Does the story behind the word “hip-hop” go back to the nineteenth century?

Thirty-two years ago, Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, who was a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was teasing a friend. The friend had just signed up to serve in the U.S. Army.

Cowboy was mimicking the rhythm of marching soldiers by scat singing “hip hop hip hop.”

He later used the phrase in a performance. Then the name began to be used by disco musicians in a derogatory way to identify a new type of music being performed by MCs and DJs. But before long, its negative connotation wore off and the name stuck.

(By the way, MC is an abbreviation for Master of Ceremonies and DJ stands for disc jockey.)

Let’s break down the word. Hip-hop combines two slang terms. Hip, which means “in the know,” has been a part of African American vernacular since the late nineteenth century. Hop represents the hopping movement exhibited by hip-hop performers.

The key individuals and groups credited with popularizing the term in the late seventies and early eighties include The Sugarhill Gang, Lovebug Starski, DJ Hollywood, and Afrika Bambaataa.


  1. Alicia -  November 9, 2012 - 8:31 pm

    Gee wiz people…There’s no error…It says that the term “hip hop” was coined by Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, but the word “hip” itself have been part of the African American vernacular since the late 19th century…Although I believe the term “hip” goes waaayyyyy back, further than the 19th century. Hip/hipi in Wolof means to know.

  2. Stella -  May 29, 2012 - 10:07 pm

    Eh Eh Eh Eh Eh Eh Eh Eh

  3. Collin -  June 18, 2011 - 9:16 pm

    one addendum: I’m mentally comparing Jay-Z and my roommate.

  4. Collin -  June 18, 2011 - 9:14 pm

    “By the way, MC is an abbreviation for Master of Ceremonies and DJ stands for disc jockey.”

    all that needs to be said

  5. #1 Skillet Fan -  June 18, 2011 - 7:07 pm

    Cool. Toby Mac has a DJ in his Diverse City Band:)

  6. Veronica -  June 17, 2011 - 3:33 pm

    Watever, it was all born of the blues.

  7. Doc Benway -  June 17, 2011 - 2:08 pm

    Whoops – so to complete the thought, yes, it actually does go back to the nineteenth century, at least the “hip” part. As for “hop”, I will leave that up to the rest of you hop heads.

  8. Doc Benway -  June 17, 2011 - 2:00 pm

    My understanding is that “hip” originally was used in reference to opium users, or frequenters of opium dens; someone who was “on the hip” was frequently lying around on their side smoking the proffered pipe of the establishment, and then departing to mix with their fellows in the reserved, detached, somewhat disinterested attitude that characterized a “hipster” or “hep cat” (like Minnie the Moocher).

    Frequently slang slips in from suppressed groups in society that have their own vocabularly so that they may communicate in a somewhat coded fashion; racial minorities, sexual minorites, and those stigmatized by majority culture, such as drug users. There tends to be an overlap in these groups and a co-mingling of the most elegant words. For instance, look at the illustration of a “reefer” in a dictionary definition, and you will see that a reefed sail on a square-rigged ship (a reefer) looks very similar to a hand rolled cigarette, or more specifically, a stick of herb.

    In turn, elements of the mainstream pick up these terms to show their sophistication and edginess. As the usage spreads, the meaning evolves, loses its lineage, and is abandoned by the original groups. For instance, we now have square police chiefs referring to “reefers” even though square-riggers and their motley crews are gone, and the term is only employed by marijuana fiends with a bit of irony.

    Final digression: This irony is also characteristic of hipsters (in the old and new sense), but is certainly not the cause of the downfall of social ethics, but rather a consequence of the astonishingly blatant lack of social ethics among the actual elites, i.e. the super rich and their mealy-mouthed lackeys.

  9. ole fart -  June 17, 2011 - 8:31 am

    Well, thats a minute and a half I will never get back…….

  10. zach -  June 17, 2011 - 7:47 am

    for those of you who can’t read a whole paragraph.. the author clearly indicates that “hip-hop” was coined about 32 years ago, while “hip” has existed as a slang term since the late 19th century. nowhere does the author state that the 19th century was 32 years ago. it’s called ‘reading comprehension’. unfortunately too many people on the internet are just looking to find fault with anything they can.

  11. Luther -  June 17, 2011 - 5:14 am

    Hip is the knowledge,
    Hop is the movement.

  12. Tom L Mcdavid -  March 31, 2011 - 10:43 pm

    Well done. Thanks for the great post. Bookmarked

  13. pharmacy technician -  December 25, 2010 - 3:34 pm

    Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

  14. lingUist geeK-sage(RP) -  December 7, 2010 - 1:49 pm

    Hip-Hop is the least fascinating genre in music..I mean the words are bullshit and no good..This kind of music makes me vomit to no end..Phew!

  15. Matteen -  November 29, 2010 - 6:06 pm

    its too bad mainstream radio is killin hip hop these days…only good hip hop is old-skool/underground(imo).

  16. 78 HS Grad -  November 21, 2010 - 2:42 pm

    Why DEAR GOD did I not CHECK my stinkin facts before I posted something I was SURE I remembered from THIRTY-TWO years ago????

    Before y’all begin the flame war – I screwed the pooch on this one – the tune I am goin on about above is NOT GM Flash. It is actually the famous “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang, who basically added rap lyrics over Chic’s “Good Times”.. Ok. I will go now.

  17. 78 HS Grad -  November 21, 2010 - 1:44 pm

    OMG! I could NOT believe it when I read the supporting content on this “Hot Word” article!!
    I not only remember the Grand Master, but the awesome “performance” containing the “hip-hop” reference! (I am not sure why the word “performance” was chosen over a more appropriate word like “hit” or “single” or “tune”..) I remember it because it was so entirely DIFFERENT than anything we had ever heard before. I am not sure, but I think the name of the song was “Good Times”. I remember that I wanted to learn that song so bad that I waited for it to play one day and taped it with one of those old rectangular cassette tape recorders off of the radio. I then spent about 2 hours transcribing the lyrics on paper so that I could impress my friends by reciting them along with GM Flash when the song came on…

    Guess what words the song began with? Yeah buddy… “Hip-Hop” then went on to basically be a really cool funky version of … well I guess it was rap… (?)… (“now what you hear is not a test, I’m rappin to a beat”) And the only melody, per se, was a chorus performed by a female backup team – “Good Times, These. Are. The. Good. Times. Our. New. State. Of. Mind. These. Are. The. Good. Times.” (or something like that..)

    About 5 years ago, I was in a grocery store and I heard the SAME EXACT lyrics of GrandMaster Flashes rapping – only it was some other artist and it was set to a new beat/song/or whatever.. Now that I have mentioned the details on this, I bet there are gobs of y’all out there who are going “I remember THAT!”

  18. Christian Hip Hop Music 15 -  November 19, 2010 - 3:48 pm

    [...] Does the story behind the word “hip-hop” go back to the nineteenth … Hey what about other music like punk,country,christian emo,and all the other ones. Where did they come from Please someone let me know thanks! Matt on November 15 2010 at 12:55 am. Well thats a fun fact but the ninetenth . [...]

  19. Soulja boy -  November 18, 2010 - 11:58 am

    Yo it’s the real soulja talkin now and all y’all hatas cuz raps tha stuff

  20. mark v -  November 18, 2010 - 9:30 am

    italic test
    bold test
    underline test
    size:word test
    color test
    size:number test

  21. Waldo Pepper -  November 18, 2010 - 8:19 am

    Good job, Anucat. Good job not only reading the original post, but also the ensuing comments. You dummy.

  22. Anucat -  November 17, 2010 - 10:01 pm

    But what you mean by 19th century?It is 20th century.I guess you need to sit back and think one more time!!!

  23. Anucat -  November 17, 2010 - 9:59 pm

    quite interesting!!!

  24. Curly -  November 17, 2010 - 8:46 pm

    Between SHIFT “,” and SHIFT “.”.

    (Sorry – I kept trying to type the symbols themselves, but apparently they get automatically deleted. And, I am ashamed to admit, I’ve forgotten the name for them.)

  25. Curly -  November 17, 2010 - 8:41 pm

    …And, yes, that bold tag just worked. I did the b and /b between . Maybe it doesn’t work with brackets.

  26. Curly -  November 17, 2010 - 8:38 pm

    Hip-hop makes me sick.

    @Saf and @Mark V:

    Bold tags have worked for me in the past.

  27. Saf -  November 17, 2010 - 10:00 am

    @Mark V

    My second comment didn’t make the cut, apparently, just my first and third (in Dictionary.com’s defense, I was getting a bit spammy.

    Anyway, [BBCode] tags don’t work, but do. Cheers.

  28. my trip to that street -  November 17, 2010 - 4:00 am

    hop means to travel by plane and hip means to understand. I insist.

  29. Ann -  November 16, 2010 - 6:09 pm

    Hoodz – great explanation, thank you.
    As for the 19th/20th century debate, here’s to ignoring the snipey comments from those who were on their game enough to notice the reference to “hip” only as a 19th century word, and to being humble enough to admit our own error. Here is a snippet from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hip_(slang)) which I think better explains the whole thing:
    The term hip is said to have originated in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the early 1900s, derived from the earlier form hep. Despite research and speculation by both amateur and professional etymologists, the origins of the term hip and hep are disputed. Many etymologists believe that the terms hip, hep and hepcat (e.g., jazz musicians’ now cliched “hip cat”) derive from the west African Wolof language word hepicat, which means “one who has his eyes open”.[1] Some etymologists reject this, however, and have even adopted the denigration “to cry Wolof” as a general dismissal or belittlement of etymologies they believe to be based on “superficial similarities” rather than documented attribution.[2]
    An alternative theory traces the word’s origins to those who used opium recreationally in the 19th century. Opium smokers commonly consumed the drug lying on their sides (i.e. their hips). Because opium smoking was a practice of socially-influential trend-setting individuals, the cachet it enjoyed led to the circulation of the term hip by way of a kind of synecdoche.

  30. Victoria -  November 16, 2010 - 2:50 pm

    Hip means to know, it’s a form of intelligence to be hip is to be up-date and relevant
    Hop is a form of movement, you can’t just observe a hop you got to hop up and do it
    Hip and Hop is more than music, hip is the knowledge, hop is the movement
    Hip and Hop is intelligent movement, or relevant movement, we selling the music
    So write this down on your black books and journals, Hip Hop culture is eternal


    Also..I hate to tell you..but..thirty two years ago..we were in the twentieth century..

    I’m not hating, I’m just saying :D

  31. KM -  November 16, 2010 - 10:15 am

    I just had a conversation with a coworker last night on the difference between rap and hip-hop so I was delighted to see this post!! Thanks

    Also, a thank you to Wiggie for that reminder of lyrics from the past:

    It’s like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

    That brings back great memories.

  32. leigh -  November 16, 2010 - 7:37 am

    Very good, Dave, most people don’t know that rip-rap is rock. Actually, it’s very large, irregular rock, used for building dykes, shoring up embankments, used in road construction, etc.

  33. smoothius -  November 16, 2010 - 7:33 am

    hip-hop is crip-crap

  34. KToast -  November 16, 2010 - 5:53 am

    Another example of an Adjective that was originally used in a derogatory manner is “Gothic” which now refers to a well-liked style of architecture. The term, of course, originally was used as a slam by critics initially describing the movement as barbarian, specifically referring to the Visigoths.

  35. Hoodz -  November 15, 2010 - 11:46 pm

    The people thinking that hop comes hopping nature of hip-hop. Just a miscue from the articles article… Not about rappers, it was about “hopping” from one turn-table back to the other. Rest of article is irrelevant, but that “hopping” technique, for the time… was some well “hip” stuff. A new sound so “hip”, that the supportive-role of an emceeing Caribbean-offspring, who hosted and toasting vocals, even decided to “hop” along for the ride… then stole the ride.

  36. PurpleKushY -  November 15, 2010 - 10:20 pm

    Awesome read!

  37. Tyler -  November 15, 2010 - 9:42 pm

    Okay, to all the people pointing out a “glaring error”, read the whole article! It says the word “hip” has been in African American vernacular since the late 19th century. It suggests nowhere that 32 years ago was in the 19th century. I’m pretty sure the only glaring error is in your reading comprehension.

  38. Jason -  November 15, 2010 - 6:18 pm

    Sorry for the last comment uncalled for

  39. Nathan Cockadoodledoo -  November 15, 2010 - 6:18 pm

    wowzers that is mad funny

  40. Jesse Markus -  November 15, 2010 - 6:05 pm

    Uh, 32 years ago is not the 19th century! And OF COURSE the term hip-hop “dates back” to the 20th century, just over ten years ago when the term and the genre were already flourishing. Was this the least bit informative? No! Grossly inaccurate and pointless? Yes! You people are supposed to be verbivores, wordsmiths, language lovers, lexiphiles and academics, and yet I have to read this nearly-illiterate drivel?

  41. Kim -  November 15, 2010 - 2:09 pm

    Enjoyed. thanks

  42. Dave -  November 15, 2010 - 1:56 pm

    Just for the record … rip-rap is a type of gravel. So I guess you could really get “stoned.”

  43. mark v -  November 15, 2010 - 12:28 pm

    Formatting tags dont work, at least they dont for me? im using an old version of IE though.

  44. Saf -  November 15, 2010 - 11:32 am

    Huh. It worked. You’d think I would remember that, since I’ve used it to link Wikipedia articles before. A smart Saf would’ve checked the page source first. >_>

    At least my sacrifice was not in vain.

  45. Saf -  November 15, 2010 - 11:22 am

    “Faith, Hop, and Charity… the greatest of which is Hop.”

    Sorry, my parents were Seventh-Day Advent Hoppists.


    Oh, and @Mark V -
    [B]I’m pretty sure you can actually just use the bold tag.[/B]

  46. mark v -  November 15, 2010 - 10:24 am

    Nowhere did they specify that “Hip” was 32 years old.
    32 years ago, an event happened which involved it.

    adjective, hip·per, hip·pest, noun, verb, hipped, hip·ping. Slang .
    1. familiar with or informed about the latest ideas, styles, developments, etc.: My parents aren’t exactly hip, you know.

    Origin:1900–05; earlier hep; of disputed orig.

    19th century, or very very early 20th.

  47. Mixmaster Mike -  November 15, 2010 - 10:22 am

    Interesting article. And to all who think they’re too cool for recognizing that “9th century” means the 1800′s, if you were actually paying attention the author indicates that ‘hip’ has, “…been a part of the African American vernacular since the late 19th century”. Sorry to disappoint you.
    As for the matter at hand, Flash and the 5 were incredible music pioneers. Thanks to them for providing the foundation for hip-hop.

  48. Ann -  November 15, 2010 - 10:10 am

    19th Century???? From the headline I thought there was going to be some link between hip hop and Beethoven! Surprised, and disappointed with the glaring error in this one.

  49. cb -  November 15, 2010 - 10:09 am

    I agree with the “hip” part… but when I was a girl “hop” was what we called a dance, short for “sock hop”, so called because we were not allowed to dance on the gym floor with shoes.

    I guess if you follow it all through… then hip-hop would have to break down to a “cool-dance”.

    I was not aware that “32 years ago” constituted the 19th century. I believe there was a mistake there, or some information was left out?

  50. prateek -  November 15, 2010 - 9:03 am

    hey!…thatz really intresting!!

  51. Bryant, Joe -  November 15, 2010 - 8:46 am

    I recommended this site to my college aged son. It is a great way to expand your word knowledge. Keep up the good work!!!

  52. Ole TBoy -  November 15, 2010 - 8:14 am

    I feel so “hip” by “hopping on your bandwagon” of information. Keep on “rockin’.”

  53. Brad -  November 15, 2010 - 8:12 am

    everyone Loves BASS! The bump of the song. The thump of a rap.

  54. james -  November 15, 2010 - 7:10 am

    thanks for the info – just to clarify, the “nineteenth century” was the 1800s. the “twentieth century” was what you are actually referring to here – 1970s and 1980s, etc. only off by about 100 years.

  55. Wiggie -  November 15, 2010 - 7:10 am

    It’s like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

  56. BUTTER -  November 15, 2010 - 7:05 am


  57. krysti -  November 15, 2010 - 6:24 am

    this is interesting. thanks for posting :)

  58. Matt -  November 15, 2010 - 6:19 am

    Well thats a fun fact but the ninetenth century would be the 1800s..and u said 32 years ago so..im thinking you meant the 20th century..

  59. AMY-LOU -  November 15, 2010 - 5:39 am

    I just read half of it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hey what about other music like punk,country,christian,emo,and all the other ones. Where did they come from?????????? Please someone let me know thanks!!!!!!!

  60. bree -  November 15, 2010 - 4:58 am

    thats what up! i never knew that i learn something new eur day!!!….

  61. KStil -  November 15, 2010 - 4:43 am

    I’m confused. Thirty-two years ago is not the nineteenth century, it’s the twentieth. Very disappointing.

  62. Paddy Keith-Hardy -  November 15, 2010 - 4:15 am

    Just weird.

  63. Carly -  November 15, 2010 - 4:06 am

    That is really interesting! thank you!

  64. hop the Pacific -  November 15, 2010 - 3:38 am

    And I hip.

  65. Lynda -  November 15, 2010 - 3:10 am

    LOVE how hip hop sometimes is given the respect it deserves. Hip hop is SO very important to music. Had NO idea it would ever be included into the world of dictionary.com. AWESOME!

  66. doesnt matter -  November 15, 2010 - 2:43 am

    “Hop represents the hopping movement exhibited by hip-hop performers”

    Yea, those crazy rappers always hopping across the stage!!!

    No seriously, what an odd thing to say. Unless you’re only experience of hip hop is going to see an amputee rapper’s convention, I have no idea how you came up with this.

  67. Cyberquill -  November 15, 2010 - 2:41 am

    I never quite understood the difference between hip-hop and rip-rap.

  68. athan -  November 15, 2010 - 2:37 am

    That’s the 20th century…19th century is 1801 / 1900

  69. Michael -  November 15, 2010 - 2:14 am

    Nice article,

    But aren’t you conjoining hip hop and rap techniques??

    Are you saying GMF was rapping through scat? If so, then he was rapping, and not ‘hopping’


  70. Michael Dadona -  November 15, 2010 - 2:02 am


    What a good motivational article for me to learn from your share for today. Thirty-two years ago was 1978, and I still remember there were many new genres of music composed by composers across the globe. New wave and punk rock were part from the lists.


    The last sentence at Paragraph three, shown that at the beginning point of time it’s very common not many people can accept any new concept of doing thing.

    The inventor must assiduously keep it moving forward, then later, once positive result speaks itself the community will naturally take position in implementing paradigm shift.

    Same thing happens in today’s life, if we got new idea (Hip – in the know), just do (Hop) it and must never bother for what others say about it. In this case, better be a leader proving good examples as a good example people will follow.

  71. HIPHOP | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  November 15, 2010 - 1:30 am

    [...] HIPHOP FLIP FLOP — “Hippity Hop for the money”. — All Genres change with time and diversity converging. — What’s new is old and old is new and Hep Cat “Cool Hand Luke” emerging. – “What we got hea is failya to commoonicate.”. — It doesn’t matter anymore — Our verbal skills have gone down hills with four letter words forever more. — With ego centric arrogance prejudging the hiphop score. — The one thing we Remember while driving a taxi in could B’More — is JAY Z is one cheap hammer.– Led to the International House of IHOP in B’Less from downtown — a thirteen dollar caravan taking back change for a twenty went down. — What’s a Streotype to do? –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]


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