Boogaloo

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Boogaloo is in the news these days, in reference to what a recent Forbes article calls "a loose group of far-right individuals who are pro-gun, anti-government, and believe that another civil war in America is imminent". The politics is complex and evolving, as a USA Today article explains:

[T]here are various facets to the loosely organized group: One generally stems from its original ties to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, while a newer facet is libertarian.

"There's a lot of overlap and the boundary is blurry because they both evolved together," said Alex Newhouse, digital research lead at Middlebury Institute's Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism. "It is very difficult to know if the 'boogaloo boi' you see standing in the middle of the street at a protest is there in solidarity or to incite violence."

For further details, see the Wikipedia entry for "Boogaloo movement". The term's linguistic history poses the puzzle of how the name of a Latinx and Black dance fashion came to be adopted by white supremacists:

Wikipedia describes the etymological history this way:

The [movie's] subtitle "Electric Boogaloo", originally a reference to a funk-oriented dance style of the same name, has entered the popular culture lexicon as a snowclone pejorative nickname to denote an archetypal sequel. […]

The term "boogaloo" on its own has also become a slang term on the Internet, used by far-right extremists to describe an uprising against the government, the implication being that such a conflict would be a "sequel" to the American Civil War. Groups ascribing to this ideology are considered to be a part of the boogaloo movement, and their members are sometimes called "boogaloo boys".

Or often now "boogaloo bois" — so there's also the question of how boi, originally a gender-queer respelling of boy, came to be adopted by a movement whose natural constituency seems likely to be homophobic.

The word boogaloo (or bugalú) itself has a complicated deep history. There are likely resonances of boogie and boogie-woogie., for which the OED lists relevant song titles going back to the late 19th century:

Boogie Man (1880), Dance of the Boogie (1892), The Bogey Walk (1900), Hoogie Boogie Dance (1909), That Syncopated Boogie Boo (1912), Boogie Rag (1917). Compare also booger rooger in the title of a musically related piece Booger Rooger Blues (1927) by U.S. blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter ‘Blind’ Lemon Jefferson (?1897–1929).

The OED has a 1926 citation connecting to Bogalusa LA and the Citizens' Military Training Camp:

1926 Boogaloo: Fort Barrancas, Florida (Mil. Training Camps Assoc. U.S.) 48 A very homesick candidate from Bogalusa, La., was adopted by a genial Captain..as his own ‘Bugaloo’. The name won immediate favor in the CMTC [i.e. Citizens' Military Training Camp], all men affectionately referring to each other as ‘Boogaloos’. Hence, the Annual name!

An NPR piece (Jessica Lipsky, "Who Owns 'Boogaloo'?", 5/31/2020) suggests another possible connection to Bogalusa:

Some scholars argue that boogaloo's origins can be traced to Bogalusa, La., where the Deacons for Defense and Justice confronted the Klu Klux Klan in the mid-'60s and potentially inspired James Brown, who toured the South on the Chitlin Circuit and could have named a dance and his 1966 single after the city (though one archival video shows Brown dancing the boogaloo as early as 1963).

Then there are the picto-linguistic puns — phrases that share the (approximately) same consonant sequence, especially "big igloo" and "big luau" — and the memes based on them, like igloo logos and Hawaiian shirts.

There's an obvious analogy to Charles Manson and Helter Skelter, but this doesn't seem to be a conscious connection for the members of the movement.

 



29 Comments »

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 8:13 am

    "boi, originally a gender-queer respelling of boy". I am not convinced of the veracity of that assertion. I have known of the existence of the phrase "fan boi" for some time, and it has no gender-queer connotations of which I am aware. Dictionary.com (OK, not the most reliable source, but in the absence of anything more authoritative) says "fanboy [ fan-boi ] Informal: often disparaging. noun Sometimes fan·boi. an obsessive male fan, especially of comic books, science fiction, video games, music, or electronic devices:"

    [(myl) My guess is that fanboi started out with pejorative or dismissive implications, like the use of gay to mean (in the OED's gloss) "Foolish, stupid, socially inappropriate or disapproved of; ‘lame’"; and then fanboi's negative implications gradually faded, leaving mostly the connotation of enthusiasm — see here.]

