"Yo mama" joke

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A maternal insult in William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, detail from the First Folio.

A "Yo mamma" joke, or a maternal insult, is a form of humor involving a verbal disparaging of one's mother. Used as an insult, "your mother..." preys on widespread sentiments of parental respect. Suggestions of promiscuity and obesity are common,[1] but the form's limit is human ingenuity. Compared to other types of insults, "your mother" insults are especially likely to incite violence.[2] Slang variants such as "ur mum" are sometimes used, depending on speaker. Insults involving "your mother" are commonly used when playing the Dozens. This article's titular eye dialect as well is a reference to an aspect of African-American culture. In non-American areas, the association can be with juvenile culture generally.

Although the phrase has a long history of including a description portion, such as the old "your mother wears combat boots", the phrase "yo mama" by itself, without any qualifiers, has become commonly used as an all-purpose insult[3] or an expression of defiance.

Ancient Times

The incarnations of filial piety in various cultures are reflected by examples through all of human history.

Like a 3,500-year-old Babylonian Akkadian stone tablet found in 1976 by an archaeologist named J. J. van Dijk. The tablet was most likely written by a student, because it has multiple spelling and grammar errors. The tablet also contained multiple riddles and more jokes. Scholars Michael Streck and Nathan Wasserman studied the tablet and published their research and translations in the journal Iraq, put out by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq. Streck and Wasserman's translation of this particular joke reads, "…of your mother is by the one who has intercourse with her. What/who is it?"[4]

William Shakespeare used such a device more than once. In Titus Andronicus,[5] Aaron taunts his lover's sons:

"Villain, I have done thy mother."

Rabbi Eliezer (c. 100 CE) was said[6] to have interrupted a man reading aloud the opening words of the then-banned and still-troubling Ezekiel 23 ("Mortal, proclaim to Jerusalem her abominations")

"Go out and check the abominations of your mother!"


John Dollard said the dozens was a way to express or mitigate anger in underprivileged African-American groups. There are issues of gender, as he imagined this a matter of young men within a matriarchal structure.[7]

Modern use

Movies have seen the incorporation of "Yo Mama" jokes, utilized as punchlines or comedic dialogues between characters. For instance, in the movie "White Men Can't Jump," characters exchange "Yo Mama" jokes. Other movies like "The Nutty Professor" (1996) have featured "Yo Mama" jokes as part of the comedic interaction between characters.[8] Comedian Richard Pryor also incorporated "Yo Mama" jokes in some of his stand-up routines, contributing to the jokes' popularity.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Millicent R. Ayoub and Sephen A. Barnett (October–December 1965). "Ritualized Verbal Insult in White High School Culture". The Journal of American Folklore. American Folklore Society. 78 (310): 337–344. doi:10.2307/538441. JSTOR 538441.
  2. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (2006-06-12). "The mother of all insults". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2006-12-06.
  3. ^ Andrew Conway (1994). "You're ugly, your dick is small and everybody's afraid to fuck your mother! The Stand Up Comedian's Response to the Heckler". Maledicta. 11: 34–46. Retrieved 2007-11-18.
  4. ^ Deron, Bernadette (2018-08-02). "This 3,500 Year Old Tablet Has History's First 'Yo Mama' Joke". All That's Interesting. Retrieved 2022-12-15.
  5. ^ Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, Act IV, Scene II
  6. ^ Stavrakopoulou, Francesca (2022-01-25). God: An Anatomy. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-525-52045-0.
  7. ^ Ayoub, Millicent R.; Barnett, Stephen A. (October 1965). "Ritualized Verbal Insult in White High School Culture". The Journal of American Folklore. 78 (310): 337. doi:10.2307/538441. ISSN 0021-8715. JSTOR 538441.
  8. ^ Copeland, Jamili. "Top 10 Yo Mama Jokes in Movies | Articles on WatchMojo.com". WatchMojo. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  9. ^ "Yo Mama: Definition, Meaning, and Origin". US Dictionary. 11 October 2023. Retrieved 25 October 2023.