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9th Circuit says ‘pimp’ can be compliment

According to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, “rollin’ deep” means “driving along in a cool car;” “kick flavor” means “to perform, to be entertaining; to “scope” means to “evaluate a member of the opposite sex visually;” and a “hottie” is “an attractive or sexually promiscuous person of the opposite sex.”

So why is the high court defining slang and hip-hop terms? Because Evel Knievel has lost his defamation suit against ESPN. That’s right. The famous daredevil, whose notorious feats included risking his life on national television in an unsuccessful 1974 attempt jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho on a rocket-powered motorcycle, filed a defamation suit against ESPN. He had attended ESPN’s Action Sports and Music Awards in 2001, and ESPN then published a photo of him at the affair on its extreme sports website.

Knievel’s objection was the caption accompanying the photo, which showed him wearing a motorcycle jacket and rose-tinted sunglasses, with his right arm around wife Krystal and his left around another young woman. The caption read, “Evel Knievel proves that you’re never too old to be a pimp.”

After a Montana court threw out the defamation suit filed by Evel and Krystal Knievel, the couple appealed to the 9th Circuit. But a three-judge panel sided 2-1 with the Montana court, saying the photo, which was displayed on the website for six days, could only be viewed after seeing nine others ahead of it, each showing celebrities at the event with slangy, flip captions, many of which clearly aren’t literally true. The language, the court majority wrote, is “lighthearted, jocular, and intended for a youthful audience.”

Although the Knievels’ lawyer argued that “pimp” was always an insult where he grew up, the court noted that “today it’s a very ambiguous term, used as either a compliment or an insult towards a male. In its positive form, it means that the person is ‘cool.’ In its negative form, it insults their attitudes, clothing, or general behavior.” The word also sometimes is used “when complimenting a person on their mastery of the subject matter,” the judges wrote.

“Read in the context of the satirical, risqué, and sophomoric slang found on the rest of the site, the word ‘pimp’ cannot be reasonably interpreted as a criminal accusation,” the majority concluded.

The dissenting judge, however, noted that the dictionary definition of “pimp” still suggests it’s a word for a criminal, a man who solicits clients for a prostitute. He favored allowing the case to go to trial.

In addition to the definitions of the various slang terms, the court opinion features an interesting rundown of Knievel’s career as a motorcycle daredevil – including “setting a world record in 1971 when he cleared 19 Dodge cars” – and an extended quote from Shakespeare in the dissent – pretty good reading for a court record.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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