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Sunday, February 1, 2015

How "Funky" Came To Mean Something Good (African American Vernacular Meanings)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is the first of a three part series about the word "funk". Part I provides information and comments about the Latin etymology and the Kongolese etymology for the word "funk". That post also provides several definitions for the word "funk" and the word "funky".

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/02/main-source-fakin-funk-remix-hip-hop.html for Part II of this series. Part II features a video and lyrics of the Hip-Hop song "Fakin The Funk" (remix) by Main Source. That post also includes my comments about the meanings of certain terms that are found in that song's lyrics.

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/02/what-dont-fake-funk-on-nasty-dunk.html for Part III of this series.

Part III presents comments about the meaning of the saying "Don't Fake The Funk On A Nasty Dunk" and includes a video of a commercial in which Shaquille O'Neil uses that saying.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

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"FUNK" AND "FUNKY" MEANING "ODOROUS SMELL", "STINK" ("STINKY")
There are two schools of thought about the etymology of the word "funk" meaning "stink" ("Stinky"), "odorous smell". I've numbered and labeled these schools of thought giving preference to the one that I feel is the most valid (recognizing that others may disagree):

Etymology For "Funk" #1: Kongolese (African) source
From http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/17228/where-does-funk-and-or-funky-come-from-and-why-the-musical-reference [Hereafter given as "stackexchange: funk/funky"], Callithumpian, edited Mar 22 '11 at 12:19
..."Yale art historian Robert Farris Thompson has posited an African origin to the musical use of funky. Here is an expanded quote from his 1984 work, Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy:
The slang term 'funky' in black communities originally referred to strong body odor, and not to 'funk,' meaning fear or panic. The black nuance seems to derive from the Ki-Kongo lu-fuki, 'bad body odor,' and is perhaps reinforced by contact with fumet, 'aroma of food and wine,' in French Louisiana. But the Ki-Kongo word is closer to the jazz word 'funky' in form and meaning, as both jazzmen and Bakongo use 'funky' and lu-fuki to praise persons for the integrity of their art, for having 'worked out' to achieve their aims. In Kongo today it is possible to hear an elder lauded in this way: 'like, there is a really funky person!--my soul advances toward him to receive his blessing (yati, nkwa lu-fuki! Ve miela miami ikwenda baki) Fu-Kiau Bunseki, a leading native authority on Kongo culture, explains: 'Someone who is very old, I go sit with him, in order to feel his lu-fuki, meaning, I would like to be blessed by him.' For in Kongo the smell of a hardworking elder carries luck. This Kongo sign of exertion is identified with the positive energy of a person. Hence, 'funk' in black American jazz parlance can mean earthiness, a return to fundamentals."
-snip-
In the context of this quote "having worked out" means to exert yourself so hard (to put so much of yourself into your actions) that you sweat, and therefore smell earthy. "Earthy" is a smell that is considered "stinky" (odorous), but it is proof that you "returned to fundamentals". Another way of saying "returned to fundamentals" is that "You got down to the real nitty gritty" (the essence, the heart and soul of the matter".|

Also, theoretically, people who "have returned to fundamentals" don't mind how they smell or look. At that point, they aren't pretending to be sophisticated, or formal, or something that they aren't. Instead, they are "being for real" (They're the "real deal"). This meaning is the source of the phrase "Don't fake the funk" = Don't pretend to be something that you're not. More comments
about "Don't fake the funk" are found in Part II and Part III of this series.
-snip-
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funk#Etymology
[Hereafter given as Wikipedia:Funk Etymology]
..."In early jam sessions, musicians would encourage one another to "get down" by telling one another, "Now, put some stank on it!". At least as early as 1907, jazz songs carried titles such as Funky. The first example is an unrecorded number by Buddy Bolden remembered as either "Funky Butt" or "Buddy Bolden's Blues" with improvised lyrics that were, according to Donald M. Marquis either "comical and light" or "crude and downright obscene" but, in one way or another, referring to the sweaty atmosphere at dances where Bolden's band played.[7][8] As late as the 1950s and early 1960s, when "funk" and "funky" were used increasingly in the context of jazz music, the terms still were considered indelicate and inappropriate for use in polite company. According to one source, New Orleans-born drummer Earl Palmer "was the first to use the word 'funky' to explain to other musicians that their music should be made more syncopated and danceable."[9] The style later evolved into a rather hard-driving, insistent rhythm, implying a more carnal quality. This early form of the music set the pattern for later musicians.[10] The music was identified as slow, "sexy", loose, riff-oriented and danceable."
-snip-
According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funk#Etymology
[Hereafter given as "Wikipedia:Funk Etymology"]
..."In early jam sessions, musicians would encourage one another to "get down" by telling one another, "Now, put some stank on it!". At least as early as 1907, jazz songs carried titles such as Funky. The first example is an unrecorded number by Buddy Bolden remembered as either "Funky Butt" or "Buddy Bolden's Blues" with improvised lyrics that were, according to Donald M. Marquis either "comical and light" or "crude and downright obscene" but, in one way or another, referring to the sweaty atmosphere at dances where Bolden's band played."
-snip-
One meaning of the word "stank" is the past tense of the verb "stink". However, in African American English "stank" was and is still a noun that means "to stink really bad." "Stank", like "funky" and "funky" can be something that is considered very good or very bad (not good).

Telling musicians to "Put some stank on it" means to play music in such a way that dancers go all out (or, to use another African American vernacular phrase "go all in") to the extent that they become soaked with their sweat, and therefore stink. That dancers sweat as a result of their exertions is a sign that the music has touched their soul (the music is soulful).

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UPDATE: February 5, 2015
A comment about the official video for Sean Paul's "Get Busy" record https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmxD7jDuPR0 serves as a perfect example for the source* of the African American English meaning of the word "funky":

AmericanRattlesnake, 2011
"i love this song but damn it must stink in there with all that ass shaking in such a crowded little room."
-snip-
Click html http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/02/black-house-parties-then-now-part-ii.html "Black House Parties Then & Now (Part II: Sean Paul's "Get Busy" Video)" for a pancocojams post on that video.

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Etymology For "Funk" #2: Latin (European) source
From "Wikipedia:Funk Etymology"
"The word funk initially referred (and still refers) to a strong odor. It is originally derived from Latin "fumigare" (to smoke) via Old French "fungiere" and, in this sense, first documented in English in 1620. In 1784 "funky" meaning "musty" is first documented, which, in turn, led to a sense of "earthy" that was taken up around 1900 in early jazz slang for something deeply or strongly felt.[4][5][6]"

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From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=funky
"funky (adj.) ..."old, musty," in reference to cheeses, then "repulsive," from funk (n.2) + -y (2). It began to develop an approving sense in jazz slang c.1900, probably on the notion of "earthy, strong, deeply felt." Funky also was used early 20c. by white writers in reference to body odor allegedly peculiar to blacks. The word reached wider popularity c.1954 (it was defined in "Time" magazine, Nov. 8, 1954) and in the 1960s acquired a broad slang sense of "fine, stylish, excellent."funk (n.2) Look up funk at Dictionary.com"bad smell," 1620s, probably from the verb funk in the sense "blow smoke upon; stifle with offensive vapor" (though this is not recorded until later 17c.). It is from dialectal French funkière "to smoke," from Old French fungier "give off smoke; fill with smoke," from Latin fumigare "to smoke" (see fume (n.)).

Not considered to be related to obsolete funk (n.) "a spark," mid-14c., fonke, a general Germanic word (compare Dutch vonk, Old High German funcho, German Funke. The Middle English word is probably from Low German or from an unrecorded Old English form.

In reference to a style of music felt to have a strong, earthy quality, it is attested by 1959, a back-formation from funky (q.v.)."
-snip-
FumbleFingers, writing in "stackexchange:funk/funky" on Mar 21 '11 at 15:06 also indicates that African American musicians "co-opted" (took, borrowed) the "stinking" meaning of "funk" from Latin sources:
"funky originally meant pungent / earthy, with relatively positive associations to "passive" qualities such as the smell of a cheese, which just sits there mouldering away. Since being co-opted into jazz slang it's acquired the more "active" overtones of actual movement in the sense of lively, rootsy, etc. (funky music encourages dancing & foot-tapping)."
-snip-
However, I'm not convinced that the Latin meaning for "funk" preceded the Kongolese meaning of "funk" among Black folks in the United States.

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"FUNKY" REFERRING TO FASHION SENSE
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From http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=funky, Sissy J. Depp February 25, 2005
funky 
"Unconventionally modern and stylish.

I think frogs are funky."

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From http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=funky, Steagles February 12, 2006
funky
1. Something thats cool or admirable (this usage has fallen out of popularity)
2. A bad smell, normally an odor of pubic must*

. Whoa, baby, you smell funky (compliment in 1976)
2. Whoa, baby, you smell funky (NOT a compliment in 2006)

-snip-
The word "must" is probably a typo for "musk".

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From http://www.yourdictionary.com/funky
"Funky
adjective
1.The definition of funky is something that smells bad or it is something artistic, modern, unconventional or cool.

a.Old smelly socks are an example of something that would be described as funky.
b.The cool, hip apartment of a young artist is an example of something that would be described as funky."

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FUNK MUSIC
Click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funk and http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Funk for information about Funk music.

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This concludes Part I of this series.

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