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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?

4 Answers 4

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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
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 16:13
  • I think we have it. (I'd upvote if I could)
    – Shannon
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 17:39
  • 2
    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
    Commented Oct 14, 2010 at 0:04
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(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.
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 13:43
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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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    For having used that phrase, you could say Der alte Deutche, das ist der Mann :-) +1
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 9:20
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Thou art the man (that hath sinned). Prophet to King David. Common phrase from the pulpit of many church denominations.

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    Sorry, but I fail to see how this answers the question asked...
    – gmauch
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 19:01
  • @gmauch It's a partial answer -- another answer says "who da man" evolved from "you da man", this answer tries to take it further.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 20:35
  • We're looking for expert answers that provide evidence, context, and explanation. Please consider expanding your answer.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 20:39