General Question

Kayak8's avatar

What is the origin of Northern Blacks (USA) using the word "stay" in place of the word "live"?

Asked by Kayak8 (16407 points ) December 15th, 2010

I have noticed that white folks will say “I live in x neighborhood,” whereas I hear Black folks saying, “I stay in x neighborhood.” The first time I heard it, I thought the individual was referencing a temporary living arrangement, but now I have heard this from a number of other people and gather that “stay” replaces “live” in the sentence. I have even noticed if the question is posed, “Where do you live?” the response might be “Oh, I stay in x neighborhood.”

As I said above, I thought it may have been a reference to a temporary living arrangement, but I have also heard it from people who have lived in the same house for 20 years.

This may also be seen elsewhere, but I have only noticed it among Northern Blacks in the US over the past 5–10 years. What is the origin of this expression? Do people hear this in other regions of the US/English-speaking world?

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54 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

It’s just a difference in the way people speak, like pop vs. soda, in line vs. on line etc.

Kayak8's avatar

@Blackberry I get that, I am more interested in the etymology of the expression.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Kayak8's avatar

@Blackberry Where have you hear stay used vs. live?

boxer3's avatar

I use both, Im white.
I don’t really think about it
in regards to using one over the other,
however I’m no help with the origin
sorry :[

Blackberry's avatar

@Kayak8 I think I used to use the word ‘stay’ as well, because my family and friends used it, although I say ‘live’ now. I never paid attention to where I heard it, though.

kess's avatar

You would find it in the Caribbean, keeping in mind that the caribbean and afro American all have one heritage and their culture are closely intertwined.

Also in the Caribbean you would find many variation in the English, from village to village and Island to Island.

kess's avatar

@Kayak, I guess you are not a real Kayak (Carriacounian) caused you would have already known that.

tapestryofregret's avatar

I don’t see why it’s necessary to distinguish between ethnics….the question is just as easy to understand if it were asked without the distinction.

I think you may want to ask yourself why it is important for you point out these differences.

The_Idler's avatar

@tapestryofregret
“I don’t see why it’s necessary to distinguish between ethnics”

Because different ethnicities have associated variations in language, which are often tied to the unique history of that particular ethnic group.

I am not particularly familiar with the area, so perhaps in this case it has nothing to do with ethnicity, but it seems you were criticizing the question, for having anything to do with ethnicity at all. “you may want to ask yourself…”

Now I know that, in America, lots of people tend to equate “talking about the peculiarities of our ethnicities, with regards to their origins” as “RACIST”, but the same can’t be said about the whole fucking rest of the world, where we’re all just cracking jokes or asking each other idle questions about our funny little differences.

Yeah, that’s right, ethnic background is not a taboo subject for most people!!

I don’t know about you, but I think it’d be pretty boring if everyone was exactly the same, considering my hobby is collecting these curious little differences.

“I think you may want to ask yourself why it is important for you point out these differences.”
I know why, because I have a deep fascination with the beautifully varied and exquisitely interwoven tapestry that is human culture… Don’t you?

I know you had good intentions, but seriously, the question wasn’t
“Why does dem dere niggers don’t speak proper, like us all whites do?”
And if you think that that^ is what the question-asker had in mind (as implied by your comment), I think you are being presumptuously judgemental

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
JLeslie's avatar

Southern blacks say it also. I have brought this up on other Q’s. White people who lean a little racist say behind closed doors that blacks use stay, because blacks have no permanence where they live. I realize that they are simply using stay synonomous with live, but I want to clue the black people in that they should probably not use the term. I know I know black people push back that they should not have to conform to white expectations, but in the end it is not a black white issue in my mind, it is a class issue.

JLeslie's avatar

By the way I just googled the definition and looked at the online thesauraus, and live is not listed as a synonym or definition for stay from what I can tell. Only as a brief sleepover or visit, in terms of a place you might put your head down at night. So even Webster and other online dictionaries are not accepting the definition…yet. I looked it up hoping there might be a clue to the history of the term being used that way, but obviously did not come up with anything looking at dictionaries, because the dictionary does not acknowledge it as a definition.

Trillian's avatar

While I was in the military I knew people from lots of different races and places. Using the word “stay” in place of “live” was something that I noticed within the black community. I never heard any white, hispanic or non hispanic,asian or pacific islander using that word in that context, only black sailors.
I always found it interesting to note the regional, ethnic and racial differences in dialect, slang and pronounciation as well as syntax. In Gulfport MS, for instance, a lot of the black sailiors from the south would say “Yee-uh” instead of “yeah”. I know that I heard it on a popular song at that time and felt that it was an adopted or affected term. Most people from that area, regardless of color, said many words with the same inflection, like “Nawlins” or “Nollins” instead of New Orleans. Gulf Port was “guff pote”. Gautier and Saucier were “Gosha” and “sosha” or “Gosahy and soshay”.
People of differing backgrounds use speech as part of an identification system. To pretend not to notice that there are differences is ludicrous, and to expect others not to notice, or to imply that noticing is tantamount to racism is beyond ludicrous and into the realm of the Emperors New Clothes. What an absurd idea.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
tapestryofregret's avatar

@The_Idler The fact remains that segregation is a very real part of our society, whether it serves as a detriment or not does not defeat my desire to ask people to at least attempt to rethink the way they organize information in their minds. IF the question had been asked “Why do some people say ‘stay’ instead of ‘live’?” well then to be honest I really wouldnt have anything to add to the conversation, because I don’t know fuck all about the origins of slang and how they work their way in to speech. What I have sought to do is have the reader take an introspective look at the surface details of their speech and to ask themselves why it came out like that, perhaps offering them a unique perspective of the way they are perceived.

JLeslie's avatar

@tapestryofregret Just to interfere in your conversation with @The_Idler if someone had posed the question the way you prefer, I would have brout up hat I have talked abut this very thing regarding blacks where I live now. It would have quickly moved towards race, because they are the one promariky who use the term in my experience, so why ignore the elephant in the room. Not being ale to speak directly with each other, worrying about PC, people being easily offended inhibits our abiities to talk to each other and validate or dispell myths. I get yur point, I like your ideal, but I think you want to dump the science of sociology altogether, and that is not realistic in American society. It is way more complicated than black, white Hispanic, Asian, as I said above I think social class is one of the biggest factors, then add in region of the country, allthese things add up to the psychographics and demographics of a group, including dialect, accent, etc.

The_Idler's avatar

It’s not something I’ve heard from any British-born Africans, so I reckon it’s mostly tied to the socio-economic background that many New-World Africans share. I would say you’d find some Euro-Americans from a similar socio-economic background that would do the same.

Now I know that, in the USA, socio-economic inequality correlates so well with race* it looks like unofficial apartheid to the rest of the world, but I reckon that is all the more reason that you’d find Euros using similar language, because New-World Black culture is the dominant force in the socio-economic groups in question.
*(not compared to pre-civil-rights-USA, but yes compared to the rest of the developed world)

@tapestryofregret Yeah, I know what you wanted to do: shrink heads.
For a noble ideal, yes, but you came here, added nothing to the discussion of a perfectly legitimate question, and bluntly implied that the question-asker may be exhibiting the second most hated character flaw of our day after paedophilia.

Maybe if you’d mentioned, like @JLeslie, that some people, of a certain persuasion, might cruelly stereotype Africans, by suggesting such language use is due to some imagined general impermanence of their residences, and then refuted this idea, you’d have achieved the same goal of making anyone with that idea in their minds question their prejudices, without offending any of the many innocently inquisitive participants, and without poo-pooing the entire discussion.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I have never noticed this. Maybe there is more than just a Northern/Southern regional difference. I live in CT and I haven’t really heard anyone say this unless they are actually staying some place temporarily. Then again, that may be more of an affectation of college students than anything else. We tend to ask things like “Where are you from?” or “Where’s home?” instead of “Where do you live?”

@tapestryofregret: There is nothing wrong or racist about asking about something that seems to be unique to a specific group of people. Would you cry racism if the question was about Americans of English descent? Or Italian descent? Or Irish descent?

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
JLeslie's avatar

@KatawaGrey I never heard it having lived in NY, MI, and FL, not until I moved to Memphis did I hear it regularly.

tapestryofregret's avatar

@The_Idler Added nothing to the discussion? Excuse me, but if someone had a real answer to this question, the discussion would be over real quick. But here we are, breathing fire at each other. You’ve clearly put more effort in the comments you’ve made towards me than any other aspect of this “discussion.” So really i’ve enabled you to do what you apparently do best. And I thank you for it, you’re a very well articulated person I can honestly say I enjoyed reading your analysis.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe it did grow out of the idea that black people were bought and sold as slaves, they did not own their property, and so they stayed at a location until their owners decided to sell them to the next guy.

tapestryofregret's avatar

@JLeslie I have heard the expression before, I’ve heard white people say it, I’ve heard black people say it. I honestly don’t keep a running tally of who says it more so it’s difficult for me to understand where you’re coming from with this information. How do you instantly know that more black people say it than white people? I don’t have the ability to recollect the every instance in which I have heard a person say this and to take that a step further, distinguish what color that person was, add it all up and come up with a legitimate figure.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@tapestryofregret: Whoa there, cowboy. All you had to say was, “I have not noticed this. Maybe this is why,” much like I did. Nobody’s racist and nobody’s breathing fire, except for you. Just take it down a few notches.

JLeslie's avatar

@tapestryofregret I guess because the first time I ever heard it a black person said it, and I was not sure what they were talking about, so I had to think about the question. A few years ago, and this is the example I have written before on fluther, I was at a party and a black woman told a white woman she stayed near her and could drop off some food she wanted her to try. The white woman clearly had no idea what the sentence meant. The black woman reworded and they understood each other.

I notice these things. I notice that people who are ESL Spanish speaking have a lot of trouble using the past tense that requires did (I don’t know the correct name of that tense) like I did went, or I did said, is a very common mistake, understandable, because they are thinking they need to conjugate the word to the past tense. Someone pointed out to me I organize my sentences like Jewish people, or maybe it is a Northeast thing, the person who said it to me was not sure, what the prevailing factor was. Black people also say other things that are like tells that I cannot think of right now. Even Oprah has said, “English is your friend,” on her show, and it is said in a context of knowing she is speaking to black people, and everybody.

But, again, I think it has to do more with social class than race, it just happens that unfortunately many of our poor are black, and so statistics and generalizations about the poor many times are true in the black community also.

Listen if I am talking to someone who “sounds” black 9 times out of 10 they probably are black. If I am talking to someone who I have no idea what race they are, then it is exactly that, I have no idea. They could be black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Italian, Irish, Pakestani, no idea. If they say yoos guys, probably Italian from PA, Jersey, or Brooklyn. If they use hun, short for honey, probably Jersey or Staten Island. If they say y’all, southern. If they say pop, midwest. If they say bubbler, Wisconsin, if they say come with, leaving off the me, likely Chicago.

tapestryofregret's avatar

@katawagrey Yes I could have easily just said that. But it wouldn’t have been what I wanted to say. Even with hindsight, I would not change my response, because what I have gotten out of this discussion as of right now is so much more than what I expected. So no, I will not take it down a few notches just to suit your interests, sorry.

JLeslie's avatar

@tapestryofregret Here is my question for you: let’s just say it is prevalent within the black vernacular, prevalent in a certain part of the subculture to use stay. Why is that offensive? I find it funny, and familiar, when my parents, or anyone, says typically NY or Jewish expressions.

And, just to be clear again, I grew up in a very diverse middle class area. Many black friends, none of them used stay instead of live, and none of them sound any different than me. I am not saying all black people speak a certain way, not at all.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@tapestryofregret: It’s not about suiting my interests. It’s about trying to keep the conversation civil. Calling people racist is going cause a fair amount of friction. It was an unnecessary thing to say. Also, you never answered my question. Would you have cried racism if the question was about Americans of English, Italian, Irish or some other European descent?

