butt/booty, dial/call

Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange:

The nouns butt and booty overlap in their uses, and so do the verbs dial and call, and so do the related nouns dial and call. However… the compound nouns butt dial and booty call (also the related verbs butt dial and booty call) are both slang idioms, and they aren’t at all interchageable.

I’ll start with the verbs to dial and to call. These are near-synonyms for to telephone, though dial more strongly suggests that a dial phone is used for the telephoning, while call carries no connotation as to the type of phone used; and dial is also less syntactically versatile than call, since call can be used with direct objects that denote either a phone number (Call 555-1212 for help) or a person or organization (Call me / my department for help), while dial is rarely used in the second way (??Dial me / my department for help); in fact, NOAD2 countenances only the first use for dial. But things are more complex than that in the world of mobile/cell phones, where the recent idiom to butt dial or to pocket dial refers to the accidental dialing of a number by a such a phone in a pocket (or handbag) — in which case, these idiomatic uses of dial can have direct objects of either type (Ohmygod, you butt-dialed 555-1212 / me / my department!).

The current use of to butt dial doesn’t actually require that the phone be in a rear pocket (where dialing can be triggered by contact with a person’s butt, that is, buttocks); it’s been extended to accidental dialing in any pocket (or in a handbag).

Another comment on butt in to butt dial: butt here is a shortening of buttock ‘either of the two round fleshy parts that form the lower rear area of a human trunk’ (NOAD2), but (like its near-synonym ass) the noun butt can also refer to the central anatomical feature of the buttocks, the rectum or its external opening the anus (as in take it up the butt and similar expressions). This ambiguity is not relevant in to butt dial, though it is in other contexts.

So far this has been about the verb to butt dial, but the cartoon uses the nouning a butt dial. Nouning of the verb dial is certainly possible — Here’s the number; give it a dial — but it is rare enough that NOAD2 doesn’t list a ‘phone call’ sense for the noun dial. However, once again things are different in the world of mobile/cell phones, where the nouning a butt dial is very common indeed. From just one Gizmodo piece (7/23/15 by Kalia Hale-Stern), we have the title:

Have You Ever Had a Disastrous Butt-Dial?

two captions for images:

caption [man speaking]: I listen to the first 30 seconds of an accidental butt dial like I’m in a FBI Surveillance Van

caption [cat speaking]: begrudgingly answer phone call from a friend / relieved to find out it’s just a butt dial

and the text:

I have to admit that as the recipient of butt-dials, I’ve stayed on the line for longer than I probably should have out of curiosity.

Now to booty and booty call. First, set aside the piratical noun booty and a metaphorical extension of it (from NOAD2: ‘valuable stolen goods, especially those seized in war’, (informal) ‘something gained or won’). That brings us to a noun booty (also spelled boody) that originated in AAVE, with multiple historical associations with both body and buttGreen’s Dictionary of Slang gives two senses (front and rear) of this booty:

the vagina, hence by metonymy, a woman, esp. as a sex-object and generic, for sex (whether with a man or a woman): first cite c1908 [on the metonymy for ‘woman’, compare similar uses of cunt, snatch, piece of ass, etc.; on the generic use for ‘sex, sexual relations’, compare the usage in I need some ass / dick / etc.]

the buttocks, the rectum: first cite 1926

The word in these senses was confined to black usage for some time, but (as is the case with many pieces of black slang) eventually percolated into wider use, and eventually was used by some people who probably didn’t see any association with race.

For booty call, Green again has two senses:

late-night rendezvous [for sex]: first cite 1994

a person used for casual sex [as in Kim is my booty call]: first cite 1995

(Again, these items were at first specifically AAVE, but spread fairly quickly into wider usage.)

In the case of the compound noun butt dial, the head noun dial is clearly the telephonic noun, but for the compound noun booty call the head noun call pretty clearly is not the telephonic noun (though booty calls can of course be set up by phone or some other means of communication). Still, it’s not clear which of a number of (related) uses of the noun call is the one in booty call; it’s not even clear that it makes sense to ask this question. It’s entirely possible that the first users of booty call saw two or more uses in play at once; ordinary speakers do not, after all, think in terms of dictionary entries and subentries and might well think of items and their meanings much more loosely and fluidly than lexicographers do.

In any case, here’s some of NOAD2’s entry for the noun call, which has lists two senses, the first with quite a number of specialized subsenses, five of them given here:

[1] a cry made as a summons or to attract someone’s attention: in response to the call, a figure appeared.
[1a] the characteristic cry of a bird or other animal.
[1b] [with modifier] a series of notes sounded on a brass instrument as a signal to do something: a bugle call to rise at 5:30.
[1c] a telephone communication or conversation: I’ll give you a call at around five.
[1d] (a call for) an appeal or demand for: the call for action was welcomed.
[1e] a summons: a messenger arrived bringing news of his call to the throne.
[2] a brief visit: we paid a call on Howard.
[2a] a visit or journey made in response to an emergency appeal for help: the doctor was out on a call.
ORIGIN late Old English ceallian, from Old Norse kalla ‘summon loudly.’

Early users of booty call might well have seen such a rendezvous as combining a summons and a visit. In any event, the compound quickly became conventionalized, an idiom whose users would not ordinarily reflect on the meanings of its parts.

Finally, the noun booty call has been verbed, giving us a transitive verb to booty-call, glossable as ‘have a (sexual) rendezvous with’ which can be used by a man or a woman. On Twitter, some tweets with this usage: first, an 5/21/14 exchange between a woman and a man in which the man offers to booty-call the woman:

Jackie O (@JackieOProblems): Ugh I don’t even get booty call texts anymore. WTF is wrong with me??

sir trap wigglin (@bigdc417): i’ll booty call you, text or phone call 😉

and then a 1/11/13 vow from a woman to booty-call a man:

Christianna (@MissDoulou): i’ll booty call him 2nite after the concert, that way he can see his favorite band and his favorite vagina all in 1night

This usage brings us back to the cartoon, where the daughter says to the mother:

You didn’t booty call the gerontologist.

(instead, she butt dialed the gerontologist — not the same thing at all).


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: