The Newsleter of the Association of Library & Information Science Students (ALISS)

The Silverfish is published monthly by the students of the Information School at the University of Washington.

The Logo of the University of Washington Information School

About The Silverfish
Current Issue
Editorial Board
Information for Authors

Book seal.

Pimping It Up: Answering Questions for the IPL
By Michael Harkovitch
May 16, 2003

Question: I recently saw the phrase "Favorite things to do" concerning a highschool student. The answer was pimping. Is this a new slang word? What does it mean ? The highschool is predominantly black, if this helps in the search. Thank you for any help in finding an answer.

Ah, the Internet Public Library. Where else can you answer some of the more bizarre, inane, and vexing reference questions ever posed? Despite my considerable reference and library experience, I was not prepared for some of the challenges I met when forced … errrr, I mean granted the extreme honor … to answer IPL questions for LIS 521.

Consider this: Many of the questions posed to IPL appear to be questions that couldn't be answered elsewhere, as evidenced by the field that allows those submitting questions to indicate sources already consulted. Some librarians even post questions -- both "cognito" and incognito -- perhaps out of a genuine need for an answer or, more probable, out of a genuine need to test the skills of someone else. On top of it all, the IPL strongly encourages those of us answering questions to focus on information available for free of charge on the Web. This means no subscriber databases (this violates certain licensing agreements) and no websites that charge for access. Consulting with other people and with print resources are acceptable, but again the focus is on finding online information available for free.

While the questions I answered tended to be fairly straight-forward (for IPL questions, that is), I did answer a couple of questions that required me to make a few phone calls or, in the case of the question above, rely on someone's personal website for an answer.

I could see the hair stand up on the backs of some people's necks as they read that last paragraph, by the way. As information professionals, we're constantly warned to pay close attention to "authority" when consulting sources on the Web. Because anyone can publish anything on the Web, we've found ourselves needing to be more skeptical than usual when searching for, finding, and utilizing information on the Web. And rightly so!

However, some questions just can't be answered by an "official" source. Consider the article that the New York Times printed several years ago, titled "Lexicon of Grunge," about the "official" grunge lingo used throughout the glory years of the Seattle music scene. It was all made up. The Times had called Seattle's Sub Pop Records and talked to the label's publicist, Megan Jasper (herself in a small Seattle band at the time), who -- in her own words -- "simply felt like f*cking with them." This was quite embarrassing for the New York Times, the United States' so-called "newspaper of record."

But it does bring up the interesting concept of "Authority by Community," which guided me throughout my search for an answer to the elusive "pimping" question. Some of my friends and colleagues have told me they would have avoided this question because they were concerned about constructing a response that wouldn't come across as slightly racist. For me, it was this clue ("The highschool is predominantly black, if this helps in the search.") that helped me identify the most appropriate answer. And let's face it… when you're talking about our ever-evolving English language -- especially slang -- who would know better than someone involved in the same type of community as the person who used the phrase? Yes, we all run the risk of finding someone who simply feels like "f*cking with us," but isn't that what slang does to the English language anyway?

At this point, anything I say here would be redundant. My response to the question reproduced at the beginning of this article appears below. The number and diversity of definitions I encountered for "pimping" while researching this question is both fascinating and hilarious! And, as stated in my response, answering this question has certainly given me a greater appreciation for the word and its many uses. How many of these are you guilty of?

Greetings from the Internet Public Library!

Thank you for your question about the meaning of the word, "pimping." This was certainly a fun question to look into, and I found many different definitions of this term, which I will share with you. I suspect the appropriate definition, in the context you described, is the following:

"To be cool. To be flashy and popular with women. Pimp doesn't usually refer to the classic definition of pimp as a manager of prostitutes. In Hip-Hop slang, to say 'you're a pimp' is to pay a guy a complement. A friend of mine overheard a kid say 'Winston Churchill was a pimp,' meaning that Churchill was an awesome personality."

I found this definition on someone's personal website:

The same site also contains a definition for an interesting term called, "Pimp Juice":

"Something or someone everybody wants. If someone says, 'Hey, Pimpjuice, whatcha doing?' they are saying you are important. You're what it's all about. Attributed to Nelly."

Most of the slang dictionaries on the Web did not have this definition, so I decided to use a different approach your question. Often, specific ethnic, cultural, and specialized communities develop their own vocabularies, making these groups of people the most qualified authorities on their own slang. I used this concept, called "Authority by Community," to guide me in my search for an answer. This is why I chose the definition that I found on someone's personal website who belongs to a similar ethnic and cultural community as the young man that you heard use the phrase. This person has compiled quite an extensive slang dictionary, and obviously puts a lot of work into it.

I found this site by conducting searches for "black slang" and "African American slang" on several search engines. I had the best luck with a search engine called WiseNut:

Let me share some of the other definitions I came across over the course of my search. The Urban Dictionary provides two definitions: "To try to kill someone on stage" and "To strongly promote and support a certain thing."

The Medical Student Dictionary defines pimping as: "The act whereby students are quizzed on minutiae and medical trivia during rounds or class (i.e. 'Which 19th Century Prussian scientist discovered?'). This activity is usually reserved for the Attending or residents and fellows with attitude."

The entry in Nooch's College Fantasy Football Dictionary is as follows: "v. 1) To have sexual control over a 'ho' for the purpose of receiving street valuables. 2) When Mike the Shy 'Pimp' gets aroused by reading Jon's E-mails 3) Continuously losing NCFF games." defines pimping as, "Instant messaging more than one person at a time."

The Office of National Drug Control Policy's Street Terms of Drugs and the Drug Trade defines pimp as "Cocaine" and the term, "Pimp your pipe," as "Lending or renting crack pipe or stem."

The Wordsmyth English Dictionary-Thesaurus defines pimping as "Insignificant or trivial."

Finally, no search on the meaning of the word "pimping" would be complete without a look at some "official" dictionary definitions. Merriam-Webster Online defines pimping as: "1. Petty, insignificant; 2. Puny, sickly." offers the most traditional definition: "To serve as a procurer of prostitutes."

I hope this has satisfied your curiosity. It certainly has given me a greater appreciation for the word. Thank you for using the Internet Public Library, and be sure to keep us in mind for your future information needs.

Submissions Requested

Are you interested in sharing your knowledge with the rest of the student body? Have you attended any conferences or taken an interesting or worthwhile class outside of the department? Would you care to review nearby bars for us? Send your Silverfish submissions to

Edited by Michael Harkovitch

Silverfish Web Design by John W.N. Buell