Monday, July 13, 2009

"Reggaeton" in Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I found out this weekend from a FaceBook note by Nuyorican poet and educator Mariposa that "reggaeton" was added to the 2009 updated version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. To read Mariposa's note click on her FaceBook link or read below.

In turn, she found out the news through a FaceBook post by Lance Rios of Being Latino. Check the comments to his post. They're a great example of how the conversation around reggaeton tends to stay at the love the music / hate the music level. That's what I like so much about Mariposa's take on it: she goes beyond the love it / hate it dichotomy.

The first thing that struck me about the news is that "reggaeton" made it into this English-language dictionary before it made it into the Diccionario de La Real Academia Española. Neither "reggaetón" nor "reguetón" has made it into the RAE dictionary yet. Hhhmmmm... So if the Solo Para Reggaeton folks are pissed at Merriam-Webster for (among other things) taking so long to include "reggaeton" in their dictionary, I can only imagine what they'll say about the Real Academia Española.

Here's the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry:

\ˌre-gā-ˈtōn, ˌrā-\
American Spanish reggaetón, from reggae reggae + -ton (as in Spanish maratón marathon)

: popular music of Puerto Rican origin that combines rap with Caribbean rhythms

And here's Mariposa's post:

Toast of Recognition to Reggaeton
by Mariposa

The word REGGAETON was recently added to the American Merriam-Webster Dictionary which is highly significant. It is no easy feat to create a word that makes the dictionary. It has to be a word that deeply permeates American culture in usage, meaning and context, often times through literature and music. Language is created and re-invented every day. And language shapes and creates our reality. Language is the essence of our experience. It’s derived from it and it creates it; from language springs everything.

Whether you like the music form or not, take this as an opportunity to pay attention. Pay attention to exactly how powerful we are. There are many other words that can be found in Webster’s Dictionary that are evidence of our presence and power. Yes, the word Spanglish can be found in Webster’s, as well as Latino, Latina, Chicano, Chicana and Tejano. Nuyorican was added to Webster’s about 4 years ago. The addition of the words, Chicana/o and Nuyorican can be attributed in part to the influence of the Chicano/Tejano, and Nuyorican poetry movements, specifically the work of Pedro Pietri, Miguel Piñero, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Jose Montoya, Alurista, Raul Salinas, Cherrie L. Moraga, Sandra María Esteves, Aurora Levins Morales, Magdalena Gomez and countless others.

Other words that have made it to Webster’s that reflect our contribution to music, dance and our influence in shaping the American cultural landscape are: Salsa, Merengue and Rumba. For all you Bachata lovers…Sorry! The word has not yet made it to Websters Dictionary. Neither has Cumbia, Bomba or Plena.

Like it or not Reggaeton is here to stay. We are more than a decade deep in the Reggaeton timeline. People thought Reggaethon was just a fad that would fizzle out but it went global a long time ago. Like Hip Hop, Reggaeton is popular as far away as Japan. It shows the power of our presence as Latinos in the United States; the power to influence not only American Pop Culture but Global Pop Culture and the ability to create new industries. We have the power to make phenomenal things happen. The question is what we do with that power.

If you are a fan of Reggaeton, you have reason to celebrate the music genre making it to Webster’s Dictionary. If you're not a fan, keep in mind that celebrating does not necessarily mean condoning the materialism, sexism, misogyny and negative content found in many (but not all) Reggaeton songs and videos. There are artists who defy the negative stereotypes like Calle 13, whose political and lyrical genius cannot be easily dismissed and demonstrate the potential of Reggaeton to create social change as well as entertain.

Making it to Webster's is an accomplishment that is quite phenomenal. It only took Reggaeton about a decade to make Webster's unlike many of the words mentioned . This is definitely something to give props to, respect, be proud of and yes, celebrate! Reggaeton is a reflection of who we are as Latinos -- multifaceted and something that cannot be generalized, simplified or put in a box. I encourage people to check out the new book Reggaeton by Raquel Z. Rivera, Wayne Marshall and Deborah Pacini Hernandez.

I also encourage people to go to and look up what Webster has to say on the meanings and etymology of the words mentioned and the years the words came into play in the United States. It’s fascinating. Maybe you’ll find words that I didn’t that also speak to our collective power. No matter what you think about Reggaeton or it making it to Webster’s Dictionary, BEING LATINO IS BEING POWERFUL. WORD!


Unknown said...


Raquel Z. Rivera said...

Thanks for your spirited comment. You'll get no argument from me regarding Panama's crucial role in the development of reggaeton. Check the section on Panama in the book Reggaeton I co-edited with Wayne Marshall and Deb Pacini Hernandez. Here's the amazon link.

Or a fragment in Spanish published in Claridad earlier this year, in their edition of 23 al 29 de abril de 2009:

Los circuitos socio-sónicos del reggaetón

En Rojo

Wayne Marshall, Raquel Z. Rivera y Deborah Pacini Hernández/Suplemento Especial

El género que hoy conocemos como reggaetón es producto de múltiples circuitos musicales que no se circunscriben a fronteras geográficas, nacionales o de lenguaje, y tampoco a identidades étnicas o pan-étnicas. Para entender la historia y desarrollo del reggaetón es de gran utilidad la imagen de circuitos multidireccionales que tienen múltiples puntos de contacto entre sí.

Sin embargo, la historia del reggaetón suele ser explicada de manera lineal, afirmando precisamente estas fronteras. Estas versiones de la historia tienden a nombrar un solo punto de origen y corren solamente en una dirección.

Las dos narrativas históricas más populares identifican el origen del reggaetón en uno de dos países de habla hispana: Panamá o Puerto Rico. Ambas teorías aportan elementos cruciales a la discusión, ya que dudosamente se hubiese desarrollado el reggaetón sin el reggae en español panameño de los ’80 o el underground puertorriqueño de los ‘90. Pero estas narrativas centradas en la nación son en extremo limitadas, considerando que mucho del reggae en español y del underground era básicamente una versión traducida pero por lo demás casi idéntica de los éxitos del reggae dancehall jamaiquino de los ’80 y ’90. Sin el reggae dancehall jamaiquino definitivamente no habría reggaetón.

Existe otro lugar clave en el temprano desarrollo del reggaetón que, aunque rara vez sale a relucir, no sorprenderá a aquellos que conocen los últimos cien años de historia musical caribeña y afro-diaspórica: Nueva York. De esta manera, el reggaetón se une a géneros como el calipso, la música jíbara, el mambo, el reggae, la salsa y el hip-hop, como productos de las peculiares dinámicas interculturales de Nueva York. La ciudad no sólo ha sido un lugar donde diversos grupos caribeños han entrado en intenso contacto social, cultural y musical, sino también un lugar clave para la grabación y difusión de la música caribeña. Por ejemplo, El General (Edgardo Franco) no vivía en Panamá, sino en Nueva York, cuando grabó las canciones que lanzaron al reggae en español a la fama internacional.

Estos circuitos complejos y circuitos multidireccionales de producción y diseminación del reggaetón fueron identificados en algunos de los más tempranos artículos académicos sobre el tema escritos por Mayra Santos Febres y Jorge L. Giovannetti. La antología Reggaeton toma sus contribuciones como punto de partida en el complejo proyecto de entender la cartografía geográfica y cultural del reggaetón.

Fragmento y traducción de "Introduction: Reggaeton’s Socio-Sonic Circuitry" del libro Reggaeton (Duke University Press 2009).