Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A New Meaning For The Old Adjective "Petty" (Definitions, Examples, Comments)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post provides examples of a relatively new vernacular meaning for the word "petty".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publisher of the YouTube video that is embedded in this post.

"2. having little or no importance or significance"

When someone overreacts over the littlest things

someone gets mad because the microwave door was left open. That's being petty"
by Dj Ellis March 21, 2017
That is considered "petty" because leaving the microwave door open is no big deal.

But it wouldn't be petty if you left the door of a bank vault open.

Here's my definition for the vernacular meaning of "petty"
Petty [adjective; African American Vernacular English]
"Responding verbally ("clapping back") or otherwise reacting to someone who has said or done something offensive to you even though other people (and/or you) might think that what you are reacting to is small or relatively minor
In this vernacular sense of the word, it's a compliment to call someone "petty" because the person who is described that way is "being real" (not pretending to be someone he or she isn't and not acting like what has been said or done against him or her means nothing).

In this complimentary meaning of this word, people who act petty toward others who caused/cause them some offense (even though that offense might be considered mild) are showing that they can't be messed with. They are "nipping" minor offenses "in the bud" and publicly putting people on notice not to try even larger offenses against them."

Example: I love it when Kayla acts petty 'cause she knows how to throw some good shade."

Here's an urban entry for "petty":

The act of keeping it too real, while others find it offensive. 100% honesty, even if it's “mean.”

Alexxis, why did you say his wrinkles make him look like the grinch that stole Christmas, you're so petty!

by QueenLex November 07, 2015
In the phrase "keeping it too real", the word "too" intensifies the word "real", giving it the same or similar meaning of "very" e.g. "keeping it very real [not being fake in any way], even if some other people might think that you are being mean by reacting this way.
Added April 7, 2017
It just occurred to me that one synonym for this vernacular meaning of "petty" is "bi&chy"* [given without full spelling in this post]. But, in this context, acting like a b&tch, is considered something admirable, at least with n certain "audiences".

Read the excerpt below about being a "diva". One "negative" characteristic of women (or men) described as "acting like a Diva" is acting bi&chy when they don't get their own way over little things (like not wanting green jelly beans in their show dressing room. While some people might consider these type of demands to be petty, others see it as the perks you earned by being a celebrity.

Also, read this article about Madonna's "shady" response to the Pepsi Cola Kendall Jenner ad fiasco (in which that corporation pulled a just release ad about people at protest march cheering on the character played by Kendall Jenner because she gave a cop a Pepsi) because of extensive public criticism) "Madonna’s Waited Almost 30 Years To Drag Pepsi. This Is Her Moment" 04/06/2017 09:50 am ET By Cole Delbyck

That article about Madonna starts with the sentence "Let’s say it all together now: P-E-T-T-Y." and ends with this statement: "Remember, everyone: Karma’s a bi&ch, just like Madonna." That article suggests the reason why Madonna acted like a "bitch" (acted petty) towards Pepsi Cola.
-end of addition-

From "11 Perfect Memes For That Moment Someone Tries To Come For You And It’s Time To Be Petty"
November 10, 2015 | By Brande Victorian
"We’re all grown women here, which means most days we try to be the bigger person and hold our tongue when someone gets out of pocket. But every now and then our inner Petti LaBelle comes out and, well, we have to remind people, in the words of Kenya Moore, don’t come for us if we didn’t send for you. And here are 11 memes that perfectly sum up that sentiment when our pettiness gets the best of us."
"Our inner Patti LaBelle comes out" refers to Soul/Gospel singer Patti LaBelle being a Diva in the positive sense of that word. Patti LaBelle 's reputation for not "playing" with folks or allowing people to "play with" her. Patti LaBelle is known for "throwing expert shade" among her other (complimentary) Diva ways.

Here's a definition of "diva" that fits what is probably meant in that phrase "our inner Patti LaBelle comes out".

A fierce, often temperamental singer who comes correct. She is not a trick ass hoe, and she does not sweat da haters.

"And that is why I make the manager cry at the Cheesecake Factory, by being a diva."
by WadaStinsbatsky February 01, 2013
Click for a video entitled "Patti Labelle's Shadiest/Diva Moments".

Page four of that gives this example of "petty":
Petty: "Just basking in the joys of karma"
Some people might think that it's petty to feel vindication because something negative has happened or is happening to those who have done you wrong. But in the vernacular sense of the word "petty", that feeling of vindication is something to be enjoyed.

Being petty [by or because you are "just basking in the joys of karma" helps add context to this article's title: "The Internet Is Absolutely Loving Ivanka Trump’s ‘Petty’ Neighbor"; She grabbed her fur and some wine to watch a protest outside Trump’s house." by Cavan Sieczkowski, April 4, 2017

Here's an excerpt of that article:
"Hundreds of LGBTQ people and climate change activists protested outside Ivanka Trump’s Washington, D.C. home Saturday night to demand more than just words of support from the First Daughter.

Aside from the satisfaction of having voices heard for important causes during the massive dance party, one of the best things to come out of the protest was Trump’s “petty” neighbor: a woman who grabbed her fur coat and a glass of wine to gleefully watch the event unfold.

The Daily Mail ran the fantastic photo of the smiling neighbor ... who lives across the street from Trump."...
Here are a few comments from that article (All of these comments are from April 4, 2017.)
Karri Lynn
"Petty is a compliment of sorts when used this way."..

Marcus Avant
"Yea petty is being used in other ways now..."

Deborah Paley
"Maybe this is "good" petty as opposed to "bad"petty. I'm down either way, I think it's pretty funny!"

Barbra Blyss
"I don't understand the use of the word 'petty' to describe this neighbor."

TaShonda Lewis-Taylor ·
"Y'all let me help you before another person ignorantly responds. HER PETTY IS A GOOD PETTY. Let it go if you do not understand because you are becoming very annoying!"
This article gives some background as to why some of Ivanka & Jared's neighbors aren't happy about them moving into that neighborhood:
"Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s New Neighbors Are Justifiably Annoyed", By Jenni Miller, March 26, 2017

Example #1: Starrkeisha's "Petty" Cheer

If a word could have an anthem, this would be the anthem for the relatively new vernacular meaning of "petty":


Leader -Okay ladies, let's get in formation.
All - Gimme a P
Gimme a E
Gimme a T
Gimme a T
Gimme a Y
I'm petty all the time.

Gimme a P
Gimme a E
Gimme a T
Gimme a T
Gimme a Y
I'm petty all the time.

P E to the T T Y
I’m petty
All the time.

Leader (soloist) - My name starrkeisha
Group- Yeah
Leader - And I'm the best
Group- Yeah
Leader -You know I'm petty
I like to start some mess.

Leader- Cause you don't like me
Group -Yeah
Leader - But you don't want to get down.
Group -Down
Leader -You don't want to start stuff
When Kiki come around


Here's that video: PETTY SONG - The Starrkeisha Cheer Squad! - @TheKingOfWeird

TIU Campaign, Published on Apr 3, 2016
Click for a pancocojams post about this video.

In this video, the cheerleading squad appears to be representing a high school whose named "Petty" (meaning Petty is the last name for someone the high school is named after). However, I still think that this "You know I'm petty/I like to start some mess" stance and "You don't want to start stuff (with me) cause I can get down" attitude exemplifies the complimentary meaning of being "petty".

Also, click for a video of Winston Salem State University's (WSSU) stomp and shake cheerleading squad performing their now iconic cheer "You Get No Respect In Here". That cheer includes the words "Don't start no stuff/won't be no stuff". Rightly or wrongly, "You Get No Respect In Here" has become part of the repertoire of countless numbers of high school stomp and shake cheerleading squads. A 2008 example of WSSU's cheerleading squad performing that cheer can be found at 1:03 in the YouTube video "WSSU CHEERLEADERS GETTIN' CRUNK".

Here's the words to that cheer: (transcribed from those above cited videos)

You get no respect in here!! (HEY HEY HEY HEY)

We see our moves in all your cheers (In all your cheers)
We Know you THINK you are the best (You think you Are You think you are)
S-U will put you to the test.
Don't start no stuff Won't be no stuff
Don't start no stuff won't be no stuff
When you messing with the RAMS...You Bound to Get
Aw Aw Aw (Say what) CRUSHED!

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. The idea that people should immediately respond to any provocation-no matter how small it might be-or lose "street cred" seems to be the opposite of the 1970s/1980s or so injunction that people should be cool in the face of opposition or adversity (meaning not show any emotions, not let on that they were bothered by anyone or anything that was said about them or that they experienced).

    I think that the term "Suck it up!" is the opposite of the verb "clap back" (Note: "Clap back" (also given as "clapback") is a verb and a noun as the retort that is given when you clap back is called a "clapback".)

    Here's an urban entry for "suck it up":

    "suck it up
    To endure a period of mental, physical, or emotional hardship with no complaining.

    "I don't care if you're sad, get out there, suck it up and deal with it!"
    by Albert February 15, 2004
    It also seems to me that when "clapping back" became "a thing" [something that is the "in thing to do"]*, then "sucking [something] up went out of favor. Because immediately clapping back (verbally responding to provocation, regardless if that provocation was minor or not, is viewed positively, then being "petty" is also viewed positively.

    *In African American urban street cultures, an earlier vernacular meaning of "clap" is to shoot someone (fire back with a gun). Note the sharp sound associated with shooting and clapping.

    The popularity of the term "clap back" (and its clapping motion that is sometimes used instead of verbalizing those words) can be attributed to the song "Clap Back" by American rapper Ja Rule, released as the only single from his fifth studio album, Blood in My Eye (2003)... The song is a diss track directed at 50 Cent and Eminem." [Wikipedia]

    I think the first use of the complimentary meaning of "petty" occurred after 2003, but I'm not sure when. It's possible that the earliest use of the complimentary meaning of "petty" may be 2015 (the year of the urban entry for this word that is quoted in this post).

    Please share any information that you have about the earliest vernacular use pf "petty" as something complimentary.

  2. I found this website by Michael Harriot,a journalist and commentator on African-American life. He has a whole article defining this sense of the word - but it's recent, December 2016. He does use the word earlier (January 2016) but I don't follow his meaning well. He uses it I think in allusion to social stereotypes, naming certain types "Petty Shabazzes" and "Petty Pendergrass". These may be shared social stereotypes you've heard of, or just names he made up himself for humourous effect. I don't know. I think in any case Harriot uses the word in a slightly different way - to mean deeply vindictive as well as quick to call someone out for their offensive behaviour. But that may just be because he has an amusing blog to write - most of his work, even when he's being very serious, is laced with irony.

    1. Thanks slam2001 and my apologies.

      I'm just reading this reply. Here's the link that is included in that reply: