What Does "Word up" Mean?

Alex Tree

"Word up" is a slang phrase used to agree with a statement. For example, when two friends are discussing a topic in an informal setting, one might say “word up” to agree with the other. Sometimes the idiom is also used as a greeting or to mean “I hear you” or “How are you?” In general, it is a very versatile urban slang term, and the meaning can change based on region. The phrase likely originated from urban areas as a shortened form of other idioms, but its popularity increased after the release of a song and album of the same name in the late 1980s.

A thumbs up signal might be used with the phrase "word up" to show agreement.
A thumbs up signal might be used with the phrase "word up" to show agreement.

The most common use of "word up" is as an affirmation of something. It is typically not used in formal settings, such as the workplace, weddings, and dinner parties. On the other hand, it is particularly popular among young people, usually in universities or casual gatherings. A specific example of the usage of the term might be someone saying "word up" in response to, “I think this music band is the best.” The person saying the idiom usually nods as he or she says it.

The phrase "word up" can sometimes be used as a greeting in informal settings.
The phrase "word up" can sometimes be used as a greeting in informal settings.

As a greeting, "word up" is not as common as “hello,” “how are you,” or “what’s up” in most places. Like when using the term as an agreement, people saying it as a greeting typically nod, smile, or both when saying it to another person. Again, it is generally not used in formal settings, except when the people know each other well.

Sometimes "word up" is not meant as an affirmation or greeting, but instead as a simple “I’m listening” or “I hear you.” A person might say this to an acquaintance as assurance that he or she is listening. It does not necessarily mean the person agrees with what the acquaintance is saying. Like many slang terms, "word up" can mean various things based on the region. It can start out meaning one thing, but gradually mean another thing as years go by.

The origins of this slang phrase are relatively simple compared to many idioms, though it is not known who originally started saying it. It is believed to date back to the early 1970s and meant “truth” or “so true.” A song by the American band Cameo is usually credited for popularizing the term, however. There are many variations of the song, some of which were more popular in certain countries.

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Discussion Comments

anon1003175

It also became more popular by two different 1980s franchises that utilized both "word up" and "word" effectively. The Pee Wee Herman shows/movies, and the Bill & Ted's shows/movies. It is still semi-popular in the Hispanic communities, and very dated. Though just using "word" is still in uncommon use, "word up" is now very outdated and almost never said by modern Millennials.

mrwormy

I'm just guessing here, but it seems like "word" may have come from the church, of all places. The Bible is considered to be the *word* of truth, and pastors often call their sermons the "word of God". Maybe the early adapters started making a connection between the "word of God" and any other truth they heard on the street. If it's the truth, it's the word.

Reminiscence

I don't hear "word up" that often anymore, but I'll still hear "word" from time to time. "Word up" sounds dated now.

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