America still has much to learn from drag queens—gender being a social construct, for example, or the perils of hog body—but there’s one aspect of drag culture that has long since moved into the mainstream, and that’s the slang. Chief among these linguistic gifts is a new, many-layered meaning for the word “shade,” a concept that has been part of black culture since slavery but has only now been added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, according to a tweet sent out by Merriam-Webster earlier today. Here’s the official dictionary definition of ”shade”:
“Shade” was first defined on film in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning; in the film, Dorian Corey, a legendary New York drag performer and mother of the House of Corey whose Harlem apartment was found to contain—no shit—a mummified corpse upon her death in 1993, explains the concept thusly:
“Shade” as it’s laid out in Paris Is Burning is a complicated idea, not least because it’s defined by its indirectness. Basically, “shade” is saying you’re better than someone—or “reading” them—through indirect means, usually either by couching an insult in a compliment or by making a statement whose implications are known by all, but spoken aloud by none. “Shade” should be funny, it should be subtle, and it should be based in truth, as explained by these RuPaul’s Drag Race alums:
Truly, between this and Lady Gaga booking an appearance on the season premiere of Drag Race, this is the most exciting day for drag queens since they started making six-inch platform pumps in a size 13.