dorsetgirl (dorsetgirl) wrote in linguaphiles,

Use of "Imma"

I'm sorry, I know I sound like some crusty old reactionary here. It's just that this is something that for some reason I find particularly irritating, and I wondered how others feel about it. I generally find things easier to accept if I understand the reasoning behind them, so my question is:

When (and WHY for heaven's sake?) did the made-up word "Imma" start to be used for (as far as I can work out) "I'm going to"?

Quite apart from the fact that it doesn't make sense, even the spelling doesn't make sense, to me at least. I'm assuming that it's meant to sound like "EYE-muh", so why is there a double-m in there?

And if it's too hard to say "I'm going to need you to...", why not simply say "I need you to..." ?

As I start to look ancient-ness in the face, I find it increasingly difficult to know whether things that I find odd or alien are just natural changes in the language, or whether they're American usage, teenage catch-phrases or just internet-meme things. (Though I suspect that those last three are often all the same thing nowadays. We're so heavily outnumbered on the internet that our children don't even know many of the things they pick up aren't normal British usage).

So is "Imma" standard American usage? I've even seen educated middle-aged people using it. And does anyone know how and where this abbreviation arose?
Tags: american english, colloquialisms, slang
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  • 58 comments

lareinemisere

July 16 2014, 07:06:15 UTC 3 months ago

I'm not US-ian, but I associate it with the Southern states of the US (mostly from films and TV where long-ago slaves or more modern rednecks use it). I get the impression that it has filtered into other parts of the US (and, from the sound of your post, UK) via rap music.

dorsetgirl

July 16 2014, 10:36:43 UTC 3 months ago

I've never heard anyone actually say it in the UK; mostly I see it online and I often don't know, nor need to know, where the person is from.

biascut

July 16 2014, 07:45:06 UTC 3 months ago

Because people think it's cool to appropriate African-American speech. The point where I first heard it was when everyone was talking about Kanye West interrupting Taylor Smith, and that's when it went Anglophone-internet-global. But it is appropriation, and there's kind of a nasty appropriation (and sometimes overt mocking) thing about it.

isaac_of_nine

July 16 2014, 08:14:13 UTC 3 months ago

I definitely agree with this. Also, I can't speak for anyone else, but most of the time when I hear it used it has the feel of a conscious decision rather than something that comes naturally. I would certainly hesitate to call it standard American usage, at least.

On the subject of new and irritating abbreviations, I would like to nominate "finna."

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

isaac_of_nine

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

houseboatonstyx

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

houseboatonstyx

3 months ago

mamculuna

3 months ago

embryomystic

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

fencer_x

July 16 2014, 08:27:57 UTC 3 months ago

I'm from the Southern US, and I definitely heard it before the whole Kanye West thing from people of several different races--I've never associated it with African-Americans or understood it to be anything more than slang--definitely not appropriation.

Perhaps by those outside of an area where it's used natively it could be considered appropriation, but it's rather common in the area I grew up in?

biascut

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

mayanas

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

mamculuna

3 months ago

thekumquat

3 months ago

conuly

3 months ago

teaoli

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

July 16 2014, 10:39:15 UTC 3 months ago

people think it's cool

Yet more proof that I will never understand the point of being cool...

it is appropriation

That sounds like a term I need to look up. Is it different from "copying"?

biascut

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

conuly

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

conuly

3 months ago

muckefuck

3 months ago

bastette_joyce

2 months ago

yiskah

3 months ago

muckefuck

3 months ago

houseboatonstyx

3 months ago

houseboatonstyx

3 months ago

houseboatonstyx

3 months ago

houseboatonstyx

July 16 2014, 11:42:58 UTC 3 months ago

That's when I saw it the first time. It still seems like a conscious choice, unless in a context with a lot of similar phrases.

I wouldn't call it nasty appropriation and certainly not mocking, but I don't feel entitled to use it, either.

I have slowly come round to using 'dunno' and 'yanno' on the Internet. At this point, spelling out those phrases would seem overly elaborate for many contexts in a casual post. I don't imagine them coming from Black or any other specific ethnic group, though.

thekumquat

July 16 2014, 09:13:30 UTC 3 months ago

I'd see it as a new spelling of I'm a - thanks to phone keyboards apostrophes get missed out a lot.

My parents both use the word when trying to sound hokey - mum is American though never lived any further south than Kansas, dad English but lived with mum in Pittsburgh for some years.
I don't think it's an appropriat ion, unlike when my dad used to respond to requests saying "I's a-coming", which after watching more US dated films is clearly supposed to be Black servant/slave speech. He's stopped doing it.

dorsetgirl

July 16 2014, 10:59:01 UTC 3 months ago

I'd see it as a new spelling of I'm a

Do you mean that people used to write "I'm a < verb >"? That does actually ring a bell - there used to be this weird song by Bread that started "Baby I'm a want you", and every time I heard it I used to wonder what on earth it meant. I can't understand how it works because my rather inflexible mind expects a noun after "I'm a".

thekumquat

July 16 2014, 17:51:26 UTC 3 months ago Edited:  July 16 2014, 17:52:40 UTC

Dialect rather than used-to - and more common in song titles (Times they are a-changing, Christmas is a-coming), but both my American and English West Country grandparents would have said "I'm a-going to the store/shops" or "I'ma to bed" - it functions similarly to "I'll be" or more likely a further contraction of "I'm gonna".

houseboatonstyx

July 16 2014, 11:33:46 UTC 3 months ago Edited:  July 16 2014, 11:35:24 UTC

The 'a-verbing' construction sounds familar to me from long ago, and not from, or not only from, Black speech. "Well, he was a-coming right behind me." But the rhythm is very different!

This song was popular a few decades ago. Dunno if it was actually a folk song, didn't sound like it.

The Battle of New Orleans

In 1814 we took a little trip,
Along with colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississippi.
[....]

We fired our guns and the British kept a comin',
There wasn't 'bout as many as there was awhile ago.
We fired once more and they began to runnin'
On down the Mississippi to the gulf of Mexico.
http://www.lyricsfreak.com/n/nitty+gritty+dirt+band/battle+of+new+orleans_20101229.html

I remember it a little different:

down the mighty Mississip

there wasn't as many as there was a while ago

they began a-runnin

Anyway, I doubt if Colonel Jackson had a Black regiment in 1814.

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

muckefuck

3 months ago

dorsetgirl

3 months ago

mamculuna

3 months ago

k0dama

July 16 2014, 12:27:10 UTC 3 months ago Edited:  July 16 2014, 12:29:21 UTC

... been using "imma" all my life, raised VA, been living in NY 15 years now.

I usually say "I think I will" instead, but when I'm in a rush (driving) I will say "Imma pick up some groceries / the laundry" "Imma go to the bank before the doctor" etc.

I wouldn't say it's "standard" but it's a commonly accepted way of speaking, like "gonna" (going to) "wanna" (want to) "shoulda" (should've/should have), "woulda" (would've/would have), "whacha" (what are you). These all sound like -ah where I am.

I'm not sure about it being a mimic of ebonics. More like it's a mimic of American Englsih in general.

zireael07

July 17 2014, 09:02:06 UTC 3 months ago

I've seen gonna, wanna, shoulda and woulda used, but not whacha.

Taught BrE first and then AmE, and more comfortable in AmE.

breaking_skies

July 19 2014, 08:07:06 UTC 3 months ago

Watcha is common in central ky.

always_lovin_u

July 22 2014, 17:02:39 UTC 2 months ago

"Imma" lifer here, born and raised in KY, close to Southern IN. Doesn't sound odd to me at all, either. Neither does "wha(t)cha."

Someone else mentioned "finna" (or "fitna") in the thread too -- doesn't sound odd to me either (and something I use regularly), but definitely Southern AAVE in my experience.

teaoli

July 16 2014, 12:50:24 UTC 3 months ago

Since I first heard it (at a grocery store) when I was fairly young and visiting relatives in Virginia (I think, though North Carolina is also possible), I've assumed it evolved from "I'm gonna"... as if a contraction was further contracted.

Again, though, I would never label it AAVE as biascut has. Not that I would label anything currently in use as AAVE...

