Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Differences Between "The Dozens", "Reading Someone", & "Throwing Shade"

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Revised May 7, 2015]

This pancocojams post provides definitions of the dozens, reading someone, and throwing shade.

This post also includes excerpts of two articles that include comments on this subject. In addition, this post includes other comments about & video examples of the dozens or reading/ throwing shade.

Click for my previous post on the subject of "reading [someone]" and "throwing shade".

The content of this post is presented for cultural and sociological purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

(Additions and corrections to these definitions are very welcome.)

The Dozens
1. a formulaic, direct back & forth verbal exchange of insults between two people
2. certain types of insults (rips, snaps, disses, put downs etc.) particularly those which have the formulaic structure "Yo mama is so ___ [that] ___ " which are spoken apart from an actual dozens battle

Reading [a person] - directing creative (witty) insults to a specific person

Throwing shade- directly or indirectly verbally alluding to a person's flaws; "throwing shade" can also be a non-verbal insult
"Throwing shade" is a more developed form of "reading" a person.
[as per Dorian Corey in the 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning] Watch the video clip given as Example #1 below in the featured videos of "Reading/ Throwing Shade".
It seems to me that #2 of the definition I gave for "the dozens" could be considered "reading a person", but I may not have captured the nuances of the "reading".

Also, note that real or fake laughter is often the reaction of a person receiving insults from snaps, digs, put downs, disses etc. outside of an actual dozens battle. Real or fake laughter is also often the reaction of a person who is being read or is the target of shade. That person might laugh along with others because he or she really thinks that insult was funny/witty. Or he or she might laugh as a means of pretending that the insult had no effect on him or her even though it actually was hurtful.


“The gay community and contemporary shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race often cite the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning for their definitions of reading and shade. In the film, the now iconic drag queen Dorian Corey provides an explanation of reading. Corey states that reading is the art of insult and you can tell if it was effective by the reaction of the crowd. “You get in a smart crack, and everyone laughs and kikis* because you’ve found a flaw and exaggerated it, then you’ve got a good read going.” These flaws can be physical, mental or emotional but the point is that you found it, labeled it and then presented it in a witty context...

In these examples [from the 1991 documentary Paris is Burning] you can see that even though the performer is insulting the other person/(s) the reaction is still raucous applause and laughter due to the wit and nerve of the performer”...

Dorian goes on to describe shade. He says that shade is the real art that comes from reading. “Shade is I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly. And that’s shade.” Shade (or “throwing shade”) is the passive aggressive allusion to a flaw, which everyone knows is there..... Even though shade and reading can easily be read as simply insults, similar to “the Dozens” in the larger African American culture, it is a way to show mental/verbal supremacy, pass the time and also toughen the skin, considering these oppressed groups exists within a larger society where harassment is very common. Also “The Dozens” is often considered more masculine and direct, while shade is sly and covert.

The Dozens: “Your hair is so nappy that....”
Shade: “I’m glad my hair is never a problem.” (glances at person with bad hair)”**

In Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America, influential literacy scholar Geneva Smitherman states this about “The Dozens”: “In the original form, the dozens is a game played usually by Black males." my experience growing up around “The Dozens” being played, it was typically hyper masculine men who engaged. In this way, shade can be seen as a form of signification specific to the Black and Latino gay community and Black women. Even the idea that “throwing shade” is somewhat of a covert and perhaps even passive-aggressive act/critique speaks to Black gays and women’s roles in the culture and the strategies they use to speak to each other and back to power.”...
*"kiki" - a verb from gay culture that means "to giggle", "to laugh", "to chortle", and to otherwise express mirth
[This definition is an expansion of the one given in]

**"Bad hair" in African American communities is usually defined as hair that is tightly curled, that is, hair whose texture isn't naturally straight like White people's hair. Flipping your hair back and forth, and playing with it in front of a person whose hair is shorter or whose hair you don't like, can be an unspoken example of throwing shade.

Posted: 03/29/2013 9:00 am

"Wade: Shade is an interesting concept, at least to me. When I was growing up in the South, we talked trash, came up with "ya mama" jokes, you know, "played the dozens." The idea of "playing the dozens" was something intended to be lighthearted and jovial, but those same jokes aimed at the wrong person could easily spark some serious altercations. So when I moved to NYC in '05 and started to immerse myself in the "gay scene," I was a little taken aback by the shade culture. Perhaps shade was once intended to be lighthearted like the "dozens." Now, however, it seems that it permeates too many spaces. And within many marginalized communities, I believe there is a lot of pent-up anger, hurt and frustration. Shade is often thrown as a way to release ourselves of the pain and hurt that we've experienced...

Darnell: Shade, as I see it, is incisive and witty jest. It is meant to be "thrown," precisely targeted in another's direction. Shade is an exact, cutting and implicit response to another's exact, cutting and explicit foolishness. The best shade travels in stealth. Shade is also a posture, a cavalier attitude of attack that stings the person it hits precisely because they don't see it coming. Shade can be both offensive and defensive. Shade is some thoughtful, smart-ass type of retaliation and comeback. But can shade ever be good? Maybe. Like you've mentioned earlier (and others before you, like the characters in Paris Is Burning, for example), shade may not always be laced with malice. And even if it is, it is very possible that you can throw shade at the very friend you would otherwise fight to protect"...

WARNING: Most YouTube videos about & viewer comment threads of the dozens, and of reading and throwing shade contain profanity and other content that may be considered objectionable.

Example #1: KRS-One about the origin of the dozens

bassbeatnoize, Published on Dec 25, 2012

fragment of "the art of rap" produced by Ice-T
The theory about the origin of the term "the dozens" that KRS-One gives in this video is one of many theories about that origin of that term. Click for information and examples of the dozens, including other theories about that term. Warning: That page includes profanity and other content that may be considered objectionable.

Example #2: Flavor Flav & Doctor Dre playing the dozens on Yo! (1988)

DJCottonHere, Uploaded on May 24, 2011

Public Enemy's favorite sidekick, Flavor Flav, and Yo! host Doctor Dre knew each other from Dre's college radio days and they always played the dozens (roasting/ checking /snapping/ etc). Flav was wrecking shop every joke.
Partial transcript:
Ed Lover [host of Yo MTV Raps along with Dr. Dre]
“The history of the Flavor Flav and Dre playin the dozens with each other or snappin comes from when they were... they've known each other since Dre was a dj on a, a college radio station”

Flava Fla [of the Rap group “Public Enemy”] We had a good radio station until Dre ate it”.

Ed Lover - "So these guys have been playin the dozens on each other for years"...

Flavor Flav – “I can say certain things about Dre that no one else can say about Dre”.

Flavor Flav “He [Dre] can’t fit that [shirt]. You got to get a bed sheet and paint it and then put it on him”.

Flavor Flav- Dre can say certain things about me nobody else can say...[including] snappin] on each other’s moms”

Flavor Flav- “Your mother’s lips so big her favorite word is “brrrrrr” (a sound made by “blubbering” lips).
Note: Having very big lips which are known as “blubber lips” are often considered a negative trait among African Americans.

Flavor Flav – “Dre wrapped a white sheet around him . Everybody sittin around him said “What time does the movie start”...

Example #1: Dorien Corey on throwing shade

starkeymonster, Uploaded on Jun 10, 2011

...Clip from the documentary "Paris is Burning"
Note: In,another video clip from the 1991 Paris Is Burning documentary, Dorian Corey prefaces the remarks that are show in this clip by saying “Shade came from reading. Reading came first. Reading is the real art form of insults."

Here's my transcription of this "Dorien Corey on throwing shade" video clip. It includes everything excerpt the entire conversation that occurred in the inserted tape of a "read".
"And then when you are all of the same thing then you have to go to the fine points. In other words, I'm a black queen, and you're a black queen, we can't call each other black queens. That's not a read that is just a fact. So then we talk about your ridiculous shape, your saggy face, your tacky clothes."

[Inserted videotaped example of reading, includes the line "She wears more makeup then my mother."]

Then reading became a developed form from where it became shade.

Shade is – I don’t have to tell you that you are ugly because you know you’re ugly”. And that’s shade."

Example #2: RuPaul's Drag Race: Reading is Fundamental - Season 5 - LogoTV

Logo TV, Published on Sep 12, 2013
This video is given without transcription. Click for the video clip of and comments about RuPaul's Drag Race: Reading is Fundamental - Season 4
[I think Season 4's "Reading Is Fundamental" segment is the best one so far.]

Example #3: Ways To Throw Shade

inthemindofness, Published on Sep 27, 2013

I've realized how much shade people throw.
Here are just the few that I've heard, read, and some that have been used on me.
A commenter posted on this video's viewer comment thread that these examples were "reading" and not throwing shade.

It seems to me that "reading" and "throwing shade" are becoming equivalent terms for giving witty, often indirect verbal or non-verbal insults. I think that this is in part due to the popularization of those terms as a result of RuPaul's Drag Race's"Reading is Fundamental" segment. Note that in Season 3's segment of "Reading Is Fundamental", RuPaul says "In today’s min-challenge, you’ll take turns reading each other or throwing shade.”

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