Crying Wolof — The Origin of Hip

Jesse Sheidlower, Slate

John Leland kicks off his entertaining new book, Hip: The History, with a seductive little linguistic anecdote. The word hip, he says, derives from the West African language Wolof, and was “cultivated by slaves” from West Africa. Leland goes on to use the etymology of the word as a framing device for part of his argument: Hip—the word and the concept—”was one of the tools Africans developed to negotiate an alien landscape, and one of the legacies they contributed to it.” Sounds fascinating, right?
There’s just one problem: The etymology is wrong.

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