The Grammy Awards were on CBS last night, but in Philadelphia the real prize was what was on the local news afterward. The station promoted it throughout the evening: As part of Nicole Brewer‘s new Good Question series, she explored the existential question that’s been bothering all Philadelphians for centuries: “What is jawn?”
The report went on pretty early in the broadcast, which started late because the Grammys went over. The news opened with weather (naturally), then reported on the LSD busts at Villanova and the norovirus outbreak at Ursinus. After a Grammys recap, Brewer’s report on jawn was next.
CBS 3 hasn’t put the segment online, but here’s a short recap: Brewer went out on the streets to ask Philadelphians what “jawn” means. As we all know, it’s most likely a corruption of “joint” and can basically mean any object, person or place. Brewer talks to a Penn linguistics Ph.D candidate who explains that the move from “jawn” to mean a cool thing (as in “That’s the Joint”) to mean anything is called semantic bleaching. Neat!
Also, Brewer discussed the idea of a “side jawn.” Yes, this is someone you sleep with who isn’t your primary partner.
While jawn can mean anything, it can still be used incorrectly — or at least in a way that sounds ridiculous. When Brewer asks Philadelphians to use the word in a sentence, the two white dudes she interviews come up with “it’s raining like a jawn outside” and “my pockets are full of jawn.” Fortunately, the black woman she interviews gives a proper usage of it in a sentence: “Did you see that jawn right there?” We knew it.
CBS 3 shook up its newsroom over the summer. People like Chris May, Kathy Orr and Beasley Reece all departed in one day, while longtime staffers like Carol Erickson and Pat Ciarrocchi left the station. The station appears to be trying to get younger and hipper in an attempt to reach more viewers. The “Good Question” segment, which Brewer began doing in late January, is one of those segments. It seems to have worked a little, if online chatter is any indication.
Despite reports to the contrary, “jawn” is not dead despite its extended appearance in Creed last year. I base this on anecdotal evidence, but it’s pretty strong: All of my girlfriend’s students at a middle school in Chester use it frequently.
People are trying, but that jawn can’t be killed.
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