Cardi B wasn’t kidding when she says she makes money moves, and for her latest money move she’s filed paperwork to trademark her famous catchphrase “okurrr” (as well as its slightly less enthusiastic little sibling “okurr”). According to The Blast, Cardi plans to use the phrase on things like paper products (“namely paper cups and posters,” according to the filings) and apparel like T-shirts and hoodies. Given how many other celebrities have trademarked various catch phrases (Paris Hilton owns “That’s hot”), it’s not particularly surprising Cardi would get into the game as well. After all, “okurrr” has been an integral part of her image since the days when she was better known as a Love & Hip-Hop and Instagram personality, and it’s taken her all the way to a starring role in a Pepsi Super Bowl commercial (and a W ASMR video, for that matter).
The trademark filings come even though Cardi B wasn’t technically the first to use “okurrr,” even if she may have been the one to kick it into the stratosphere. Unless anyone objects, this may not matter much for Cardi’s legal filings, but it’s worth pointing out. Cardi herself has admitted that it was the Kardashians who got her “hooked” on the phrase in the first place.
The sisters, led by Khloé Kardashian, started using the sound sometime around 2016. But watchers of the wider world of reality television know that Keeping Up was far from the first reality TV show on which “okurrr” appeared. That would be, of course, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Popular recollection has it that it was season six contestant Laganja Estranja who popularized the utterance of the phrase, but as Estranja herself once clarified, her version, while an exaggerated utterance of the word “okay” was different. It’s more of an “owkayyy” than an “okurrr.” Instead it was her fellow season six contestant Alaska Thunderfuck who seems to have popularized the version with the rolled-r sound (it’s technically called an “alveolar trill,” for what that’s worth) while impersonating Estranja. Whatever the case, the use of “okurrr” soon wove itself into the fabric of Drag Race a couple of years before it wound up on the Kardashians. If you’re wondering how it made the jump from one show or another, perhaps it’s because Khloé Kardashian herself appeared as Drag Race guest judge on season six.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Drag Race has launched numerous phrases into the popular lingo over the past few years. It’s the reason everyone, their mom, and their favorite content farm website is “throwing shade” and “spilling tea” all the time. Though, Drag Race didn’t invent those terms, and that may be the case with “okurrr,” as well.
In fact, RuPaul herself gives credit for the phrase to Broadway actress Laura Bell Bundy, who may be best known for originating the role of Elle Woods in the stage musical version of Legally Blonde.
“You are the originator of okurrr,” RuPaul recently told Bundy while hosting her on his podcast “What’s The Tea?”
“I first became aware of you because of a character you did on YouTube where said ‘okurr,’ and that is where the kids on Drag Race got their ‘okurr’ from,” said RuPaul. “Now of course it’s been taken by the mainstream culture, and Cardi B and all these people.’
Indeed, around 2010 Bundy uploaded a number of comedic web shorts in which she portrayed residents of a fictional Southern area called Cooter County inspired by her own Kentucky upbringing. While she created numerous characters, it was a character named Shocantelle Brown that took off around 2010 (with some assistance from Perez Hilton, who took a liking to the video). Though Bundy maintains she portrayed the character as a white Southerner with a past in a big city, it’s undeniable that the character’s accent borrows heavily from women of color.
Still, Bundy herself isn’t so sure that she necessarily invented “okurrr” either.
“The reason the ‘okurr’ thing happened was we were all saying it at Legally Blonde; prior to this it was just in our vernacular on Broadway,” she told RuPaul. “We’d do the bend and snap and do ‘okurr’ and everybody was saying it, so when I did this video for Shocantelle…and I just threw out ‘Okurr,’ like, a couple of times.”
So is that that? ‘Okurr’ is really just backstage Broadway lingo? Hmmm, doesn’t sound quite right.
Something tells us the case of the origin of “okurr” might go even further back. Indeed, something about Bundy’s various plays on the words “weave” sparked something further back in our cultural memory—namely the Nickelodeon children’s sketch comedy show All That. In a series of sketches dubbed “The Inconvenience Store” that aired in the show’s fifth season, Kenan Thompson and Nick Cannon (the show’s two most successful alumni) teamed up to play two female c-store employees who aren’t particularly adapt at customer service. They made various weave jokes (like “unbe-weave-able”) and, lo and behold, also had their own version of a drawn-out “OK” altered with the rhythmic ending. It’s not quite the “okurr” we all know and love today, but it’s not inconceivable (or even “unbe-weave-able”) to think that it played a part in laying the foundation for it.
And who knows, maybe there’s some other preceding bit of culture that in turn informed this All That sketch, and a few missing links along the way. Still, it seems like the evolution of “okurr” as we know it happened among various performers adept at getting attention with a simple turn of phrase or an intriguing guttural utterance (namely drag queens, comedians, reality television standouts, and theater kids), but there’s no denying that it’s inspiration lays in the actual vernacular of African-American women.
Even if Cardi B didn’t invent the phrase, maybe it’s only right that after all that she, the only black woman in this short history, may now officially own it.