Tag Archives: octavia spencer

Gurl…Octavia, Baldwin and me

5 Jun

The other night I took Baldwin to the city for a book industry party hosted by People magazine. We met Octavia Spencer, the Oscar-winning actress from The Help. It was thrilling for Baldwin and exciting for me because Octavia is a real deal talent and appears to be a real person. After chatting it up with Baldwin, I was introduced and Octavia and her stylist commented, Benilde Little, Good Hair, love that book. It’s a classic. I was flattered and floored.


As the actress and I were talking, Baldwin was snapping pictures. At the end of the night, when I looked at them, sliding her iPhone from one image to the next, the body language between us became more and more intimate. It went from:

“I’m just got back from Cannes.”

“I just sold my next book.”

To gurl–



“You lost weight.”

“I love your hair.”

Saying gurl can an exclamation point; at the end of girlfriend’s sentence when she’s telling you something scandalous or heinous.

Or it maybe it’s at the beginning of  a sentence:

“Gurl, I’m so tired I’m goin home to get in my bed (an actual overheard comment from the actress Jennifer Lawrence who was calling it a night mid-NAACP Image Awards.)

Or it’s just, I feel comfortable with you.

It’s shorthand among Black American women, at least it used to be.

I’m sure there are White women who say it, but only one of my White girlfriends does: “What’s up, gurl,” my friend Mary Beth says whenever she calls me. It sounds completely authenic.

I think we can all agree that most pop culture began with Black people. The blues (where the Rolling Stones admit they got their sound), jazz, dance, even PSY, the Korean sensation’s dance video, Gangnam style, is influenced by crunking.

Now, it appears that gurl has crossed over.

Calm Down Gurl, is the name of the comedian Kathi Griffin’s new Bravo TV special.

Full disclosure: I didn’t always use the term. Actually I’m a fairly recent user. In shaping who I wanted to present in the beginning of my professional life as a serious reporter and then a magazine editor, it wasn’t something Ifelf comfortable saying.

I remember reading Terry’s (McMillan) first books and particularly Waiting to Exhale, and thinking my friends and I don’t say gurl. Well, in 20 years, I’ve changed and so has my vernacular.

I still only say it to intimates, and when I do, there’s something about the way it comes from somewhere around the diaphragm that feels good.

Could gurl become the international female version of “yo.”

Does it work for you? Works for me.