The Grammarphobia Blog

A usage to hate on?

Q: An MSNBC host used “hate on” the other day. My teen-age son and daughter use it too. This seems to be a recent thing—a clunky product of social media, I think. Is it grammatically sound?

A: You ask whether the verbal phrase “hate on” is grammatically sound. A better question might be whether it’s standard English.

The editors at the few standard dictionaries that include “hate on” disagree on how standard the phrase is.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) describes the usage as “slang,” which it defines as “coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms.”

The online Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries describe the usage as “informal,” which they define as conversational or relaxed language. Neither one suggests that it’s nonstandard.

There isn’t much written evidence for “hate on” before the late 1990s, though contributors to discussion groups say they recall hearing it in the early ’90s in black English.

The phrase began cropping up in the late ’90s in hip-hop lyrics. The 1999 single “Hate Me Now,” recorded by the rapper Nas, has the lines “Hate on me … but I’m still the same ol’ G.”

Some academics have taken note, suggesting that the usage may involve complaining publicly rather than stewing in silence, and that it may include an element of jealousy.

Todd Boyd, a professor at the University of Southern California, discusses “hate on” in his book The New H.N.I.C.: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop (2003).

“In hip hop, verbs often function in a very active way,” Boyd writes. “To ‘hate’ on someone is to use the expressive powers of negativity to cast an aspersion on those who are visibly successful.”

The form “hate on,” Boyd suggests, “becomes more than simply an attitude or silently held feeling of contempt. It is the active usage of that word. It is now common to hear people talk about someone hatin’ on them.”

The anthropologist Marcyliena Morgan, in her book Language, Discourse and Power in African American Culture (2002), says that in black English the phrasal verb “hate on” carries an element of envy, “as in Don’t be hatin’ on my hair.”

More than a decade later, the usage is no longer limited to what linguists often refer to as African American Vernacular English, and has apparently become a general slang term among younger Americans.

Keep in mind, too, that English has always made liberal use of prepositions and adverbs to form new versions of old verbs.

This is how the 17th-century phrase for changing one’s habits, “turne the leafe,” eventually became “turn over a new leaf.” (The “leaf” here, by the way, means a page in a book, not a tree leaf.)

Getting back to “hate on,” here are two examples of the usage from the standard dictionaries that discuss it.

Cambridge: “These kids get hated on for no good reason at all.”

Oxford: “I can’t hate on them for trying something new.”

The expression reminds us of “brag on,” which we wrote about on the blog last March and which means to praise or boast about.

While the verbal phrase “hate on” is fairly recent, a similar usage in which “hate” is a noun existed in the 1940s—to “have (or take) a hate on” someone. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang defines it as “to dislike intensely; hate.”

The slang dictionary’s earliest sighting is from the Jan. 22, 1949, issue of the Saturday Evening Post: “The brightest boy in the class cannot get by forever if everyone takes a hate on him.”

However, the Oxford English Dictionary has an example from earlier in the ’40s of a similar usage in Australian slang: to “have a hate against” someone or something.

The OED cites this entry from A Popular Dictionary of Australian Slang (1941), by Sidney John Baker: “Have a hate against, actively to dislike a person or thing.”

Random House’s latest citation for the usage is from a 1992 episode of the television crime drama Likely Suspects: “He had a hate on for Breen.”

But the expression “to have a hate on” is still with us today. This headline ran on the BloombergBusiness website in 2014: “Does Bill Ackman Have a ‘Hate-On’ for Allergan?”

And here’s an example from the June 22, 2015, issue of the Toronto Star: “Twenty per cent of Canadians are peeved by tailgaters while 19 per cent have a hate on for those who drive too slowly.”

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