Jawn – it’s the new ‘Yo’

Jawn – it’s the new ‘Yo’
Taylor Jones

Call it “jawn’s” big moment.

Or, if you’re more comfortable with Philly slang, “jawn’s” jawn.

Creed, the newest installment of the Rocky franchise, gives this particular piece of Philly slang a big shout out, possibly doing for it what the original did for “Yo.”

“Creed might be the movie that introduces jawn to the rest of America,” said Taylor Jones, a linguistics graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania who uses social media to study how words, and slang, change.

In the film, “Jawn” is introduced by actress Tessa Thompson, who plays the Philly-born female love interest opposite Michael B. Jordan, who plays the film’s title character, Adonis Creed.

She drops the j-word, while ordering a cheesesteak —“put some peppers on that jawn.”

It sparks Jordan to ask what it means.

In Philadelphia, jawn is a noun. It could mean anything. Boys, girls and objects —all are jawns.

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Jones, has created a map of who uses the word jawn on social media, and he said that it’s a word that is very specific to Philadelphia. It pops up occasionally in other states, but those, he said are almost always Philly transplants.

Josef Fruehwald, a lecturer in sociolinguistics at the University of Edinburgh who has studied Philadelphia speech patterns, said the exact origins of “jawn” are murky, but that it is probably related to the word “joint” in New York City and the word “jont” in Washington D.C. They all basically mean the same thing.

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And while it’s origins are traced to early hip-hop usage, the New York City rap group the Funky 4 + 1 had a single “That’s the Joint” in 1980, it has become fairly mainstream in Philadelphia.

“Most people in Philly say ‘yo,’ but it’s usually identified as being part of the Italian-American heritage of the city, helped along by Rocky, obviously,” Fruehwald said. “A lot of people in Philly also say ‘jawn,’ but it’s usually identified with the African American heritage of the city, now being helped along by Creed.”

Visit Philly, the organization that markets tourism in Philadelphia, famously ran billboards with the phrase, “There’s no jawn like home,” as part of its Phillyosophy campaign in 2014.

And an initiative of the Philadelphia Free Library to get kids interested in hands-on design, engineering and art is called “MakerJawn.”

The word “yo” was perhaps popularized by Rocky in the 1976 film — “Yo, Adrian” is probably one of Stallone’s most famous lines in the film.

“Yo” was enshrined in the American Heritage Dictionary in 1992, said Meryl Levitz, Visit Philly’s President and CEO, after a campaign by locals.

She thinks “jawn” has the same staying power.

“I’ve heard ‘jawn’ from a variety of people. All races, all ages,” Levitz said. “I think it has a future.”