An etymology of lessgo*
It was an ailment I thought I was immune from. Not because I had taken a vaccine, but because I’m the introverted type, and I don’t want to risk something unexpected spilling from my mouth. It was something I enjoyed hearing from others – at weddings, at the clubs, the Ranui train station and at the Tonga versus All Blacks game at the FMG Stadium Waikato.
But it only takes a few bevvies (of any kind) before I too catch the bug. The ‘lessgo bug’, that is. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely, like the cold pineapple Frujus my great-grandpa Pete used to have in his chest freezer ready and waiting after my walks home from intermediate school. And before you know it, the call is hanging in the air waiting for another ‘lessgo’ to come back in response.
‘Lessgo’ is essentially a contraction of ‘let’s go’, which is itself a contraction of ‘let us go’. Uses of the phrase ‘let’s go’ can be found as early as 1615 in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, which reads, “Now let’s go hand in hand, no one before another.” In this usage it is just a polite request to do something.
‘Lessgo’ as I’m describing it also suggests an action of doing something. But rather than being a polite turn of phrase, it’s used to hype up the person about to do the doing. Sometimes it’s even used just for hyping up yourself. Amongst Sāmoans, ‘lessgo’ often goes hand in hand with a fa’aumu (colloquially known as a ‘chee-hoo!’).
I can’t actually remember when I first heard it. But like the Spice Girl-inspired platform leather shoes with the individual leather slit for your big toe that swept through Glen Eden Primary School in the mid-late nineties, ‘lessgo’ seemed to blow in overnight. And it still has not released its grip.
Daniel Earl on Urban Dictionary points to Chris Brown’s 2011 hit Look at Me Now as the conception point for the phrase ‘leggo’, another contraction of let’s go. And, specifically, the opening lines:
I don't see how you can hate from outside of the club
You can't even get in
Ha ha ha, Leggo
It’s easy to draw the connection between Chris Brown’s ‘leggo’, and ‘lessgo’ or ‘leshgo’ as the urban Island equivalent.
But then I heard it.
I was driving to drop my daughter off to a sleepover, after dropping off the other kid to another family member. I was child free for the night: arguably this was my own ‘lessgo’ moment. Then it came on the radio. I would recognise that soft opening whisper anywhere.
Put yo hands up to the sky
Wiggle wiggle side to side
We gon rock we gon roll
We gon set this party on fire
We gon ride tonight
Ah to the roof man… to the roof
We gon get so high tonight
Ah get loose man, get loose lets go
Did Dei Hamo, in his 2010 smash hit ‘We Gone Ride’, just say lessgo? [Since publishing this piece Twitter has corrected me that Dei Hamo’s smash hit was actually 2004. Which further proves how ahead of the times the local rap royalty is. Apologies for that error and thanks for those who pointed it out to me]. Dei Hamo’s ‘let’s go’ is not a contraction but it has the right energy and emphasis on the final ‘o’ as today’s ‘lessgo’. Dei Hamo’s ‘let’s go’ is a whole year earlier than Chris Brown’s. Could this mean ‘lessgo’ comes not from Chris Brown but our very own prince of NZ hip hop, Dei Hamo?
I think we should claim it.
Even with its origins on shaky ground, ‘lessgo’ has a firm place in a long line of brown urban colloquialisms – our own local brown vernacular if you like. I laughed when I read a Stuff headline that said, “Hey uce, here’s a mean-as guide to Kiwi regional slang”. I laughed because while, yes, at a stretch, uce can be described as Kiwi slang, the localised iteration of the Sāmoan uso (brother) is definitely used from a place of knowing only among certain people. I laughed because seeing the words that sit in your home as comfortably as unnoticed dust on the top of your fridge as a Stuff headline is awks as.
A few years ago Leilani Momoisea traced some of the origins of ‘poly slang’ for Metro magazine. In particular she was looking at words taken from Sāmoan and Tongan that had morphed into a local vernacular. Words like uce, but also bots, and of course skux, which in particular was well charted in this piece by Tayi Tibble. And a term my older cousins told me came from St Pat’s College in Wellington circa early 1990s as a Sāmoan transliteration of stud. And who is going to challenge their cousins’ urban legends? After all, them being my cousins gives me proximity to the origin point. It’s a win–win situation.
Momoisea closes her article by saying that ‘poly slang’ doesn’t seem to be at the “being ruined by white people stage yet”, but five years on from when the article was published, I wonder if she’d still agree.
‘Lessgo’ or specifically ‘lesshgo’ has been a bit of a joke on a couple of mainstream radio stations. It makes me cringe so hard when terms get policed by people who don’t know or use said terms themselves, and just dismiss them as part of a ‘subculture’. And by subculture, I mean not their culture. Hearing ‘lessgo’ stick in the throat of someone’s unrefined palate lowkey makes my back hairs stand like when my white mates first started regurgitating the language of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
If you don’t like something, don’t use it. If it doesn’t roll over your tongue like a cold chocolate Nippy’s after a bakery pie, then it probably wasn’t meant for you.
And for the rest, lessgo!