‘Shading someone’ isn’t talking smack, yeah who would’ve thought? Upon delving into the neo-definition and short evolution of the slang term ‘shade’, and what it now means when you ‘shade’ someone, I’ve discovered a colourful history and the surprisingly complex nature of a term I had originally associated with basic smack talk.
The term ‘shade’ is thought to originate from Paris is Burning, a 1990 documentary on Harlem drag balls, when renowned drag queen Dorian Corey explains what ‘shade’ and ‘throwing shade’ is:
“Shade is, ‘I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly.’ And that’s shade.”
In fact it would appear that ‘throwing shade’ dates back to as early as 1925:
“Most often associated with Black English, but it is also said to be used among gay and cross-dressing performers and club-goers. Etymological Note: Probably related to shade, v., which means “to defeat, to outdo” and dates to at least as early as 1925 and also to the far more common put in/throw in the shade with the same meaning.”
Shade, in the context of popular culture, is an intricate weaving of language and subtle, passive aggressive, innuendo. It’s rather a show of wit and mental prowess. Now picking up on it and responding in the appropriate manner takes just as much wit, as shown here by Mariah Carey.
In usurping Nicki Minaj’s attempt to shade Mariah Carey, note Nicki’s use of the past tense ‘was’ when referring to how great a song ‘All I Want For Christmas’, Mariah’s response is a good example of counter-shading. She does not outright say that Nicki’s music isn’t on par with her own but rather, by highlighting the far reaching success of her own music and its continued popularity well over a decade later, she subtly insinuates the brevity of Nicki’s success.
It takes intelligence and quick wit to expertly ‘throw shade’. If you have any of your own examples of ‘throwing shade’, please be sure to hit that comment button.