JLeslie's avatar

@tapestryofregret I am curious to know where you live?

@KatawaGrey I am interested in @tapestryofregret answer to your question also, but I can tell you generally, here in the midsouth, people do not generalize about anyone, any nationality, in public, or mixed company. It is oddly quiet here on such topics. No sense of humor about it, everyone fearful of offending, or being accused of being a racist, holding prejudices, or discriminating I guess. I went to see Ray Romano and the guy who played his brother (his name escapes me) to see their stand up acts in Tunica, MS and when the actor who was the brother was on, a southern women stood up and asked, “why do you have to be so mean?” he was making fun of Jews, NYers, and people in his family. I found that so interesting.

tapestryofregret's avatar

@JLeslie I don’t view prejudice as offensive.. in my opinion it is more of a curious phenomena than anything…given that it is so historically prevalent. Think about it, why do we feel the need to make these distinctions when we ask these questions? Is it a subconscious act of objectifying some sort of insecurity? Why is this person going around wondering these things?
Indeed it is very curious to me. I had honestly hoped the OP would examine what he has said and offered a real answer to the question I asked. Regardless of what ever obscure context you feel the need to assign to everything I say.

@KatawaGrey I never said anyone is racist. Perhaps prejudice in the way they organize information in their minds, but that is a far cry from racism. You say it’s unnecessary yet here we are passing the time debating with each other….why should there be a necessary format for wasting time? And I didn’t answer your question because I never cried racism, so stop putting words in my mouth,

tapestryofregret's avatar

@JLeslie I have lived many places, working as a field service engineer and growing up. Born in Texas, spent grades k-4 in Louisiana, 4–12 in Southern California (oh how I miss it), a couple years in Southern Mississippi, a couple years in Chicago, a couple years in Connecticut, a couple years in Central Florida, a couple years in Detroit, only to return to MS for a year and now here I am in Cleveland.

JLeslie's avatar

@tapestryofregret I agree it is a prejudice, not to be confused with racism. I would love for the US to stop categorizing people into black, white, Hispanic, for everyone to stop thinking in those terms, but it is how our country has always been. We do it with pride most of the time, an attachment to our own personal history. I am Italian, I am Jewish, I am Polish, etc. There are some very distinct recognizable cultural difference within each group. What I always say, is even if I hold some assumptions, or even statistical facts about a group, it never comes into play when I meet an individual. I meet them and get to know them as an indivual. If they live up to a stereotype, not my fault.

Now, I do admit that this word stay in question, is seen as a poor choice, poor use of the English language. I use got sometimes, and I here my grandmother in my mind telling me never to use the word got.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@tapestryofregret: Okay then… Would you have had your original reaction if the question was about Americans of European descent?

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This conversation has gotten rather far away from its intent. Let’s get back on track, please, and take this debate to an appropriate thread. Thanks!

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
JLeslie's avatar

@tapestryofregret Ok, so you have lived many places. You don’t have any generalizations about each place? About how people speak? Nothing related to where they are from, or where their families are from? Was it you who said you have heard white people use stay? Were they part of the upper class? I feel confident no one on 5th avenue is using that term. And, nobody is writing it for a professor’s writing assignment at Yale, unless the assignment is a passage quoting someone from the parts of the country and social classes that use it. It simply is not great English, not for formal writing. We all use slang and are sloppy when speaking, well most of us are, I just like to know people know what is correct.

The same way my husband uses Spanish in his parent’s home and English while at work or with American friends, is the same way people can use whatever dialect, and slang among family and friends, but I want them to be able to switch to a more proper use of the English language when needed. That is what I fear, that people insist the way they speak is correct, instead of learning what is really correct. What would be required in school, or in business. Puts people at a disadvantage to not be corrected, to not know what is expected. Since stay is defined as a temporary place to spend the night, using it synonomously with live is not going to be understood by many people.

