present to you a modern online classic, Brohemian Rhapsody from
“College Humor.” An excellent example of sociolinguistic creativity,
this Fraternity changes the words and content of an iconic song,
expertly embodying the current meaning of “Bro” in white University
Brohemian Rhapsody VIdeo
the older generation hears “bro,” they might connect it to “soul
brother” and urban black communities#1. While this may be the origin of
the expression, and a meaning still used in some dialectcs, in white
university circles the word has an almost antithetical meaning. Note the
video was almost exclusively white, and set on a college campus.
cite Urban Dictionary’s first definition of bro#2, as I think it
embodies the definition our Linguistics class discussed and my personal
understanding of the term:
partying males who are often seen at college parties. When they aren’t
making an ass of themselves they usually just stand around holding a red
plastic cup waiting for something exciting to happen so they can scream
something that demonstrates how much they enjoy partying. Nearly
everyone in a fraternity is a bro but there are also many bros who are
not in a fraternity. They often wear a rugby shirt and a baseball cap.
It is not uncommon for them to have spiked hair with frosted tips.
I couldn’t go to sleep last night because some bros at the party next door kept screaming, “Whoooooo!!! YEAAHHHHH! Whooooooo!”
second definition: “A usually white young male, found commonly in
places like san bernardino county in california, as well as orange
So, “bro” embodies personal identification via:
Membership of a group–often Fraternity
observations connect with academic articles we have read and discussed
in class. There are 3 main articles that help shape my analysis.
“Investigating Stylistic Variation” by Natalie Schilling-Estes in the Handbook of Language Variation and Change#3 examines
the use of personal style, defined as stylistic variation of a speaker
within a specific speech community, and how it contributes to
constructing one’s identity within a group. “Bro” provides an avenue of
stylistic variation, allowing members of a community, such as men with a
desire for male companionship and a certain set of values, to
distinguish themselves as belonging.
a Community of Practice, such as a particular social group at Reed
College, Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet might identify “bro”
as a linguistic property available to build the bricologe of personal identity, according to their analysis in New Generalizations and Explanations in language and Gender Research.#4
People create ther identity and through language, and “bro” is a great
way to do it, almost as if you are being welcomed into the family.
Carmen Fought’s study of Chicano English#5, she notes that certain words
can change meaning across dialects of the same larger speech community
(i.e. USA). Her example in the documentary we watched in class was
“foo'” used in Chicano English as an abbreviation of “fool,” but which
has little to do with its Standard English definition. “Bro” is nearly
the same thing; it is presumably an abbreviation for “brother,” but its
working definition denotes nothing about actual siblings. “Foo'” is
characteristic of Chicano English (Fought), but maybe “bro” is
characteristic of another dialect. The one I and most of our linguistics
class find ourselves in.
this use of “bro”? Its appellation is undesirable by many (myself
included), though many men choose this label and lovingly call each
speculative analysis of the proliferation of the word “bro” as a
gender-specific, community-building label is based on the place men
occupy in modern American society. There is large support for women’s
empowerment in a male-dominated world, but what about men’s empowerment
in a world progressively dominated by females? In the educational sphere
especially, with higher rates of female teachers (pre-high school)#6,
higher rates of ADD in males (“four to nine times more likely to be
diagnosed”#7), and higher percentage of female University students#8, what
can males do to find a supportive community?
College is currently 56% female and 44% male#9. Yet Reed has a Women’s
Center, a Feminist Student Union, and a Rude Girl publication, all of
which provide significant support for Reed women. While I in NO WAY
undermine the importance of these and other organization, I wonder if
men need some too. The word “bro” might be their way of finding
solidarity and energetic support.
a recent party, containing about 15 males and 15 females, all the males
took off their shirts. Two women joined in but retained their bras. The
men started jumping up in down, arms around one another’s shoulders,
chanting “USA! USA! USA!.” The women watched and laughed approvingly. It
did not surprise me when the group chant turned to “Bros! Bros! Bros!” I
couldn’t help but silently approve of their gender and community
solidarity; they were celebrating
their sociolinguistic power. If I seek it, why shouldn’t they?
#1 Becker, Class discussion
#2 “bro” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bro
#3 Schilling-Estes, Natalie. 2004.Investigating stylistic variation. In J.K. Chambers, Peter Trudgill, and Natalie Schilling-Estes (eds.) The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Malden: Blackwell. 375 – 401
#4 Eckert, Penelope and Sally McConnell-Ginet. 1999.New generalizations and explanations in language and gender research. Language in Society 28: 185-201.
#5 Fought, Carmen. 1999.A majority sound change in a minority community: /u/-fronting in Chicano English. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3(1): 5-23.
#6 “Profile of Teachers in the US 2005” http://www.ncei.com/POT05PRESSREL3.htm
#7 “Gender Statistics on ADHD Children” http://www.ehow.com/facts_4809763_gender-statistics-adhd-children.html
gaps in college enrollment and degree attainment: an exploratory
#9 “Facts About Reed Brought to you by Institutional Research” http://www.reed.edu/ir/enrollment.html