I'm more inclined to hear it as "hokey" as thekumquat described it and the "I's" ("I'se"?) as more representative of an out-dated AAVE, or – at least – of folks who were mocking AAVE.

mamculuna

July 16 2014, 15:53:30 UTC 3 months ago

I'm sure some have already said this, but I think it's from rapper-speech, and most especially made famous by Kanye West in his notorious Emmy interruption ("Imma let you finish...)

When I observe my own casual speech, I think I say "I mona do this" for "I'm going to do this." My speech is from the southern US.

And yes, of course, there are more logical ways to say many things. But that's what makes language so interesting--we don't always use the most rational path.

teaoli

July 16 2014, 19:02:30 UTC 3 months ago Edited:  July 16 2014, 19:02:52 UTC

But, as was pointed (a lot) up-thread, it's not from rapper's speech. Although the people dorsetgirl has observed using it might have learned it through hip-hop music or culture, it's far older than rap, and not particularly associated with hip-hop culture or Black culture, etc. in the U.S.

Edited to close html tag.

mamculuna

July 16 2014, 19:04:19 UTC 3 months ago

Yes, I really meant to say that the current popular use of it probably came from there. But note what I say about my own (older Southerner) speech and that phrase.

alessandriana

July 16 2014, 18:13:28 UTC 3 months ago

I've been using it for as long as I can remember (so, >25 yrs. I'm from Texas/California, never seen it specifically associated with AAVE. As teaoli said, I'm pretty sure it came from 'I'm gonna'.)

imps85

July 16 2014, 22:01:18 UTC 3 months ago

First i thought i havent seen it, but i did, not in a written context though(fb, twitter) only in a spoken form. I think it is a cutesy baby talk kind of speaking. like Imma go to the shop to get some dindins.

firecat

July 17 2014, 01:23:20 UTC 3 months ago

It's not "standard American," whatever that is. I use it for fun in approximately the same circumstances that I might use LOLcat speech ("I can haz cheezburger?") because I picked it up from an Internet meme:

http://www.gagful.com/698/hey-cat-imma-boop-your-head-d.html
http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/383886-my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic

I'm a 52 year old white American person.

FWIW, one of the Urban Dictionary definitions says it's short for "I'm gonna" and is sometimes spelled "I'mma".

ti_ana

July 19 2014, 02:29:06 UTC 3 months ago

I had a teacher in high school (so, about 13-14 years ago) who was born to Puerto Rican parents in New York City and he would often warn us that we had to make sure we learned the material because "Imma quiz ya on it." My classmates and I would poke fun at him by impersonating him and saying to each other, "Imma quiz ya!" Even today, the expression makes us all think of him and causes us to break out into laughter.

Just as background, this was in a bilingual school in Puerto Rico and that's the first time I ever heard the expression. We all knew exactly what it meant, but I've always associated it with his New York accent until I heard Kanye West use it a few years ago during the famous Taylor Swift interruption speech. I live in New Jersey now and I've heard it more often in this area.

twerpalicious

July 23 2014, 10:45:56 UTC 2 months ago

I grew up in North Carolina and Georgia. I'd never encountered "imma" until a few years ago and still think of it as rap slang.

On the other hand, I never thought of "fixing to" as regional until my very Southern sister made fun of me for saying it a few years ago. There's a famous song from Woodstock, "I Feel like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," by a band from Berkeley, California.

As for "finna," that to me is even newer than "imma," and I thought it was a prank at first.

bastette_joyce

August 2 2014, 23:01:00 UTC 2 months ago

I remember a song from the 80s called "Ya Mo B There," which I took to mean "Yeah, I'm going to be there." To me, it just sounds like that's what it means. I'm white and from northeastern USA, but I'd heard that kind of phrasing before, mostly from African-Americans. It was't common among white northerners.

I think that non-black people from the northeast or western US do hear things like "Imma" as AAVE, because most non-black people don't speak that way in those regions. Southerners both black and white do speak that way, so to them it doesn't sound like AAVE specifically, but more generally, it's a southern way of talking. As former slaves migrated north and west, they brought southern speech with them.