A popular term seems to have spread across the City of Philadelphia: “Jawn.” We don’t know other places that say it. This one time we heard a black guy on the bus use it, and he wasn’t just talking about some random thing but a storefront! We were like, whoa— he just used it for a location.

Clearly another jawn on jawn was in order.

Many researchers believe jawn is a derivation of the word joint. A Penn doctoral student has actually traced “joint” to a song from New York. Oooooooooh. Burn. It’s just such a perfect example— this expression that’s not really the same word and not used in New York — of how Philly gets so much from the Big Apple. 

We can guess too that the term originated with African Americans in Philadelphia in the ’80s, or at least that’s the belief of everyone who has written one of these perennial think pieces on jawn as if there might actually be something new to say. But hey, don’t people in Philly talk funny?

Advertisers are up on this. Advertisers be knowin’. We can’t really express the glee we feel when a poster inside a bus shelter or billboard tells us that it’s not just water but a jawn. There’s this sense that this ad could have been anywhere else in the world, but it’s here with us.

If they start putting jawn on craft condiment bottles, all our money will be gone. ALL. OF. IT. I mean, as soon as you start calling your poetry podcast a jawn, it’s instantly cooler. Not really sure what that guy in passing was saying? Just say he said that jawn. No, really. That works here.

Through the course of our reporting, we came across Philadelphians saying lots of things like “bol,” “drawlin,” and lot of other terms that gave us concern about the proper spelling. But none of these terms have been as promoted or marketed on t-shirts and mugs. Somewhere along the line, it would appear, jawn became not just a slang thing but a way to invoke the Philly-ness of whateverthefuck. It doesn’t always make sense to us, but it’s just so damn powerful.

On top of that, jawn is universal. We talked to yuppies and artisans and they say jawn. White people say it. Asians too! Jawn sees no color. Jawn is love.

Rules? Nah. Jawn don’t know about those jawns. Jawn is noun. Jawn is person, place or thing. Yes, person! Or, maybe woman. Okay, that sounds messed up. We didn’t mean to go there. But essentially, your car is a jawn; your old Beanie Baby you don’t admit to still having is a jawn; your class syllabus is a jawn! (Syllabi = jawns.) “My pockets are full of jawn,” one man told CBS. Well, would you look at that. You can jawn any kind of way.

But wait! There is one rule. We know, we know, what we are saying? Jawn is reckless, it’s radical, but one thing, though. People keep mispronouncing it! From our very scientific study (conducted over the last week at that dive bar that serves $6 PBRs) we can announce the following: It’s said like the name John. Okay? Get it right!

We’ve seen reports suggesting that jawn could be dead. This is preposterous. How it could be dead when every few months there’s a new report on it? When we look at a billboard that tells us “There’s no jawn like home” it stops us. We’re overwhelmed with a sense of mystery – What could the ad possibly be talking about? Is there a rowhouse that I should be living in that’s my jawn? Is there a thing in the jawn that means home? Maybe the whole city of Philadelphia, from Chestnut Hill to Somerton to the Navy Yard, is a jawn and we just never knew it before. This is why jawn is so beautiful. This is why jawn will never die. We’ll never let it.

So jawn away, we say.

Why let Bianca from Creed stop you?

Cassie Owens is a reporter/curator for BillyPenn.com. She was assistant editor at Next City and has contributed to Philadelphia City Paper, Metro, the Jewish Daily Forward, The Islamic Monthly and Spoke,...