The dozens

From Academic Kids

"The dozens" is an African American custom in which two competitors -- usually males -- go head to head in a competition of often ribald "trash talk." They take turns insulting -- "cracking" or "ranking" on -- one another, their adversary's mother or other family member until one of them has no comeback. This is called playing the dozens or doin' the dozens and sometimes dirty dozens. The dozens is a contest of personal power -- of wit, self-control, verbal ability, mental agility and mental toughness. Each putdown, each "snap," ups the ante. Defeat can be humiliating; but a skilled contender, win or lose, may gain respect. The dozens is one of the contributing elements in the development of hip hop, especially the practice of battling.


About the dozens

The dozens can be a harmless game of casual, good-natured jibes; an exchange of malicious insults; or, if tempers flare, a prelude to physical violence. While the competition on its face is usually light-hearted, smiles sometimes mask real tensions. But in its purest form, the dozens is part of an African-American custom of verbal sparring, of "woofin'" (see wolf ticket) and "signifyin'," intended to defuse conflict nonviolently, descended from an oral tradition rooted in traditional West African cultures.

"Yo' momma," a common, widely recognized argumentative rejoinder in African-American vernacular speech, is a cryptic, and sometimes comical, allusion to the dozens.

The term "the dozens" is believed to refer to the devaluing on the auctionblock of slaves who were past their prime, who were deformed, aged or who, after years of back-breaking toil, no longer were capable of hard labor. These enslaved human beings often were sold by the dozen. In "Still Laughing to Keep from Crying: Black Humor," African-American author and professor Mona Lisa Saloy writes:

"The dozens has its origins in the slave trade of New Orleans where deformed slaves--generally slaves punished with dismemberment for disobedience--were grouped in lots of a 'cheap dozen' for sale to slave owners. For a Black to be sold as part of the 'dozens' was the lowest blow possible."

Kokomo Arnold, one of the most popular American blues musicians of the 1930s, released a song Twelves (Dirty Dozens) that includes lyrics such as "I like yo' momma - sister, too/I did like your poppa - but your poppa wouldn't do./I met your poppa on the corner the other day/I soon found out he was funny that way." Alternative hip hop group The Pharcyde released a song on their debut album Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde entitled "Yo' Mama," the lyrics of which consist entirely of snaps. Australian Hip-Hop outfit Butterfingers have a song Yo Momma which features the catchy chorus Yo Momma's on the top of my things to do list.

In 2004, the Wayans Brothers released The Dozens, a dozens game for mobile phones. The movies White Men Can't Jump, 8 Mile, and House Party include exchanges of snaps.

Related practices outside the African-American community

The dozens has spread beyond the African American community and spawned similar phenomena in other cultures. In Great Britain, for instance, the analogous usage is "your mum." Derogatory barbs focus almost exclusively on impugning the sexual integrity of the target's mother.

Historically, similar verbal competitions were practiced in other cultures. A flyting in sixteenth-century Scotland was an exchange of abusive poems by poets, though the term refers generally to the exchange of insults in ancient Norse and Germanic cultures. American cowboys in the late nineteenth century participated in cussing contests, the winners of which often were awarded new saddles.

Some use "your mom" jokes as a riposte and oftentimes a counter-riposte to any insulting statement made -- e.g., "You're an idiot." "Your mom is an idiot!" Today, "your mom" jokes also are used for statements that have no hostile or pejorative intent -- e.g., "I love to eat ice cream." "Your mom loves to eat ice cream!" Or, they are used as a clever way to skew another person's words: "Ramen noodles are cheap and easy." "Your mom is cheap and easy!"

Examples of "snaps"

What follow are a few sanitized, less colorful examples of snaps in the dozens.

"Yo' momma's so fat..."

  • "...she's on both sides of the family."
  • "...when she lies around the house, she lies around the house."
  • "...when I said it was chilly outside, she grabbed a spoon and ran out the door!"
  • "...she could sell shade!"
  • "...she broke her leg, an' gravy poured out."
  • "...when she hauls ass, she gotta take two trips!"
  • "...her favorite food is seconds!"
  • "...when she goes to the zoo, elephants throw HER peanuts!"
  • "...when God said, 'Let there be light,' He asked her to move."
  • "...her blood type is gravy."
  • "...her high school photo was taken by satellite!"
  • "...when she takes a shower, her feet don't get wet!"
  • "...when she goes to the theater, they play the movie on her back!"
  • "...when she jumps up, the earth revolves around her!"
  • "...she filled the bathtub and turned on the tap."
  • "...when I drove around her I ran out of gas."
  • "...she entered Miss America and parts of Canada and Mexico.
  • "...they changed 'one size fits all' to 'one size fits most.'"
  • "...she went on her honeymoon in a U-haul."
  • "...she stepped on a dog's tail and it died!"

Yo' momma's so heavy, when she stepped on a scale...

  • " said, 'One at a time, please!'"
  • " said, 'No livestock allowed!'"
  • ...the needle went around so much that it screwed the scale into the floor!"

"Yo' momma's so old..."

  • "...her breastmilk is powder."
  • "...she farts out dust."
  • "...when God said, 'Let there be light,' she flipped the switch!"
  • "...that she still owes Moses a quarter."
  • "...she sat behind George Washington in third grade."
  • "...she has a bible that is signed by the author."
  • "...jesus signed her high school yearbook."

"Yo' momma's so poor..."

  • "...when she goes to KFC she licks other people's fingers!"
  • "...when the wolf comes to your house, he brings his own sandwiches!"
  • "...she got married just for the rice!"
  • "...she can't even afford to pay attention!"

"Yo' momma's so stupid..."

  • "...she sits on the T.V. and watches the couch!"
  • " takes her 2 hours to watch 60 Minutes!"
  • "...she thinks Tupac Shakur is a Jewish holiday."
  • "...she starved to death in an all-you-can-eat buffet."
  • "...when someone said that drinks were on the house, she went on to the roof!"
  • "...if ignorance was bliss, then she would be Mrs. Happy."

"Yo' momma's so bald, you can see what she thinkin'."

"Yo' momma's such a bad cook..."

  • "...she still makes radio dinners."
  • "...she lost her recipe for instant coffee."
  • "...we pray after we eat."
  • "...your dog says, 'Barf, barf!'"

"Yo' sister's so ugly..."

  • "...when she was born, yo' momma said, 'What a treasure! Let's go bury it.'"
  • "...she scares away blind people!"
  • "...she makes onions cry."
  • "...the bears built a fire to keep her away."
  • "...that she could curdle a cow."

"Yo' brother's so stupid he was fired from the M&Ms factory for throwing away all the "W"'s!"

"Yo' brother's so fat, he raced a pregnant woman and came in third!"

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