The rise (and fall?) of shiesties

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Last month I learned a new word, shiesty — which rhymes with feisty, as if it were written "sheisty" — because shiesties have been banned on the local transit system ("SEPTA"):

Keith, I'm sure if you
walked around Philadelphia,
live in Philadelphia,
work in Philadelphia,
you've seen these so-called
shiesty masks, it looks like a ski mask,
they're kind of all over the place, right.
Young men, teens, really took a liking to these,
during COVID.
It's named after a rapper in Memphis.
Well tonight like you said
we did walk around with SEPTA police officers
as they enforce this new policy,
asking folks to take the mask off.

Shiesties are a particular kind of balaclavas, made with thin woven fabric rather than knit wool, and generally black in color. They've been around for years, but became popular during COVID as an inexpensive lightweight masking option. And their popularity was also promoted by a fashion connection with the rapper Lontrell Donell Williams Jr., whose stage name is "Pooh Shiesty", and who often performed while wearing one:

According to Wikipedia,"His stage name was given by his late brother, and it comes from his childhood nickname 'Mr. Pooh', and the name 'Shiesty', referring to his lifestyle".

Wiktionary glosses shiesty as "Misspelling of sheisty", which it glosses as

  1. shifty, untrustworthy
  2. unscrupulous

with the etymology

From shyst(er) +‎ -y.

FWIW, the "sheisty" version was in use before Pooh Shiesty's debut in 2019. For example, the novel Sheisty,  which was published in 2000, is blurbed on Amazon like this:

Epiphany Wright, Keisha Moore, Shana Scott spend their teenage years as best friends growing up in hood of southside Jamaica Queens. Now as adults their friendship is put to the test when envy, built up animosity, hidden betrayal and the bad boys in their lives causing more havoc come into play, everyday becomes a struggle to keep it tight. With all that's already riding against them when drastic situations occur will these girls be down for one another or just plain Sheisty.

And a 2015 collection by the same author, Sheisty: Triple Crown Collection, gets this publisher's blurb:

'Sheisty' is urban slang for obtaining good ends by bad means. If you need be immoral, two-faced, opportunistic or fake to get what you want, Sheisty is the word for you. It's certainly the word for Epiphany Wright, Keisha Moore and Shana Scott, whose teenage friendship is becoming increasingly strained. Boy-envy is the main cause, but rather than talk it out like the adults that they are, the three woman revert to the bitchy, backstabbing ways of their teenage years. After all, why use one word to someone's face, when ten behind their back will do?

There's also a 1999 song 100 Sheisty's, whose lyrics include

I know you know a hundred brotha's that sheisty
Like I know a hundred brotha's that's real
But I think it's time you know how we chill

The misspelled metonymy shiesty has clearly made it into general use as term for thin-fabric black balaclavas, and seems likely to persist in that role independent of its human source and its original meaning.




  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 7:44 pm

    The "misspelled" version is presumably a result of adherence to the zombie rule (or to be more charitable, non-useless generalization that alas does not acknowledge the numerous exceptions to a general statistical trend) "i after e, except after c"?

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 4, 2023 @ 7:45 pm

    I obviously meant, "i before e." So liberated am I from such misleading guidelines, it turns out I can't even phrase them correctly.

  3. Chester Draws said,

    June 5, 2023 @ 2:03 am

    The rule you are thinking of is "I before E, except after C, when rhyming with me". There are precious few exceptions to *that* rule. Foreign words don't count.

    Now the interesting point is whether pronunciation follows spelling. Because Shiesty should be ShEEsty, whereas Sheisty should be ShYsty, or even ShY-isty.

  4. Anthony said,

    June 5, 2023 @ 8:45 am

    I didn't know the name, but I've seen people wearing these in Chicago even in warm weather. It puts me on the qui vive every time.

  5. Haamu said,

    June 5, 2023 @ 12:04 pm

    @Chester Draws — The rule I was taught (50+ years ago, US Midwest) is phrased

    I before E, except after C, or when sounding like A, as in "neighbor" or "weigh."

    which conveniently overlooks words like feisty and sheisty.

  6. Terry K. said,

    June 6, 2023 @ 9:15 am

    I think it's better called a mnemonic than a rule.

  7. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 8, 2023 @ 5:29 am

    I learned it as "I before E, except after C, except in exceptional circumstances". And I treat it as a rule (i.e., for the guidance of the wise, and the blind obedience of fools).

    O.T. Can one still say "blind obedience" these days, or is it considered insensitive to the blind and partially sighted ?

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