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The New York Times Debates Usage Of The Word “Illin'”


Hip-Hop slang can still confuse the hell out of the uninitiated. Gawker—not on our list of favorite sites after their recent Kanye West/N-word debacle—reports on the debate between New York Times Crossword editor Will Shortz and a writer over the proper usage of the word “Illin’.”

The answer to “Wack, in hip-hop” in a recent Times crossword puzzle was “ILLIN.” Julieanne Smolinski fired off an e-mail contesting this as an error, adding “Not Even a Hip-Hop Expert” to her message (see here).

Props to Smolinksi for taking the time to even note the confusion and kudos to Shortz for even bothering to reply. However, Shortz ruled that the clue and answer was fine (he even cited Urban Dictionary), which is where we must disagree.

Like all Hip-Hop vernacular, illin’ can have multiple definitions depending on the context. Think: Run rapping “Not bad meaning bad but bad meaning good,” on Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper.” Illin’ has been used various ways in rap music so to hold it to only of those meanings (“wack,” according to the Times puzzle) is presumptuous and wrong.

But during all this back and forth between the writer and the editor, did Shortz ever think to ask a Hip-Hop head?