... I also think that WE should recognize when our ELDERS are speaking and not try to DISCREDIT ther it goes both ways... both of you (BRUH and SOROR) you know better then to dissed each other publicly like that...... bottom line, asking what OUT or OWT means is nothing crucial.... now like the BRUH said, you should know what OUT or OWT means if you truly hang...whether you are spr. 50, 60 or whatever.... as terms change they stay the same.... OUT or OWT hasn't changed much....the word has added more meaning....
Other African American English terms in this comment:
"Old school" - In the context of this discussion, "old school" means a long time member of a sorority or fraternity, an "elder". [Of course, "Long time" might just mean someone who became a member of the organization as short as five years ago.]

An elder - same as above.

A seasoned member" of a BGLO [Black Greek Lettered Organization] means the same thing as old school and elder as given above. A "seasoned member" is in contrast to an “unseasoned” member, meaning a "neo" (from "neophyte"); a new member of the organization.

Bruh - a contemporary spelling of the word "bro" which is a clip of the word "brother". "Bruh" specifically means a member of a fraternity. Another word with thee same meaning is "frat". The comparable term for females is "soror" or "sister" (sometimes shortened to "sis" and sometimes spelled "sista")

dissed - disrespect, insult

Also "whether you are spr. 50, 60 or whatever...." means whether you joined your fraternity or sorority in the spring of 1950, 1960 or whenever.

Quote #2
01-03-2002, 12:41 AM
Location: DC Metro Area

Hot in Heah!!
Whoo, it's hot up in heah!! Well, at least you know some sorors had your back, DST1345623 (welcome to the sisterhood).

Knowing what "Owt" means doesn't have anything to do with is about hanging out with Omegas. If you hang out with Ques, then more than likely, you know what "owt" means. Now, you can 'TRULY HANG', and hang hard, but if you're hanging hard with Alphas, Kappas, or Sigmas, you may have never heard "owt".

To "champion" who talked about discretion - shoot, "owt" is not HARDLY a secret, so no discretion was needed. I knew what "owt" meant long before I became a member of Delta Sigma Theta, because I have a lot of friends who are Omegas.

And finally, you never know, soror who asked about "owt" may have heard someone say "Be owt" before, but she may not have realized that it's spelled "OWT", but it's pronounced like "out". She may have thought it was an acronym for something, as in "oh double-U tee" rather than pronounced like the word OUT.

But of course, this is all just my 3 cents on the matter.
Other African American English terms in this comment:
"Whoo, it's hot up in heah" - the conversation is really heated (argumentative)

"some sorors had your back" - Some members of a particular sorority or members of any other sorority wrote comments that were supportive of you.

"welcome to the sisterhood" - Welcome to that particular sorority or, more generally, welcome to Black Greek lettered sororities in general.

"shoot" [in the context of this comment] - same as "shucks"

"hang hard" - to spend a lot of time with someone of with a group of people

Alphas, Kappas, or Sigmas - members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, or Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. [also known as "Deltas"]. Deltas are often considered to be an unofficial sister organization of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.


Editor: The quote in this blockquote is in response to a request for DST1345623, the original poster of this discussion, to identify the chapter and the location of her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Quote #3:
01-07-2002, 01:30 PM

...I'm sure you must know Juggernaut and the crew there in Rock Hill.

Well, if you choose to be "owt" at the Clave in Charlotte, I'll be sure to set you "owt" for questioning you, Sis. Nice wesbsite. Y'all got a cute chapter and nice webmaster.

BTW, Psi Kappa Chapter at Winthrop are some "owt" Bruhs.

Meanings of "owt" in this comment:
be "owt" at the Clave - attend

set you out = show you a good time [in the context of this comment, to make up for questioning you]
"owt bruhs" - outstanding members of Omega Psi Phi fraternity

Also, "Doggystyle"'s tag name [internet name] identifies him as a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. because that fraternity's mascot is a dog.

"DST1345623"'s tag name [internet name] identifies her as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

"Clave" is a clip of the word "conclave" -a gathering of members of fraternities and sororities, or a specific fraternity and/or sorority.

Editor: As per comments #4 & #5 that were posted in 2007, some people continued to hold strong positions that the meaning of the term "be owt" and/or knowledge of its meaning should be reserved for Greeks only. I don't know if that position is still generally held today.

Quote #4: [in response to a question about what "be owt" means]
03-03-2007, 01:50 PM
Location: In the fraternal Twin Cities
Originally Posted by bIueangel
Sending the poster here was cruel. Apparently, the people who did so were anxious to see her embarrassed and berated over what was most likely a very innocent question. The better response to her original question would have been, "I'm sorry, that's information that only initiated members know." That would have put an end to it right there with no feelings getting hurt.

EXCUSE ME! I sent her here, because 1) the word was originated by the Omegas--they should be the ones to decide if to answer it or not, and 2) she has posted the same question on multiple forums including MY sorority's forum. It was there I first told her to come here, because we could not answer it. Instead she posted it on GL where I reiterated that she should ask it here.

So if you think that was cruel--then this is not the board for you!

Quote #5
...As to the OP being clueless - if she has heard the term "OWT" and knows that it has something to do with Greek life - enough to come to a Fraternity/Sorority message board to try and ascertain the meaning of it - then she should know enough to be aware that fraternities and sororities have SECRETS and that this just might be one of them. Anyone who has seen random movies with fraternities in them knows that there are secrets and rituals. You don't have to be in one to know that. I doubt that she's in high school or elementary school and is saavy enough to have been around adult men in a fraternity, have heard the term "OWT," and then figured out that this is the place to find out their secrets.

As to whether or not it is OK to be "cruel," I don't think it is that big of a deal whether they are "cruel" or not. In this case, I don't think the responses were cruel, because as I mentioned, the OP should have figured out long ago that it probably isn't her business. If she heard it from a fraternity man, she would have had the opportunity to ask him in person. Perhaps she did and she was not given the answer - so she sought it online. Whether or not people on GC are "cruel" should not be a defining factor in whether or not they are allowed to SPEAK FREELY. Let them say whatever they want. If you think this is a hostile atmosphere, you have no obligation to continue reading. If I don't like porn, I won't look at it. I'm not going to start a crusade against someone else's free expression.

I am going to refer to a response to the first time babygirl12 posted this question. This should have been sufficient - in addition to everything else she has received:

Originally Posted by dzdst796
If you have to ask then you don't need to know.
Abbreviations used in this comment:
OP = Original Poster [the person who started the discussion]

GC = Greek chat forum

"Little sister groups" are unauthorized organizations which are made up of females. Little sister groups are associated with a particular historically Black Greek lettered fraternity. The females who pledge a little sister group must at least be in their first year of college or university. The little sister organizations that I'm aware of are "Q Pearls" or "Q Essence" ("Q" may be spelled "Que") for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.; "Alpha Angels" for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc, Kappa Sweethearts" or "Kappa Kourts" for Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, and "Sigma Doves" for Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. have "Sigma Doves", and Iota Sweethearts for Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.

These little sister auxiliary groups are not authorized as per a rule of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the governing body of the "Divine Nine" historically Black Greek lettered organizations (BGLOs). Furthermore, little sister groups generally receive very little respect from members of other BGLOs. Indeed, being a member of one of these auxiliary groups may jeapordize a female's ability to join a historically Black Greek lettered sorority. However, some members of little sister organizations have later joined a historically Black Greek lettered sorority.

My daughter pledged Q Pearl in her first year at a university. Later she chose not to join a sorority. Also, she has indicated that her "big brothers" (the Ques who helped pledge her and other Ques she has subsequently met) always treated her and other little sisters she has known with respect.

Although I don't recall there being little sister groups when I attended a college in the mid to late 1960s, I admit that I had/have a fondness for the Ques because at that time when and at the place where I went to college [in New Jersey near New York City] members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the AKAs (members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the sorority which I pledged & "went over" [became a member of] were considered to be brother & sister organizations. I later learned that that association was not the norm. Because of their history, members of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc and members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc are usually considered to be brothers and sisters.

Click for a looong discussion about little sister groups. Additional names for the specific auxiliary groups that I have mentioned above are given in that post.

Comment #14 on page #1 of that post, written by a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (as indicated by her internet name
12dn94dst) wrote on 05-22-2000 that "From reading through these posts and others on this site, I get the feeling that sweethearts and little sisters are viewed in a more positive light in predominantly caucasian GLOs than they are in predominantly BGLOs....I could be wrong though."
I found that interesting because my daughter is a Q Pearl and she attended and graduated from a small predominately White university in Western Pennslyvania that had only a small number of Black students, very few of whom were members of a BGLO. As a matter of fact, until her senior year, there was only one Que who attended that university. It may be that females attending those organizations who pledge a little sister group, and those groups might get more respect at a predominately White colleges or universitities, particularly a small predominately White college or university in large part because there are so few Black students at those colleges and universitiesnd and therefore there are far fewer opportunities to join a BGLO as an undergraduate (Note: People can join BGLOs after they graduate from a four year college or university). For that reason, joining a little sister organization may be the only chance some women might have as undergraduates to experience being part of sorority-like organization. For example, my daughter still has her Greek 'nelia [paraphenalia such as her Que Pearl jacket in the same purple and gold colors as Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. And my daughter also experienced steppin at her probate show when she and the 12 other sisters on her "line" were introduced to the general public. However, even at her university, little sisters weren't allowed to perform at other step show. Also, my daughter's Q Pearl paraphenalia such as her jacket only has one Greek letter and not the three Greek letters that sororities have.

Click a listing of the "Divine Nine". "The term "Divine Nine" comes from the fact that there are nine historically Black fraternities and sororities that are members of the National Panhellenic Council.

I prefer to use the phrase "Black Greek lettered" fraternities and sororities. However, "Black Greek letter" is the more commonly found usage.

Click this page of my cultural website for examples of fraternity and sorority chants:

Click this page of my cultural website for examples of steppin and stoll videos

Thanks to all those whose comments are featured in this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

I'm particularly interested in comments that might shed more light on when the expression "be owt" was first coined. I'm also very interested in the position/s that is/are held by most BGLO [Black Greek lettered organizations] about about whether non-Greeks or members of BGLOs other than Omega Psi Phi should use the expression "be owt". I'm also interested in whether people believe that non-Greeks shouldn't know what "be owt" really means.

No comments:

Post a Comment