Thursday, June 6, 2013

What "Grittin On Someone" Means (in African American Vernacular English)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides definitions of the African American English derived phrase "grittin on [someone]". This post also provides a definition of the word "grittin" as it is used in historically Black Greek leettered organizations.

Examples of the "grittin on someone" facial expression are found in three videos of historically Black Greek lettered fraternities.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

[Latest revision- August 4, 2016.

grittin - to stare at someone for a long period of time with a disdainful and/or mean, evil, or angry look on your face

The work "grittin[g]" comes from the word "grit", meaning "small, loose particles of stone or sand". Three synonyms from African American Vernacular English terms for "grittin[g] are "having a "dirty look [on your face]", "mean muggin[g]", and "ugly muggin[g]". However, a person grittin on someone doesn't have to look mean. That person may just stare disdainfully at another person, daring that person to look away. In any event, grittin on a person is an act of disrespect.

When a Black children grit on their parents, they are likely to be told that they better "fix their face or else." "Fixing your face" means to take that disdainful and/or mean, evil, angry look off of your face. "Or else" means some punishments will be levied on the children because of that act of disrespect.

In historically Black Greek letter organizations, "grittin" is also called "mean mugging". That term refers to a "hard", mean facial expression that members of many of those organizations (particularly fraternities) may wear on certain occasions. This look is meant to convey their determination*, the seriousness of their commitment to the organization, their aggressiveness, and their "hardness" (in the street sense of that word).

*In the context of those who are striving to join a BGLO, "determination" means their commitment to perserve until they become full members of that organization.

A "grit face" or a "mean mug" expression may also be worn during step shows or fraternity or sorority stroll by persons who are full members of a historically Black Greek lettered organization (BGLO) to convey the seriousness of those members' commitment to that organization, and to convey their aggressiveness toward any obstacle or any adversary - including other fraternity step teams that they competiting against in that step show.

While a "grit face" looks very much like scowling fiercely or snarling, grit faces aren't meant to convey anger. Instead, a "grit face" shows how "hard" [in street terms] members of that organization are.

In my opinion, putting on a grit face is associated with the image of historically Black Greek lettered fraternities much more than historically Black Greek lettered sororities. And the vernacular that is associated with those fraternities may be linked to the act of putting on a grit face. For instance, when men associated with Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. are "grittin", they are said to put on a "dog face" as their informal symbol is a bull dog, and their signature call is a dog's bark. In that sense, the fierceness of a bull dog and the grit face both convey the same "hard" message. Also, members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. may put on a grit face to show how fiercely cold [blooded] they are. That members of that organization are "cold" when it comes to taking care of serious business is reflected in the words of one of their signature chants: "ice, ice, baby/ too cold/too cold/ice ice baby/ the black & gold".

In contrast, while pledges and full members of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Inc, the sorority which is closely associated with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. believe their sorority is "a serious matter"*, putting on an ugly, aggressive grit face would be in opposition to that sorority's tradition of being "pretty girls".

I'm not saying that putting on a grit face doesn't occur among pledges or full members of that sorority or other historically Black Greek lettered sororities. However, it seems to me that "grit face" is much more associated with historically Black Greek lettered fraternities than sororities.

*It's a serious matter" is an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority signature chant.

As used in historically Black Greek lettered organizations, the facial expression of "grittin" isn't the same as "gritting one's teeth" since people don't show their teeth when they are grittin. Gritting one's teeth means to steel oneself to endure something that is difficult or uncomfortable. While "grittin[g] on someone" has a different meaning than "gritting one's teeth", the BGLO definition of "grittin" is quite similar to that later definition of "steeling onself to endure", particularly in the case of old time pledges to historically Black Greek lettered fraternities.

Furthermore, I believe that the psychological meaning of the word "grit" -as in "showing true grit" is exactly what the word "grittin" means in the context of historically Black Greek lettered organizations. Here's an excerpt from
"Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. Commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include "perseverance," "hardiness," "resilience,” “ambition,” “need for achievement” and conscientiousness."

Disclaimer: These videos don't mean to imply that these Black Greek lettered organizations are the only ones in which persons associated with those organizations make "grit faces".

These videos are presented in chronological order with the videos with the oldest date given first.

Example #1: Omega Psi Phi Que Doggs

mrchangeurlife, Uploaded on Jul 18, 2008

Gamma Sig Ques Settin' It Out 75th Conclave 2008

Example #2: Omega Psi Phi Stepping on the Steve Harvey Show

KingUdobot,Uploaded on Mar 26, 2009

Here's a comment from that video's viewer comment thread:
"They KILLED it love this grit faces"
-lmanley11, 2009
"Killed it" means to do something very well.

Example #3: Alpha Phi Alpha On the campus of Clark Atlanta Univ -CAU

Teresa Dowell-Vest, Published on Apr 9, 2012

I was on the campus of Clark Atlanta University taking pics for the Harlem YMCA students visiting Spelman, Morehouse, and CAU and these guys broke OUT!

UPDATE: August 3, 2013 - Video of females grittin

Spelman Freshman Step Team Alum Battle

LookOut504, Uploaded on Oct 11, 2008

The former freshman step team members of some of Morehouse and Spelmans finest teams have some fun. CAU was in attendance but we missed their performance
Here's a comment from this video's viewer comment thread that was posted in response to a number of comments critizing the faces made by the step team in the beginning of this video:
"- Ok , let's diminish the ignorance a little. The faces they are making are called "GRIT FACES". When stepping many organizations put on "GRIT FACES" to show how serious & how hard they go for their org. Lol it's a SOUTHERN thing. #DirtySouth
-Minelly Deme, 2013


Thanks to all those featured in these videos. Thanks to the producers of these videos & their publishers on YouTube.

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  1. I just came across this post & comments to that post about the use of Black sorority members doing steppin as models in a high level Paris fashion show: Rick Owens sends a bevy of thick, black women down the runway. Progress? by Tamara Winfrey Harris

    Many of these sorority members who were chosen to be models in that fashion show did so while putting on what I consider to be greatly exaggerated "grit face".

    Here's a link to that fashion show

    Here's an article about that fashion presentation which featured members of historically Black sororites & other sororities in a modified step show:

    Robin Givhan, the author of that article, indicated that most of the women "wore a defiant attitude." I'm sure that this is meant to be a reference to "grit face", but I think that wearing a grit face is much different from having a "defiant attitude". Wearing a grit face expression is supposed to convey determination to preservere, hardness, and agressiveness toward obstacles and adversaries. Those attributes aren't the same as being deviant.

    My sense is that those grit face expressions in that fashion show were greatly exaggerated. I very much doubt that such grit faces would actually be put on by sorority step teams throughout an entire step show, if such grit face expressions are made at all during a step show. I doubt this in large measure because such expressions are in opposition to the "attractive, sexually appealing to males" persona that members of those sororities promote - not to mention the "pretty girl" image that is so much a part of the persona of one of those sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha.

    That said, as somehat of an aside, I particularly like the definition of steppin that is found in that same article:

    "Stepping is competitive group showmanship that blends percussive dance moves with hand claps, foot stomps, and vocal shout-outs all executed with military-like precision and school yard bravado."

  2. I believe that Willow Smith puts on a grittin face in a number of scenes of her video "Whip My Hair"

    Those "looking hard"/"grittin" images may have been at least one of the reason why that video ended with a close-up of Willow grinning -as if to say "I was only playing when I was grittin earlier".