I had a Facebook chat today with a high school classmate of mine that included this exchange:
Her: I chopped wood all day and my back is killing me. Getting old is for shit.
I usually talk about words, but today I’m going to talk about word. Or specifically, this particular use of word.
I knew that the usage sprang out of some sort of cool subculture that I’m not within a thousand miles of being a part of. Using it as a middle age white woman is my attempt at ironic humor. Especially in a context where I’m griping about aches and pains with my friend, what could be less cool?
A little trip to the Urban Dictionary gave me some additional information. It told me that the usage sprang “more or less” out of the hip hop culture. It means something like, “I concur,” “I agree,” or “affirmative.” It can also be used as a question meaning something like, “Really?” A couple of folks said it was a shortened version of either “word is my bond” (I speak the truth) or “word to your mother” (I fully agree with you).
According to the UD, “word to your mother” is said to be a corruption of “word to the mother,” where “mother” referred to the motherland Africa. This use of mother was a popular reference to the continent during the late 1980s Afrocentric movement. The meaning of the phrase, “Give due respect to the motherland from which we came,” was used in the sense of “Keep it real” and likely led to the use of it, and its shortened form word to express agreement.
In any case, the usage lost all cachet when it was adopted by clueless white boys trying to be cool and by middle age white women trying to be funny. Nothing stays cool for long; the dorks always get in on the secret and ruin it.