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Cardi B Can't Trademark 'Okurrr'

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has ruled it is not OK for rapper Cardi B to trademark one of her signature catchphrases.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARDI B: Okurrr.

MONTAGNE: One more time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARDI B: Okurrr.

MONTAGNE: If you didn't catch that, here she is explaining how it works to "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")

CARDI B: If somebody checks somebody - okurrr.

(LAUGHTER)

CARDI B: I didn't know she had all of that in her. Okurrr.

JIMMY FALLON: Okurrr. Oh, I see. It's almost like OK. But it's...

CARDI B: Yeah. OK. But OK is played out.

MONTAGNE: One reason her patent was denied - the trilling expression is already widely used in public. And by public, I mean Kardashian-level public. It's a favorite of reality star Khloe Kardashian. Here's a compilation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

KHLOE KARDASHIAN: Hashtag #Okurrr.

Okurrr.

Okurrr.

Okurrr.

MONTAGNE: By the way, before the Kardashians, it was used by drag queen Laganja Estanja, a contestant on "RuPaul's Drag Race." Her version didn't have those rolling R's.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAGANJA ESTRANJA: Okurrr.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I thought it was okurrr.

ESTRANJA: The original okurr was just...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, so the bandwidth has expanded.

ESTRANJA: ...Okurrr.

MONTAGNE: Drag queen culture played a huge role, in fact, in the word's evolution, according to Rusty Barrett, associate professor of linguistics at the University of Kentucky.

RUSTY BARRETT: The pronunciation of OK as OK originated in ballroom culture in the 1980s and was a sort of popular catchphrase in gay communities for a long time before the addition of the R occurred.

MONTAGNE: In fact, Barrett says most popular American catchphrases originate in minority communities. "RuPaul's Drag Race" has been a conduit from drag culture to Twitter to middle schools and launched such favorites as...

BARRETT: Serving tea, which means sort of to tell someone's secrets, what they're trying to hide, and throwing shade, which means to be highly indirect but insulting at the same time.

MONTAGNE: Several critics did throw shade at Cardi B for her trademark attempt but not like Laganja Estranja, one of the original progenitors of okurrr. She tweeted that Cardi B, quote, "didn't steal anything" and that she, quote, "was smart enough to capitalize on it. Props to you, mama." Okurrr.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAT ADDERLEY'S "CANTALOUPE ISLAND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: July 9, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
While the headline and introduction to this report make clear that rapper Cardi B has been told she can't trademark a catchphrase, at one point we mistakenly say she has been denied a patent. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office explains the difference between trademarks and patents here.