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It seems to have become fashionable to say something like, "You've got to represent." Another example might be, "The team really represents for the college." What's behind this? I suppose this usage makes sense if the object is understood, but the verb seems to take on a different meaning for the speaker. "You've got to show your pride" might be closer to what is meant.

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    I've never encountered 'represent' used in this manner. Where (in what milieus/demographics/countries) has it become fashionable? It would be useful to have some context for your question. – Erik Kowal Mar 23 '15 at 6:15
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    hi trw, re your meaning "You've got to show your pride" I'd say more fully "You've got to do well for your neighborhood, show your pride". Note that it is perfectly literal and straightforward: it's simply a shorter version of saying "You must represent your neighborhood [or similar concept] well." To repeat Erik, it's - amazing - you haven't heard this, it's totally commonplace. As trw mentions, it's leaked from being one of the most common rap terms to being used in eg. sports, "college" life, etc. – Fattie Mar 23 '15 at 8:20
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    Represent, yo! (The yo is more or less obligatory here.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 23 '15 at 9:03
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    @ErikKowal I’ve never heard such a thing either. – tchrist Mar 23 '15 at 10:07
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    @JoeBlow - I did not appreciate until I had read your comments on this question what a remarkable repository of the hoodie-clad lore and wisdom of the street we have in you. I take my 180-degrees-reversed baseball cap off to you, sagacious sir! – Erik Kowal Mar 23 '15 at 19:45
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"represent" is (perhaps 'was' is more accurate) a trendy slang term in the US, particularly from rap music. You can find endless examples of usage by googling rap lyrics (including various product simply called "represent").

(I wouldn't say it's "fashionable" any more - it's out of date.)

I'm sure the first usages of this could be traced, but you're asking

... WHY ...

it became a slang term.

I'd say it's really difficult to guess at "why" a given slang term, stuck. Answers could include..

  • a famous usage of the slang term in question, perhaps in a film

  • the word or topic is a popular one with a "need" for the word in question

It's possible that in this particular case, someone can point to an original "famous usage". But (as with "oblidee-oblidah" with the Beatles), usually that's just someone popularising in a hit song a term that was already prevalent among a certain group.

I'd say an interesting phenomenon in US slang and particularly rap slang, is the notion of co-opting a 'fancy', 'establishment' word and using it your own way.

So, I doubt if anyone can really answer the "why", but this term definitely fits in that pattern. Rap language (and US slang generally) likes to take fancy words, "20 dollar words" - words with an establishment or even military feel - and re-use them for their own "street" uses.

(Just BTW, on the aspect that this word is now rather old-fashioned and not trendy anymore, it can now be used sarcastically to, uh, represent an old-fashioned, lame rap scene ... I don't represent no colors, I represent my lil' sisters and brothers.)

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