LINGUIST List 3.971

Thu 10 Dec 1992

Disc: Wannabe (last posting)

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Wannabes
  2. Paul King, T
  3. dragon, Wannabe

Message 1: Wannabes

Date: Thu, 10 Dec 92 6:37:29 PSTWannabes
From: <>
Subject: Wannabes

Around Fresno State University, and among my friends, I've heard the
phrase "X is a Y wannabe" used quite a lot. I've only heard it used
as a noun, and never as an adjective. In fact, it strikes me as
intuitively wrong to hear "X is a wannabe Y," as some have mentioned on
this list, so I think that a previous writer's note about geographical
differences might make for an interesting inquiry.

Also, I know of "wannabes," the plural, as in "They're wannabes."
The phrase is used as a term of denigration, belittlement, or contempt
by myself and others I've heard use it. Living in Fresno, and being a
philosophical linguistic, possibly elitist, wannabe, I get a lot of
opportunity to hear and use the term.

Rick Horowitz CSUF, Philosophy
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Message 2: T

Date: Thu, 10 Dec 92 15:49:15 MET
From: Paul King <>
Subject: T

I missed the original post, so apologies if I echo somebody.

When I first encountered "wannabe", I automatically assumed it was
analogous to "hasbeen". I now have my doubts however, since "hasbeen"
seems to be modelled on the 3rd-singular "has been", whereas "wannabe"
seems to be modelled on the non-3rd-singular "want to be". Hhhhmmm...

Paul John King
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Message 3: Wannabe

Date: Thu, 10 Dec 92 10:03:21 ESWannabe
From: dragon <>
Subject: Wannabe

The first time I encountered this word was in an article (NY Times
Magazine??) a number of years ago, and the context was not rock stars
or teenage social groups but American Indian nations. As I seem to
recall, the speaker being quoted was an American Indian talking about
the diversity of (putative) American Indians. Among the other nations
there are also to be found the Wannabees. [Interviewer as straight
man: "Wannabees?"] Speaker: "Yeah, the white people who think that
Indians are in touch with Nature and the Great Spirit and who really
want to get in on it for themselves: they wanna be Indians too." I
don't remember if the "straight-man" exchange actually occurred, but
the appearance of this word that looked like the name of an Indian
nation and then was revealed (in whatever way) as a bit of white slang
referring to very white behavior is what made the usage stick in my

The dialogue paraphrased is all unreliable, but I'm clear on the use of
"Wannabee" (90% sure on the double "e"), its meaning, and its
introduction as a pseudo tribe-name, in some sense setting up a punch
line. This last aspect of the use is strong evidence
that the word wasn't in common use then and as recognizeable as it is
today. Sorry I can't attribute it any more precisely.

 Mark A. Mandel
 Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200
 320 Nevada St. : Newton, Mass. 02160, USA
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