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Learned Vol. 6, Issue 10
Who’s Your Zaddy?
In one of the more recent episodes of Queer Eye, Tan France refers to the hero of the week as a zaddy and, Reader, I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Now, two things you need to understand are that, one, I have long since reached the age where most new slang has to be given context for me to even come close to understanding it. And, two, I have long since reached the age where I watch everything with subtitles because otherwise I miss half of what's being said.
What I'm saying is, I read the subtitle, I knew what word he said, but I still couldn't have told you what it meant. And while it's not exactly in the dictionary yet, it does appear on the Merriam-Webster site, in their Words We're Watching column. Even then, they take pains to avoid actually defining the term as it's still a bit too nebulous in the zeitgeist. Fortunately, several other dictionaries and publications have stepped in to fill the gap, the most illuminating of which is this entry from Slang.net:
A zaddy is a stylish, charming, and confident man who others find attractive. Most men labeled as zaddies also tend to be older and financially well-off. In short, a zaddy is one part silver fox and one part sugar daddy.
That seems clear enough, but, just to be sure, here's the definition from Glam.com:
A zaddy, on the other hand, is, well, pretty much a daddy. But the difference lies in two essential components: swag and a feeling. A zaddy is more stylish than a daddy and spotting a zaddy is just something you know when you see him.
Lastly, just to make sure we're all absolutely on the same page, here's the definition from Urban Dictionary:
So. There's that. But let's go back to that first definition and single out one phrase in particular, sugar-daddy.
Green's Dictionary of Slang has an interesting take:
an older man who is willing to provide the various material wants of a younger mistress or, if gay, a younger male lover; thus punning saccharine daddy, an older male ‘friend’ with no sex involved.
Daddy has been used to refer to lovers almost as long as it's been used to refer to actual fathers. Green's Dictionary of Slangnotes that both daddy and poppa have been used to refer to boyfriends since the 1920s. Pop culture examples abound from the Zombies' “Time of the Season” - What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich like me? - to Bruce Springsteen's “I'm On Fire” - Hey little girl is your daddy home, did he go and leave you all alone - to Biggie Smalls 1994 hit, “Big Poppa.”
From all accounts, zaddy is just continuing this trend. The etymologies given in the articles quoted above have the term first appearing in Ty Dollar Sign's 2016 song “Zaddy”, in which the girl he's hooking up with refers to him as, well, you get it.
It's hard to tell if zaddy will stick around. Very broadly speaking, new slang terms only last if they fill a niche. Which is to say, new slang terms are born all the time, but rarely because we need a new word for something. Slang is much more about defining social boundaries - we use the slang we do because it makes us part of the in-group; the slang we use defines us in our early years as we struggle to get a sense of self separate from our families and classmates.
The slang words that last, the ones we end up using throughout our lives, expand to fill some linguistic gap. These slang words become a new label or a new expression that allows us to convey some experience or idea. At the moment, I'm not sure if zaddy does that, but, then again, zaddy isn't really my word. It doesn't fit a pressing linguistic need, which probably says more about the sad state of my middle-aged social life than it does anything else.
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What We’re Reading
Normally, this is where I’d mention a book I’m reading or interested in, but, uhh, I’m behind in my reading. So, until I get caught up, maybe next month, maybe in ten years, I’m going to take a different tack and recommend reading the commentary at Genius.com for the three tracks listed above. Here they are:
I don’t remember which one and a cursory search revealed nothing so take it as read that this entire piece may be based on me gaslighting myself.
I'm an unabashed fan of Queer Eye. There's nothing like a little brute-forcing catharsis for your viewing pleasure.
For context here, when Tan referred to the hero as a zaddy he was trying to boost his confidence, which might help explain my confusions. A bit anyway.
As if that weren't enough, when I tried to use it in conversation with my writing group, most of whom are a decade or more younger than me, I was soundly shouted down.