My husband recently had to create a list of expressions that cannot be used by the 800 number people who answer the phones at his business, because they are using southern sayings like “fixin’ to” and people from other states either don’t know what the hell the operator is talking about, or think they are speaking with people who are less competent.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
tapestryofregret's avatar

Well since I’ve spent such enormous amount of effort posting comments on this disscussion I guess I should give it a legitimate answer before I leave (I need closure.)

Answer: What’s happened has happened, as with much of human behavior it’s completely unexplainable. Specifically why certain people do certain things as opposed the way other people do certain things will continue to elude us for the term of our natural existences, it’s one of the joys of life….the mystery behind our thoughts, actions and intents and the infinite disposal of thought therein. Intentionality my friend, we’re all about that.

Kayak8's avatar

As the asking party of this question I would like to share what was in my mind and how I think since that seems to have become the topic of concern. I am interested in cultural anthropology and folklore (particularly as it relates to public health). If you ask questions but are not allowed to identify the circumstances under which an observation was made, you will not get very far if you are trying to learn more about a culture or cultural influences. It is precisely as one learns more about a culture that one is able to adjust one’s own attitude.

I asked a sincere question and provided a factual observation. This is not uncommon in my field (e.g., this). It is a very real fact that certain populations are more adversely impacted by some health conditions and diseases than others. When studying health disparities between and among members of a group (as one does in public health) it is generally considered more effective to identify the group of interest.

As there are culturally-influenced impacts on diet, health-seeking behaviors, and idioms, it is helpful to learn as much as possible about the culture of the targeted population. I work in HIV/AIDS and am trying to learn how to bring more people of color into care (particularly African Americans who are disproportionately impacted by this disease). I am working to identify barriers to care, to assess why some folks wait longer to get into care, and to assess what cultural beliefs impact people taking their medications consistently.

I have African American members on my team and I think it is racist to assume that it is their responsibility to educate me about their communities (and there are many). I do rely on their expertise in the field, but I am also acutely aware that to be on my team you have to have a college degree and this alone separates some members of my team from the communities of interest. I try to use every possible resource I can to educate myself in ways that will help me (and my team) to positively impact the health status of our targeted populations.

Much of human behavior can be explained if one studies it and asks questions. In public health we look at the influences of knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and their impacts on behaviors. We often assess knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs through use of language. In part, this can help us discern why a particular intervention may work for one group and fail completely with a different group. We certainly can allow the” mystery behind thoughts, actions, etc to elude us” but in my world, this comes at the very real cost—people’s lives. This is why it is important to me to point out these differences.

Trillian's avatar

@Kayak8 One person being deliberately obtuse and looking for something to be offended about is nothing for you to lose sleep over. We all know how your question was meant. But thanksfor the additional background, it’s interesting! I do some BRFSS data collection myself, and I’m looking forward to doing the next step in the process of analysis, or maybe backing it up a bit and phrasing the questions better.

tapestryofregret's avatar

It is not possible to explain the why behind human behavior..at least not at our current technological capacity. It is only possible to make correlations. As far as I’m concerned the correlation “Black people tend to say the word ‘stay’ en lieu of ‘live’ ” cannot be expanded very much further, other than specific circumstance. You might feel compelled to trace the origins of the slang word back all the way to the first person who used it, but that will only explain the motivation of that individual, from the point on as it passes from person to person it becomes exponentially harder to explain anything other than who is doing it, where they’re doing, when they’re doing. The why will always elude you, sadly.

flutherother's avatar

In Scotland ‘where do you stay’ and ‘where do you live’ are interchangeable. In rural areas people may say ‘where do you bide?’ and everyone will know what is meant. A bidie-in is a live in lover.

Kayak8's avatar

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Lyte wrote this as he was dying of tuberculosis (it all comes back to public health for me)!

JLeslie's avatar

@Kayak8 I have a friend who volunteers to educate people in prison where I live, and the vast majority of the population in the prison is African American. He says the legacy of Tuskegee lives on in that community and they have a big problem with trusting white people, especially those in lab coats. They seem to lean towards relying on the rumors and misinformation they have been told about HIV rather than trust people from outside of their community. Don’t get me wrong, I think most ethnic groups do some of this, a reluctance to change what they have always believed to be true. Lack of education is the biggest factor in my opinion, and the pull of our families and subculture to stay where we are, rather than move forward and away from what we are familiar with. Understandable. The unknown is scary.

Kayak8's avatar

@JLeslie I have worked in HIV since about the beginning of the epidemic and it appeared that the collective cultural memory of Tuskegee had just about died out until the movie “Miss Ever’s Boys” brought it back into the contemporary vernacular. No one ever even mentioned Tuskegee as a concern in HIV world until the movie put the experience back on the front burner. You are quite right that this is a current concern—but understand that Black physicians were also co-opted in the Tuskegee experiment so the lack of trust runs deep (and is inclusive of the Black medical establishment).

There are other examples of beliefs held in certain communities that sound a great deal like urban legends (there was one in which it was believed that there was an ingredient being put into KFC to reduce male fertility, for example). There is also the notion that HIV was deliberately introduced into the African American community (among others).

This is exactly why cultural anthropology is so important to developing interventions.

JLeslie's avatar

@Kayak8 Oy. Why did they have to go and make that movie? As you point out there were black doctors who participated, so it is back to the class divide I think.

The big question for me is, if we tell black people, and whoever else, that the correct word is live, that the word stay is incorrect usage of the word, do they care about using the correct word, or do they push to have their new use of the word accepted?

Kayak8's avatar

@JLeslie I have no idea. I am not trying to change what people do, just understand what they do.

JLeslie's avatar

@Kayak8 I think black people themselves may not know why they use stay, it is simply what they have always used. Like the people in Michigan, wher I went to school who use the expression “jew it down” as in bargain, and don’t realize jew, like Jewish people and the stereotype they are cheap. Totally clueless. That actually is in some dictionaries. Oy.

My guess is still that it might tie back to the slave days. I was recently at The Cotton Museum in Memphis and learned all of this stuff I had never known about slavery. I’ve been to the civil rights museum, learned about slavery in school, but had never known these tidbits. Like, when the plantation owners considered whether to bring over endentured servants from Europe or black slaves from Africa, they decided black slaves were better, because if someone saw them alone, or walking out of the community, they would be easily spotted as someone’s property. And, that black slaves purposely behaved stupid, learning it was better to not appear challenging towards their masters. So, the idea that black people are less intelligent might have grown from black people purposefully wanting to be thought of as less intelligent. I found all of that fascinating. Also, disgusting that it is part of our country’s history. But, I digress.

Cupcake's avatar

I have noticed this a lot among urban african-americans in upstate NY. Perhaps related, many low-income people of color tend to move frequently.

I searched google about the history/epistomology of stay and couldn’t find anything related. If you search urbandictionary.com for stay, you will find a definition that includes where one lives.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cupcake I did not think to check the urban dictionary, and it did not pop up at the top of my search on google. Very smart.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I have never heard anyone say “stay” instead of “live.” I have lived in Indiana, South Africa, Colorado, Utah and Canada. I wouldn’t think that it would have any more meaning than using truck/lorry, apartment/flat, nappy/diaper, pacifier/dummy, popiscle/lolly, elevator/lift. The first time I entered a room full of girls and said “hey, you guys” in South Africa, they were all looking around for the guys.

submariner's avatar

Many years ago I worked in a group home for teenaged male offenders in Washtenaw County, Michigan. The half-dozen residents and all the staff except me were black. That was the first time I heard “stay” used in place of “live”. At first I thought it might be because the boys had been shuffled around among relatives, foster parents, and juvenile detention facilities, and so had not had much permanence in their living situations, but I soon figured out that this was part of the dialect of their community and not peculiar to them.

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