  2. random observer said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 9:17 am

    Pity.

    As a child of the 80s, since the film "Breakin 2" I have instinctively added "electric boogaloo" in my head to anything that ends in '2'. Sometimes the contrast is funny, sometimes bland.

    I was amused when my friends' two GenZ sons had picked up the habit.

  3. Alexander Browne said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 10:52 am

    What I remember reading is one explanation for the variants like "big igloo" and "big luau" is to get around filters blocking "boogaloo", but I don't know if there's evidence for it.

  4. Sergey said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 11:16 am

    The real explanation is probably simpler: the "boogaloo bois" just being a left-wing conspiracy theory. Nobody had ever seen them nor heard of them. So the spelling and all just reflects the culture of the people who have invented this conspiracy theory, the left-wing people. This whole "boogaloo bois" theory started appearing in the left-wing conscience after Antifa became the national news. The socialist press has been pretending for years that Antifa doesn't exist (and still is) but when it couldn't quite do this any more, they had to invent some match to Antifa on the right.

  5. James said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 11:48 am

    Yes, Forbes is notorious for its left-wing propaganda.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 2:39 pm

    The socialist press

    As if you had such a thing in the US! :-D :-D :-D

    has been pretending for years that Antifa doesn't exist

    Of course it exists, it's just not an organization. It's a self-label.

    some match to Antifa on the right

    How does "want to trigger a sequel to the Civil War" match "get angry at literal fascists"?

  7. Rod Johnson said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 4:20 pm

    Sergey: The Boogaloo movement has been on my radar, and a lot of other peoples', for a while now (as has Antifa, for that matter). The fact that you just learned about it doesn't really matter much.

  8. Haamu said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 4:37 pm

    Sergey:

    (1) I'm intrigued by your apparent concept of "simpler."

    (2) I think you premised your guess on a misreading: you missed the point that "boogaloo" in this memetic context predates "boogaloo boi" (or "… boy").

    (3) "Nobody had ever seen them nor heard of them" — if only!

    All:

    Of possible linguistic interest: I ran across "boogaloadouts" (search YouTube if you must; I won't link to it) and a few more neologisms, and assume this is becoming a fairly productive prefix within this sociolect. (Since it's a lect shared by an extremist group, I want to call it an ideolect, but I guess that would be too confusing.)

    This also seems to be somehow tied up with "yeet," which must be one of the most rapidly mutating slang terms of the last few years. This informative article (which can be reached via the NPR story linked above) mentions a key document entitled "Yeetalonians," which term is explained merely as "a reference to the boogaloo," although I can't imagine how. I'm guessing it's a mashup of "yeet" and "Thessalonians," but I don't get the connection between "boogaloo" and "yeet."

    Normally I would delve into this further myself, but, ugh.

  9. Sergey said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 4:39 pm

    >> The socialist press
    >
    > As if you had such a thing in the US! :-D :-D :-D

    Well, New York Times reads just like Pravda of yore. The traditional press has turned into the propaganda organs of the Democratic party, which has turned socialist if not outright communist.

    >> has been pretending for years that Antifa doesn't exist
    >
    > Of course it exists, it's just not an organization. It's a self-label.

    Not true. It is an organization with a rigid cellular structure, just like the other communist organizations. Project Veritas did a journalist investigation. Not a very deep one, but ther cell they infiltrated had received insurgency training from an instructor sent from the center. The only amorphous part about it is the recruitment, where they post to the social networks and welcome any recruits.

    >> some match to Antifa on the right
    >
    > How does "want to trigger a sequel to the Civil War" match "get angry at literal fascists"?

    Perfectly. It's the same thing. And yes, Antifa attempts to trigger a civil war.

  10. GeorgeW said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 5:09 pm

    "Project Veritas did a journalist investigation." Project Veritas, journalistic. Hmm.

  11. djw said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 5:36 pm

    What is really weird to me is that my earliest recollection of the word "boogaloo" is from Texas, probably in about the '70s, and was pretty clearly a derogatory term for Blacks (not that I ever looked it up; that's just the way I heard it used). So the fact that the far right has picked it up has me pretty much gobsmacked.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 5:45 pm

    Maybe it wasn't definitively the first recording to use the word, but as the NPR piece acknowledges in passing the first hit record to use it in something like the relevant sense is one titled "Boo-Ga-Loo" by "Tom & Jerrio" (sometimes described as a "novelty duo") who were from Chicago or maybe St. Louis and were black not Latino but maybe one of them had spent time hanging out in the sort of NYC nightspots where Puerto Rican kids were working up slightly different new dance crazes than black kids. In any event (and this data is harder than some of that in the prior sentence), their record reached #11 on the Billboard R&B chart in June 1965, which was more than enough to inspire others in the record business to try to get in on the action. The first James Brown record using the word in a song title wasn't released until March 1966, and nine months was an eternity in the cashing-in-on-new-dance-craze side of the record business back then.

    I am unimpressed by the NPR writer's assertion that "some scholars" argue for such-and-such theory (of the sort that should sound immediately suspect to anyone with any experience debunking folk etymologies) when she doesn't name the scholars or provide a link to their scholarship.

    It should not go unmentioned that the word for a while spread far enough outside specifically black and Latin musical styles that in 1972 Ringo Starr got to #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a not-very-funky composition entitled "Back Off Boogaloo." Unfortunately Charles Manson, possibly his generation's most prominent exegete of the esoteric meaning of Beatles lyrics, was by then imprisoned and unable to offer his interpretation of Ringo's solo work.

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 29, 2020 @ 6:01 pm

    Just poking around the google books corpus, here's an early use outside of a specialty/trade publication, although still a publication written for a specifically black general-interest readership: "Most hip Gothamites now trying to get rhythmic understanding between arms, legs and sacroiliac in order to get in on the Boogaloo dance craze." That's one of many one-or-two-sentence items crammed into the "New York Beat" column in the Aug. 11, 1966 issue of Jet magazine, 16 months after the chart peak of the Tom & Jerrio 45. (The same column features the news that Columbia Records is introducing a brand-new way to listen to music called "eight-track stereo tape cartridges" and that Johnny Mathis and Miles Davis are the noteworthy black recording artists included in the first wave of releases.)

  14. Philip Taylor said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 4:24 am

    JWB, "Back Off Boogaloo", Ringo Starr. Thank you. I knew I knew the phrase from somewhere, but could not remember from where.

  15. Rose Eneri said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 9:51 am

    The best boogaloo song was Fantastic Johnny C's "Boogaloo Down Broadway." Although the song was released around 1966, the lyrics include the lines: "It ain't hard to do. You been doing it ever since you were 2." implying the dance had been around roughly 15 years already.

  16. Rodger C said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 9:51 am

    "Most hip Gothamites now trying to get rhythmic understanding between arms, legs and sacroiliac in order to get in on the Boogaloo dance craze."

    Another thing that strikes me linguistically: How dated it is to use "sacroiliac" in this non-technical sense.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 10:58 am

    Just as an interesting example of orthographic variation, a French singer using the stage name "Rod" (original name Roch Niangandoumou) had minor U.S. chart success in 1980 with a song titled for US-release purposes "Shake It Up (Do the Boogaloo)." Some European releases of the song use that spelling, but others go with "Shake It Up (Do the Boog-a-loo)," as here: https://www.discogs.com/Rod-Shake-It-Up/release/471199

    That's a slightly different hyphenation and capitalization pattern than the 1965 "Boo-Ga-Loo" mentioned above. Just an ESLism? Who knows.

  18. David L. Gold said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 11:06 am

    @djw said. Volume I (A-G) of J. E. Lighter's Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (Random House, 1994) defines boogaloo as 'a black person' and labels the word "used contemptuously."Its earliest evidence for the word in that sense is dated 1974.

    Your recollection is therefore accurate.

  19. Yuval said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 2:17 pm

    (Might wanna stick a [sic] after Klu Klux Klan)

  20. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 2:35 pm

    In doing some quick-and-dirty research to see when the "boogaloo" lexeme entered more high-falutin' registers of English such as the text of reported court decisions I came across this gem from 1970, in which an appellate court in Oregon ruled for a workers' compensation claimant whose initial award had been disappointingly low due to the administrative hearing officer's view that her back problems had "been precipitated by dancing modern dances such as the Boogaloo and the Jerk." The court held that that conclusion as to causation was not sufficiently supported by the evidence.

    https://law.justia.com/cases/oregon/court-of-appeals/1970/465-p-2d-888-2.html

  21. Jim said,

    June 30, 2020 @ 4:54 pm

    "Boi" as a gender-queer respelling dates to at least 1992 — and presumably thus years before that. In the gay and lesbian community in the San Francisco area, it was used (exclusively?) for butch baby dykes. 20+ years down the line, when it is a more acceptable option, I imagine many of these would now be on the gender or trans spectrum.

    I didn't see it get used by men until around 2000. There it was typically used for the submissive in a daddy/boy or sir/boy relationship dynamic where there was an unwillingness to use "boy" due to the age (and thus pedophilia) connotation.

    Which echoes right back to the female use, perhaps: "boi" means "boy, but not in the usual sense".

  22. Jon said,

    July 1, 2020 @ 4:13 am

    > Yes, Forbes is notorious for its left-wing propaganda.

    Forbes is now essentially a blog site with some very light vetting for its "contributors"–similar to Huffington Post. There are literally thousands of people in its "contributor network", and any "contributor" can post anything they want at any time.

    So, anything that you see on forbes.com that is written by a "Contributor" is unvetted, unedited, and paid at a very low per-view rate. Sensationalized headlines and junky, inflammatory articles are the new normal.

  23. Peter Taylor said,

    July 1, 2020 @ 4:47 am

    @Rose Eneri, it seems to me that the lyric could equally be understood as a reference to the age at which most children learn to walk, either as implying that anyone who can walk can boogaloo or that the boogaloo resembles the uncertain steps of a toddler.

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    July 1, 2020 @ 5:20 pm

    I reckon the number of words that have at some time or other been used as slurs for black people is very large; one could not expect to know them all.

    I have no idea how much credibility to assign to the original article, and right now it doesn't seem important: as Jon commented above, those sites have pretty loose standards.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  25. David Russinoff said,

    July 1, 2020 @ 11:37 pm

    From the acknowledgments section of Arthur Kempton's "Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music", PantheonBooks, 2003:

    "I owe my title, and more, to K. Rashid Nuri who, nearly forty years ago, was the first of my acquaintance to refer categorically to what was then called 'soul music' as boogaloo."

    (Kempton has been my preferred expert on this subject for at least sixty years):

  26. Bruce said,

    July 2, 2020 @ 12:44 am

    +1 to what Jon said about anything "published by Forbes". It's basically Medium plus a misleading association.

  27. Philip Taylor said,

    July 2, 2020 @ 6:17 am

    Facebook bans extremist 'boogaloo' group from its platforms.

  28. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 2, 2020 @ 9:02 am

    Kempton's reference to "nearly forty years ago" as of 2003 is rather frustratingly vague, since exactly when in the years shortly after 1963 the word reached what level of currency with which exact meaning is one of the key topics of lexicographic interest here. Some googling indicates that K. Rashid Nuri was a freshman at Harvard in the 1966-67 academic year so it seems plausible that he might have first met Kempton (a Harvard alum of about that vintage – maybe David Russinoff knows exactly which class) that year. But using the word to mean a fairly broad musical genre rather than just a specific dance craze would have been much more notable if it was attested two years before that.

  29. David Russinoff said,

    July 2, 2020 @ 5:29 pm

    Yes, that was Kempton's freshman year as well. I just wrote to him (having found him on LinkedIn), but it was the year before that when I last talked to him, and I'm not counting on a response.

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