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OnWords: Bro

You might be wondering why young people are calling each other a type of women’s underwear.

But “brah,” is really a version of “bro,” a term with which even the oldest among us are familiar.

“Bro,” is, of course, a shortening of “brother,” an expression expanding filial relationships beyond the literal family. Our everyday use of brother in this way goes back at least to the Great Depression with its anthem “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Faith groups had used the word “brother” for millennia before that, to denote a family of co-religionists, and Shakespeare’s famous St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V has its title character calling together his knights as a “band of brothers.”    

But the “bro” of today is a more common reference, referring to anyone the speaker happens to be addressing. Its drift from “bro” to “brah” has now started to slide into “bruh,” and is  applied regardless of gender.

This casual use exists parallel to use that specifies a certain type of male, one we might call the “Dudebro.” His stereotypical form wears t-shirts with the sleeves cut off, a camo ballcap at a rakish angle, and drives a lifted four-wheel drive diesel pickup in which he “rolls coal” all over lesser vehicles, Pruises in particular.

That caricature also shows how we use language to affiliate ourselves, casually with acquaintances, and  more formally through our lifestyles, with its variants denoting real differences in meaning and intent.

Lael Ewy is a co-founder and editor of EastWesterly Review, a journal of literary satire at www.postmodernvillage.com, and a writer whose work has appeared in such venues as Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review and has been anthologized in Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh.