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This is a hard one to look up. Where (and when!) did the expression "who da man" start?

My guess is it started either in written form after the popularization of the internet (because that would jibe with it being intentionally misspelled) or in imitation of some popular icon (who?).

Do you have any idea how one would look such a thing up?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I don't know if google timeline gives any clues. Chicago Tribune used it in 1993, so it predates the web. A lot of the early references seem to be from golf!

Digging deeper, it's maybe an offshoot from 'You da man!' which goes back to 1990 and does seem to be a thing shouted on golf courses. That reference is from another Chicago newspaper.

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The Internet originated in 1982, when Arpanet started using TCP/IP, and the Web (WWW) started to gain momentum 1993, but was invented 1989 at CERN, so your example is not conclusive. –  malach Oct 13 '10 at 16:13
    
I think we have it. (I'd upvote if I could) –  Shannon Oct 13 '10 at 17:39
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The question specifically says "started... after the popularization of the Internet", which would be around 1993, so if cindi just edited this answer to refer to the "popularization", I think it would address Ralph's comment. –  Kosmonaut Oct 14 '10 at 0:04

(I must admit I don't really understand the causal link between intentional misspelling and the internet. And as cindi says, the expression I've heard is 'You da man')

As it happens, 'da' is not really a misspelling at all, but an attempt at rendering African American pronunciation.

"You the man" instead of "you're the man," and the pronunciation "You da man," are both intended to reflect a common Black English usage.*

This source goes into more detail about the meaning of 'Man' in this context.

(*Jesse Sheidlower, now Editor at Large of the Oxford English Dictionary, in a 1999 Word Maven’s Word of the Day)

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This is right. "Da" is not leet. It is (perhaps mock) AAVE. –  T.E.D. Sep 28 '11 at 13:43

The usage of "the man" as praise predates the internet. As early as 1879, Otto von Bismarck used it to describe then British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli: Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann. The old Jew, he is the man.

Ref: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Otto_von_Bismarck

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