The following is a fatwa or blogular bull about the word “tribal.”

The word may still be used. However, the following rules apply:

  • It may not be used as a noun (“Justin has a tribal on his left thigh.”)
  • When used as an adjective, the word must refer to specific tribes or groups of tribes, as in: “Each of the chiefs heads his own tribal council” or “It is a tribal custom here to leave a little grain outside thet door for the spirits.” Useage of the form “I guess they’re really tribal there” or “I saw a show about some tribal people who ate yams” is forbidden. The word does not refer to brown-skinned people with insufficient pants who live in rural areas.
  • There is no style of art or music that can or should be called “tribal.” Each tribe within each culture has particular styles in the arts and they are all different from each other. The word does not refer to vaguely African or Native American patterns in art or rhythmic music. The music of the Israelite tribes, for example, is notably different from that of the Zulu. Useage such as “These tribal beat loops are gonna be great in my epic techno song” or “They’re having a sale at Target on those tribal pattern shower curtains” is forbidden.

Those who break these rules will be forced to pronounce the word as “tribble” for one year and live on fufu.

19 thoughts on “NOW HEAR THIS

  1. Suggested substitution:
    For the first case (“Justin has a tribal on his left thigh.”) I propose substituting the word “shithead”, or “dumbshit” i.e. “Justin has a dumbshit on his left thigh.” The same substitution could be more generally made to describe any kind of tattoo where the recipient does not speak the language s/he’s been tattoo’d with…

  2. Heh. I suggest another rule, prompted by my friends annoying way of using that word: Do not imply that someone who shares some superficial categories with you (wow he likes Star Wars! And Family Guy! And lives in his mother’s basement!) is part of “your tribe”.
    1. The word “caste” is probably more accurate for the idea you’re trying to get a cross, you anthropological nitwit.
    2. If you really were part of my “tribe” the leaders would bind you to a tree so the wolves or crows or whatever can eat you, after which the useful remaining members of the tribe would travel to the next hunting ground.

    1. Heh. Number two reminds me of an anecdote. My friend Kathy was born in a tiny village in Malekula island, Vanuatu. Her grandfather was one of the last people in Vanuatu to taste human flesh.
      Once, during a particularly tense meeting with a particularly stupid consultant, she leveled her gaze at this twit and said, “You know, if we’d been having this meeting 50 years ago, I’d have eaten you by now.”

  3. Uh oh. How does Tribal style belly dance escape the rules? It’s an absurd title, I know. Belly dance is such a mishmash of movements from different origins that Tribal style means what?

    1. The trouble with tribals
      What she said. The term “tribal style bellydance” has been used to describe a form of bellydance that is a conglomeration of styles from a large array of regions–as opposed to “cabaret” bellydance, which is the other main style. If my understanding is correct the term “tribal style bellydance” goes back at least 20-30 years, predating crazy modern use of “tribal” as a noun or standalone-adjective for tattoos, music, and other pop-culture.
      So aside from the bellydance exception, I totally agree with you 100%. Every time I hear “a tribal,” my skin crawls. Those people should be made to say “tribble” instead.

  4. Please allow exceptions for “urban tribal”
    This is a classic descriptivist verses prescriptivist rant. However being a bit of a fusspot myself, I must side with the substitute’s guidelines.
    I reserve the right to continue using “urban tribal” to refer to clueless jackasses that are chronically under-utilized (for my nefarious schemes anyway).

  5. The word does not refer to brown-skinned people with insufficient pants who live in rural areas.
    That’s several Sergio Aragones panels conjured up right there.
    (With some chimps watching, one of which is uttering the word “vootie”.

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