Friday, January 25, 2013

Why “Brick House” Didn’t Become A Widely Accepted Slang Term

Written by Azizi Powell

“Brick house” is a complimentary descriptive referent for certain females which was coined by Shirley Hanna-King, the wife of a member of the R&B group “The Commodores”. According to that usage, "brick house" (also found as "brickhouse") [noun] is a curvaceous, "stacked", attractive female.

There are anecdotal statements on the Commodore's "Brick House" YouTube video viewer comment threads from women who remember being called a “brickhouse” after that record was released. There are also comments on those discussion threads from women who having heard that record, claim that they are a “brickhouse”. However, even in those discussion threads, it appears that a lot of viewers of the Commodores’ “Brick House” video, and/or listeners of the “Brick House” sound file aren’t sure what “brick house” (“brick house”) means in relation to females.

Clearly, “brick house” (or “brickhouse”) didn’t make into the A level of slang terms, that is - words or phrases that have been coined by African Americans relatively recently which have been quickly accepted by that population: words such as “old school”, “shout out”, and “bling” (or “bling bling”). Another A level slang category that “brick house”, “brickhouse” failed to achieve is words or phrases that were well known and have been used for a period of time by African Americans but have since largely been retired by that population: words such as “Yo!”, “Word up!”, and “out of sight”.

Of course, since “brick house” (or “brickhouse”) didn’t make it into the A level of slang terms, it certainly didn’t make it into the A+ level - slang terms that are well known by African Americans and are still used after a considerable amount of time; words and phrases like “jive”, “jam”, and “funky".

Many words from both of those A levels have been adopted by non-African Americans who may not use them correctly and may continue to use them long after African Americans have moved on to other slang terms – words like “dig”, “cool”, and “hip”. But “brick house” (“brickhouse”) doesn’t have anywhere near the status of any of those African American slang terms.

In this post, I attempt to delineate my thoughts on why “brick house”/”brickhouse” as a referent for curvaceous women has such a low score in the world of African American slang terms.

Point #1: “Brick house” already has a well known, firmly established meaning - a building for human habitation that is made out of - “bricks”.

Axiom #1: It’s not easy to supplant a well known, firmly established definition with a newly coined word, phrase, or idiom.
Point #2: Both “brick” and “house” have negative colloquial connotations.
Brick - an unintelligent person. Derived from "dumb as a brick."

Also , “If you talk to someone and they do not listen to you, it is like talking to a brick wall”.
House – as in “big as a house”:
“now and days if you call a girl a brick howse lol she going think you calling her brickhouse lol aka look big or fat lol “
-Change- bostonguy, 2011, Commodore’s – Brick House

Also, click for an article about a male football player whose nickname is “House” who has been determined to be too big to play in the NFL.

[And yes, I recognize the built in societal assumption that females don’t want to be considered described as being big or fat. But just because that assumption isn’t right, it still exists.]

Axiom #2: It’s not easy to give a positive connotation or connotations to words, phrases, or idioms that already have a negative connotation.
Point #3: “The term “brick house” and “bricks” are associated with excrement:
“solid as a sh&t brick house”, and “sh&&ting bricks”.

Axiom #3 [which is related to Axiom #2] Unless they are pre-teens and teenagers, or acting as though they are pre-teens or teenagers, people don’t like to be described in terms that are associated with excrement.
Point #4: There’s already a positive colloquial definition for “brick”, and that definition has nothing whatsoever to do with a curvaceous, attractive woman:
...“'you're a real brick' is you're really dependable, i can rely on you. “

See Axiom #1.

Point #5: If there are already standard & colloquial terms whose meanings fit what you are trying to say, why would anyone use a term that has so much associated baggage?
See Axiom #1, #2, and #3
Point #6: There are numerous slang meanings for the word “house”, many of which are associated with the music genre “House” (which supposedly got its name because it first developed in the early 1980s- a few years after the Commodore’s “Brick House record - in a Chicago, Illinois (night)club named “The Warehouse”, and then in New York City, and elsewhere. For example, the saying “I’ll house you” comes from the title and lyrics of the now classic 1989 Jungle Brothers record. I gather that “I’ll house you” has both a sexual meaning and a meaning that threatens violence, and can also mean other things. But I’m not sure about that since I’m not well versed in House music vernacular. Click for information about House music.

If the term “brick house” was moving toward acceptance outside of that Commodore’s song, the arrival of stronger, more widely accepted colloquial usages of the word “house” sapped what was already a weakened acceptance (because of points I already made).

Axiom #4: When it comes to newly coined words or new meanings of already established words, it’s usually a matter of the survival of the fittest.
So, there you have it. That’s my take on why “Brick house” is a pretty good dance song, but a rather lousy slang term.

SHOWCASE VIDEO: Brick House - The Commodores

merlotje, Uploaded on Jan 21, 2008

The Commodores-Brick House 1977
Here's information about this song - added June 11, 2016
" "Brick House" is a song from the Commodores' 1977 self-titled album (released as Zoom in the UK).[1] The single peaked at #5 in the U.S. and #32 in the UK pop charts.

Creation and recording
In 1977, the Commodores were in the studio recording when there was a problem with the equipment. While the tapes were being repaired and replaced, the group took a break. Ronald LaPread, the group's bass player, began jamming. Bit by bit the rest of the band joined in until they came up with a track and bass line. Upon returning, James Carmichael, the Commodores' producer, heard and recognized that this could be a song worth recording. He asked everyone to see if they could use the riff to come up with a song. Taking the tapes home, William King played them for his wife, Shirley Hanna-King. While he slept she was inspired to write lyrics for the riff, modifying the expression "built like a brick sh&thouse"* for the song.[2]

The following day King sang the lyrics to "Brick House" to the band, allowing them to think he had written it. They loved it and decided that drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange had the funky voice to sing lead vocals,(as opposed to Lionel Richie, who usually sang lead), and the song went on the new album.

