The Word “Jawn” is on the Verge of Being Added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Source: IMDb

For years, jawn was a word you heard almost exclusively from folks who were from Philly.

That’s about to change.  

READ: “Stan,” How Eminem Defined it, Officially Added to the Oxford Dictionary

On Wednesday, Merriam-Webster‏ sent out a tweet announcing jawn — a word so Philly you might as well put Cheese Whiz on it and stuff it in a hoagie roll — has been added to its “Words We’re Watching” list.

Which means that the word is close to being officially added to the dictionary:

In the article, Merriam-webster compares the word jawn to ’90s NYC stable joint, in the sense that they are both nouns that can refer to a person, place, or thing. In fact,  Merriam-Webster takes things one step further: they say jawn actually spawned from joint:

“This sense of joint quickly spread among hip-hop fans up and down the east coast—including Philly. And this is where the story goes jawn-ward.

William Labov, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania interested in dialects, began making field recordings of Philadelphians back in the 1970s. These recordings eventually turned into an important sociolinguistic corpus—and also help us pinpoint the development of jawn from joint. A recording taken in 1981 of a young black man from West Philly has him using the word joint (which came, again, from New York hip-hop), but in a broader way than even the hip-hop artists used it. According to Taylor Jones, a PhD student who has researched the origins of jawn and worked with Labov’s Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus, the young man used joint to refer to a bag, a place, women, and his own genitalia. These are uses that joint did not have in New York City. Philadelphia’s joint had become its own joint.

But how did joint turn into jawn? It’s likely because of the phonetics of Philadelphia, and possibly because the way that the word joint changed as it moved south. The further north you get, the more /oi/ you tend to hear in joint. In Washington DC, this joint sounds more like jaunt; in Memphis, users report the spelling of this particular joint as junt to match its pronunciation. In Philly, that final -t was dropped, giving the city jawn.”

The article also makes reference to how the word has become trendy after the release of Creed, which featured a beautiful three-minute scene centered around the word.

H/T: NBC Philadelphia

Dimas Sanfiorenzo

Dimas Sanfiorenzo is the Managing Editor for Okayplayer. He specializes in coverage centered around music, pop culture, and politics. Email:

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Dimas Sanfiorenzo

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