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The renowned scholarly institution UrbanDictionary defines the term as follows:

throw shade: to talk trash about a friend or aquaintance, to publicly denounce or disrespect. When throwing shade it's immediately obvious to on-lookers that the thrower, and not the throwee, is the bitcy [sic], uncool one

And also:

throwing shade: Throwing Shade, is to throw "attitude."

And finally:

shade: acting in a casual or disrespectful manner towards someone/dissing a friend

However, in researching more of where the term came from (apparently the black and Latino gay subculture in the 1980s), I came across this post that suggests that the usage by people outside this subculture is all wrong:

Corey explains other voguing terminology, such as “reading” and “throwing shade.” To read is to insult imaginatively – in opposition to the blunt gay-bashing taunts of the straight world. Reading is gay-to-gay sparring. Thus, when two black queens call each other “black queen,” says Corey, “that’s not a read, that’s just a fact.”

Throwing shade is reading at a refined level; it’s the curve to the pitch. If someone says they won’t call you ugly because you already know, well, you just got thrown a shade. When enmity reaches fever point and pride is involved, it’s time for voguing. This is direct competition, when contenders take their fight to the ball floor: the equivalent of jousting, dueling or stepping outside the bar.

You’ll notice that throwing shade is defined in opposition to the directness and cruelty of gay-bashing. It’s more artfully executed, more dependent on constructing a veiled (or not-so-veiled) insult rather than relying on obvious crudities and innuendo. Throwing shade requires wielding your words like a rapier rather than a cudgel.

In other words, that it's not merely trash-talking or throwing attitude, but something far more specific. Unfortunately, they didn't really provide examples of the term "throwing shade" being used in a manner that was deemed correct, or provide a succinctly stated alternative definition.

With this in mind, what is the actual correct usage of the term "throwing shade"?

  • 1
    "Correct" as in the original usage or "correct" as in the predominant current usage? – Eric Hauenstein Oct 2 '15 at 18:03
  • I guess in this sense I am looking for the original usage, since the reading I've done indicates that the original users feel that the predominant current usage is "incorrect". – Holly Oct 2 '15 at 18:04
  • 1
    But I suppose in a world of rapidly changing language, the word "correct" as applies to a phrase like this is pretty subjective, huh? Sorry for the ambiguity! – Holly Oct 2 '15 at 18:06
  • The original usage was casting aspersions ;) – Dan Bron Oct 2 '15 at 18:23
  • Are you looking for a non-black-and-Latino-gay-80's_subculture usage for "throwing shade"? I'm not sure that expression was used prior to that version. (At least not that I've heard in my US Midwest last-century experience) :-) – Kristina Lopez Oct 2 '15 at 21:15
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Like other words and phrases, slang doesn't operate under copyright protections that require future users to use the words or words in precisely the manner that its originators did. If such rules did apply, a judge might very well rule that the 1980s meaning of "throw shade" and "thrown a shade" that the OP cites violated the commonly understood sense of "throw a shade" from the early 1900s. From Francis March, A Thesaurus Dictionary of the English Language (1902):

Throw a shade. To darken

That being said, a Google Books search finds several discussions of "throw shade" from the mid-1990s that refer to what the OP identifies as the original slang sense of the term. Connie Eberle, Slang and Sociability: In-group Language among College Students (1996) includes this brief comment on "throw shade":

It is often through films that the American public is exposed to the distinctive vocabulary of African Americans and homosexuals, and it is likely that borrowing from these groups takes place more through films or television than by personal association. For instance, the expression throw shade 'humiliate exceedingly' moved beyond gay and African American usage and into the slang of college students in 1991 after the appearance of the film Paris Is Burning.

Eberle seems a bit quick to conflate gay slang and African American slang into one "distinctive vocabulary," and her implicit notion that college students as a class have little overlap with either homosexuals or African Americans is rather astonishing. Nevertheless, her understanding of the source and sense of "throw shade" in college slang during the 1990s may well be accurate.

Two other Google Books matches focus on the gay African American subculture from which "throw shade" in its modern sense seems to have arisen. Both articles are well worth reading at fuller length if you're interested in the subject. From Tricia Rose, "An Interview with Willi Ninja," in Microphone Fiends: Youth Music an Youth Culture (1994):

R: Before we go, define “throw shade" for me.

N: [Laughter] Shade is basically a nonverbal response to verbal or nonverbal abuse. Shade is about using certain mannerisms in battle. If you said something nasty to me, I would just turn to you, and give you a look like: "Bitch please, you're not even worth my time, go on." All with a facial expression and body posture, that's throwing shade. If I want to be a little extra nasty I might throw in a little cough, but not so loud, just a little bit like: "You're making me choke."

R: It's definitely a challenge.

N: Definitely. You're looking for trouble when you're throwing shade. It's like watching Joan Collins go against Linda Evans on Dynasty. Or Jasmine Guy on A Different World, going against Diahann Carroll who plays her mother ...

Or when Bush ran against Clinton, they were throwing shade. Who got the bigger shade? Bush did because Clinton won. Bush threw some good verbal daggers, but Clinton just paid him dust. Clinton threw the biggest shade when he looked at him with a little smirk on his face as if to say: "That did not even work." When they had that town debate and Clinton walked toward and addressed the audience with his back to Bush, he was saying that he did not need to address Bush, that Bush was beneath him and the audience. He was saying: "You're out of the circle." That's throwing shade. Everybody does it.

And from E. Patrick Johnson, "SNAP! Culture: a Different Way of Reading" in Text and Performance Quarterly 15(2) (1995), reprinted in Performance: Media and Technology (2003):

The nonverbal counterpart to reading is called "throwing shade." To throw shade is to ignore a person altogether, even if the person is in immediate proximity. If a shade thrower wishes to acknowledge the presence of the third party, he or she might roll his or her eyes and neck while poking out his or her lips. People throw shade if they do not like a particular person or if that person has dissed them in the past. The effect of throwing shade in this manner is also a type of dissing, because it is considered disrespectful not to acknowledge someone's presence. In the playful mode, however, a person may throw shade at a person with whom he or she is a best friend.

As an example of how uncontrollable slang is, however, we have this discussion in Eve Oishi, "Reading Realness: Paris Is Burning, Wildness, and Queer and Transgender Documentary Practice", in A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film (2015), most of which consists of a description of children's slang that was in use by 1993:

Jackie Goldsby offers a valuable refinement of this discussion by pointing to the power relations inherent in the act of "reading" as opposed to "throwing shade" or "shading":

In the ball world the children clarify the workings of power in signifyin(g) exchanges because they split the notion into two forms: "reading" and "shading." Where the former is an insult that occurs between dissimilarly advantaged speakers, the latter happens when two similarly positioned speakers square off to spar verbally. ... To “throw shade,” on the other hand, one addresses an equal on the sly. (Goldsby, 1993: 114)

Evidently, by 1993, children in schoolyards somewhere in the United States had already substantially altered the notion of shading to mean "verbal sparring between equals," not "silent disrespecting of a dislike person," as in the previous two examples. In fact, it isn't altogether clear that the schoolyard sense of the two terms wasn't the original sense of those terms. But that's the crucial feature of slang: It emerges by word of mouth—without a dictionary definition to tie it down, so it's hardly surprising that different understandings of a particular term may exist in different places at the same time. And over time, of course, the picture can get even blurrier.

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52-year-old Gay Guy Responds, Informal Logical Fallacies and All


This is a short primer for people who live different lives and asked for a simple explanation of throwing shade. People also asked for examples they could understand so I'll try to help.

VERBAL THROWING SHADE: Insulting someone in a very cutting way in such a fashion as to make it sound palatable or even like a compliment. Verbal throwing shade is rarely rude unless the offense is great. The peer receiver usually is aware of the insult.

Ex: "I feel so sorry for Americans only having HRC and Trump to vote for. They need look only to our PM Teresa May as an example of a good head of state." (Insulting; cultural elitism; intellectual elitism.) Classification: Socially acceptable though irritating.

Ex: "Big cities are usually viscerally racist, but here, there's actually a viable black middle class!" (You are/or ought to be a racist; I'm not a racist; you've "let" the black people be successful; intrinsically racist on its face) Classification: Actively rude but probably won't get you kicked out of a party.

PHYSICAL THROWING SHADE: Body language, meant to be seen by all, which disparages and belittles another, or puts another in their place on the pecking order.

Ex: True story. On the red carpet, some dip asked a foundational woman of rock and R&B, Chaka Khan, if she was excited that Beyonce would be present that evening. Ms. Khan rolled her eyes and tilted her head back and to the side. (are you kidding me?; who?; she hasn't stood the test of time; she should be excited that I'm here.) Classification: appropriate and deserved.

THE OTHER KIND OF THROWING SHADE: It's called "reading." Reading is throwing shade in a crude and/or vicious manner. It's designed to be all at once hurtful, to draw attention to an uncomfortable or obvious truth, and usually (ironically) as a form of endearment. Reading is not politically correct. It's most often creatively expressed. Reading is a gay tradition, and generally stays within the "family." Straight people will only see it if they are very close to the LGBT community and its members. Straight people should NOT try to participate; just enjoy it and laugh along with the rest. Reading is best enjoyed in a private setting; mixed company is a no no. Classification: rude and crude but funny. Harmless when not abused. Related terms: Opening the library (time to read you), and spilling the T/Tea (the Truth).

So anyway, this is the cogent explanation of throwing shade and the concrete examples you obviously asked for. It's no big deal, really. Explaining things in a sensible, organized, elegant and understandable manner like I do is not a skill everyone possesses. Bye, Felicia.

  • Nice writeup, though there are some missing concrete examples in the third section. – Dewi Morgan Dec 13 '16 at 22:16
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To throw shade is to Diss someone, either directly or indirectly... Diss, Meaning disrespect but not to the extreme disrespect implies.

And example would be President Obama's last state of the Union Address where he discussed "Donald Trumps" aggressive political views indirectly.

In affect he threw Shade at Donald Trump

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If you want to be respectful and not appropriate Black and Latino gay sub-culture (which I think everyone should), the correct usage would be with the original.

  • 2
    Forgive me, I'm rather confused by this answer... are you saying that it would be disrespectful to use the term in the same way that members of the Black and Latino gay subculture use it? Which usage are you saying is the "original"? – Holly Oct 2 '15 at 18:46

protected by tchrist Jan 14 '18 at 1:40

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