It took several years before the other members of the group discovered that it was actually Shirley Hanna-King who had written the lyrics, and although she was not originally credited, the band has publicly acknowledged her as the song's writer."
*That word is fully spelled out in that article.

LYRICS - BRICK HOUSE [Added June 11, 2016]
(William King- publicly credited as writer; actual writer his wife Shirley Hanna-King)

She's a brick house
Mighty might just lettin' it all hang out
She's a brick house
The lady's stacked and that's a fact,
ain't holding nothing back.

She's a brick house
She's the one, the only one,
who's built like a amazon*
We're together everybody knows,
and here's how the story goes.

She knows she got everything
a woman needs to get a man, yeah.
How can she lose with what she use
36-24-36, what a winning hand!


The clothes she wears, the sexy ways,
make an old man wish for younger days
She knows she's built and knows how to please
Sure enough to knock a man to his knees


Shake it down, shake it down now (repeat)

*pronounced am-a-ka-zawn

The content of this post is presented for etymological and entertainment reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to the composer of "Brick House" and thanks to the Commodores for their musical legacy. My thanks also to the authors & commenters who are quoted in this post, and to the uploader of this video.

Also, thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome


  1. There are other colloquial usages for the word "house".

    At least by 1967, in Newark, New Jersey within the Black cultural nationalist organization that I belonged to - The Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN), which soon was led by (Imamu) Amiri Baracka [Le Roi Jones], "house" was a referent for your husband or wife, or your man or woman. For example: My house's name is Malik.

    If "house" wasn't used that way elsewhere in Newark at that time (and I don't know whether it was or not), CFUN may have gotten that colloquial meaning for “house” from [Maulana] Ron Karenga’s Black cultural nationist group (Oakland, California) just as we got the Kwanzaa holiday and Nguza Saba [Seven Principles] from that organization. In some ways those two Black cultural nationalist organizations located across the country from each other were quite closely connected.

  2. "In the house" is another African American orginated idiom that includes the word "house".

    "In the house" is an informal, purposeful announcement that a group, or someone from a group makes when they first arrive at a place, or when they are performing in a location.

    For example:
    "The Ques* are in the house!"

    *Substitute another group's name (“Ques” here being the name of a historically Black Greek lettered fraternity Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc).

    "In the house" has been including in children's/teens' cheerleader cheers, and is one example that demonstrates the growing influence of African American culture on many "mainstream" cheerleading squads.

    The "__ is in the house" announcement can also be made by an individual who is unrelated to any organization.

    This announcement is made to "brag up" your group or yourself. In so doing the group or individual indirectly disses other (competitors) in attendance by claiming their (or his/her) ownership & rulership over that space, much like a king or queen rules his or her castle and nation.

    I think that [being] "in the house" was first used in the 1980s or early 1990s, but I'm not sure about that. In any case, that idiom is still going strong.

  3. Great article, I just have to point out that "Yo!" has not "since largely been retired by that [the African-American] population" ... I hear teenagers say "yo" three times in one sentence sometimes.

  4. Thanks for your comment Jayr.

    I appreciate the correction. You're right that it's too absolute to state that "yo" is retired And I admit that I've heard young Black people say "Yo yo yo" (three times in a row) as an expression of excitement or pleasure.

    But it seems to me that African Americans (teens or otherwise) aren't using the word "Yo" even half as much now as they did in the "Yo MTV Rap" days, but I could be mistaken about that.

    Btw, I narrowed my observation to African Americans because although I've no scientific study to prove it, it definitely seems that White Americans continue using vernacular terms that originated among Black Americans looong after we have moved on to other terms.

    Again, thanks for your comment. I'm glad to stand [and sit] corrected. :o)

  5. I believe it is incorrect to make any attribution of this slang term to Ms. Hanna-King. In the 40's and earlier, men (WWII soldiers) often referred to women as being "built like a brick shit-house". That's where the term came from. Thanks for the article.

    1. Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

      What you wrote confirms and adds more information to the Wikipedia sentence that I quoted that indicates that "Shirley Hanna-King modified the expression "built like a brick sh&thouse" for the song".

      [That word is fully spelled out in that article].

  6. In the 60s my sister was in a beauty contest. I'm sitting out in the audience with my mom. A man behind us was talking to his friend and says "she's built like a brick shithouse!" I asked momma what that meant and she was a little perturbed that this man had even said it I said it just means she's got a good body. A brick Outhouse was made really well and not everybody could even afford one. So,to be a brick sh.. house pretty special compliment even if it was in poor taste.

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks for taking the time to share that comment, psnith2026.
      But, I'm not sure what it refers to.

      However, your comment made me revisit this post and update it with the song's lyrics and a video to replace the one that was no longer available.

      Thanks again and if you care to explain your correction, I'd appreciate it.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Ms. Powell, the crude phrase "built like a brick sh*t house" was coined back in the 40-50's to refer to a curvaceous, buxom woman - whose boobs are "overbuilt" for their purpose - so to speak - just like building an outhouse out of bricks instead of the typical wooden planks would be superfluous.
    To avoid offending the gentler sex especially, the word "sh*t" was often omitted thus making the phrase: built like a brick house.

  10. As a white male growing up in the 70s, I understood the meaning brick house. I actually liked using the term because it cut to the chase without having to describe a woman's assets in detail.

    It's just too big a leap from the literal meaning of the words to the abstract meaning. Nothing really sexy about bricks and houses.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Franz.

      I think people in the USA still say that a woman is "built" which means that has a voluptuous figure - and a number of people consider that sexy.