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Leslie Odom Jr Defines Jawn

Eff that Jawn?

How an ornery Philadelphian came to re-embrace a four-letter word that is seriously overused — with due credit to this season’s Phillies fans

Eff that Jawn?

How an ornery Philadelphian came to re-embrace a four-letter word that is seriously overused — with due credit to this season’s Phillies fans

This week, I was ready to go off, because I have gone off, about the very first-world, hyper-local annoyance of the omnipresence of the word “jawn.” Jawn, as we’ve all over-learned, is a derivation of “joint,” which, of course, New York claims. Whatever. New York made it; Philly made it better. That’s not the problem.

To me, the problem is — or was — that jawn is freaking everywhere. And, as a kid who grew up saying it — correctly, I might add — jawn being everywhere was really starting to get on my nerves. But then, like millions of Phillies fans who witnessed the real-world power of public positive reinforcement this season (We love you Trea!), I realized: I was wrong to default to booing something that every self-respecting Philadelphian should obviously cheer.

Rejecting jawn, no matter that Acme is probably going to start stocking cereal by that name sometime soon, is default provincial and self-sabotaging, not to mention at this point, basic. Instead of hating on jawn, we all gotta embrace it, show it love, own and celebrate it, and maybe even watch it hit home run after home run, make joyous double plays — and commit the occasional infield error. Here’s why.

Jawn use and misuse

To this day, there are plenty of locals who use jawn not just right, but masterfully so. Philly comedian Malik Joe and thousands of North Philadelphians have absolute everyday command over the all-purpose noun. Consider them rhetorical purists. Respect their vocabularic prowess.


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A post shared by Malik Joe (@therealmalikjoe)

Also, it’s only right to re-acknowledge: Jawn, like “joint,” is a Black thing. If you called out cultural, linguistic appropriation every time us Whites used it, you’d be right. So, there’s that.

But there’s also worse. There’s out-of-town, for-profit, White businessman misappropriation.

You bet I’m talking about the much-criticized heresy of one John Morgan, a Lindsey Graham-looking, south-of-the-Mason-Dixon law firm owner who has replaced his first name with “Jawn” on ads all over the region. Blasphemy via billboard. Naturally, someone started a petition to get it taken down. Please sign it.

Sidebar: Just as bad, especially during Red October: Morgan posing as a Phillies closer in advertisements. This isn’t just heresy — it’s outright deception. The 47 bus goes by, you glimpse a Phillies cap and “CLOSER,” and your brain automatically envisions that you’re about to get all warm and fuzzy thinking of Kerkering’s dad, or feel the surge of adrenaline that is the Kimbrel strut, or wonder once more how you can get Alvarado to make you a necklace.

But there’s that lawyer again, one decidedly non-Philadelphian whom real Philadelphians cannot escape. Grr.

That jawn

For a while, however, what annoyed me most were all the jawns in-between Malik and Morgan. Neither perfection nor sacrilege, these jawns crop up on bajillions of t-shirts, home accessories on Etsy, and in the names of both a fancy ice cream shop on East Passyunk Avenue and a Manayunk pizzeria.

The four-lettered word replaces the letters of the LOVE sculpture on earrings. It appears in the Wawa logo — emblazoned on a sweatshirt I gifted my teenage nephew in South Carolina, because I felt like he lives far enough away for that to be OK, and possibly cool. (WTF do I know?) Jawnaments for your Christmas tree. Personalized clothing — shirts that identify you as a “lawyer jawn” or “therapist jawn” or “Eagles jawn.” You know more examples. Like beers.

Google reveals 7 million results for jawn. But that doesn’t necessarily mean my knee-jerk word aversion was on point. In fact, it’s left me wondering why I started to hate on something distinctly local just when everyone embraces it. Why I gotta be a contrarian? The world — and Merriam Webster — finally recognize something from Philly as legit, and suddenly, to me (and others), it’s not legit anymore?

Jump for jawn

Listen: If thousands of fans at the Bank can suddenly turn their frowns upside down, their boos into applause, their frustration into love, surely, I can do the same for the semantic equivalent of the cheesesteak. It’s not complicated — and way emotionally easier than you think. Instead of sneering, smile. Instead of rolling your eyes, pat yourself on the back. Takes the same amount of energy, my mom used to say. And, even after two late-night Phils games and a loss to the Jets, Philly has the energy.

Plus, when it comes to jawn and baby-faced shortstops who earn $27,270,000 per year, it’s not just acceptable to jump on the bandwagon — it’s actually rewarding.

Listen. Jawn is silly. Sports, for as much as they mean to us in all of the ways, are also silly. We Phils fans are paying $400 for a seat among a crowd of ear-splittingly loud, goofy, overalls-wearing strangers in the hopes of glimpsing a less-than-3-inch leather orb fly off a wooden stick through the night sky into a mass of arms-outstretched humanity.

Obviously, it’s not about the orb, or the stick, the field, or even the dudes wielding them, although we do love them, one and all.

It’s about togetherness. Unity. In this case, going along with the crowd is about being part of something bigger and better than you are — something communal that feels good, because it is good. As Philadelphians, we might not come by this feeling naturally. But we should. We should do it more. Not just for sports, but everywhere.

When unity works, when you’re one of 45,396 maniacs collectively belting out “A-Oh, A-Oh K” at 10pm on a school night, it’s kind of magic. Chills-producing. Validating. In other words, it’s the jawn.


Still from the 2022 playoffs

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