Growing up, I listened to Eminem so much that I knew every line by heart. I’ve always been amazed by his ability to craft the English language around his rhymes. But after working as an English teacher in Spain for the past two years, I’ve grown to appreciate his skills on a whole new level.
Today we’re going to analyze a few lines from his song Superman and try to learn something about the English language. Let’s look at the following lyrics.
Don’t put out? I’ll put you out
Won’t get out? I’ll push you out
Puss blew out, poppin’ sh*t
Wouldn’t piss in fire to put you out
At first, it might seem like Eminem just rhymes the word out with itself over and over. But let’s take a deeper look.
These two-word combos Eminem uses are called phrasal verbs. A phrasal verb is a combination of verb + preposition, which create an entirely new verb.
Let’s use an example. Think about the meaning of the word turn for a second. Now read the following sentences.
I’m going to turn in early so let me know how it turns out. I’m turned on but I’ve been turned down many times. Please turn off the light and turn down the volume. If the police turn up, I’ll turn you in. TURN DOWN FOR WHAT?????
As you can see, the preposition completely alters the meaning of the verb it’s paired with. Even though Eminem’s rhymes all contain the word out, each phrasal verb carries a vastly different meaning.
Let’s do a line-by-line analysis of these Eminem lyrics.
Don’t put out?
The phrasal verb put out in this sense means to “do sexual acts.” He’s talking to a hypothetical groupie who is only pursuing him because he is rich and famous. Eminem is basically saying, “If you don’t have sex with me…”
I’ll put you out
He’s now using a different meaning of put out, which would be more like “to place outside.” A common use of this definition would be, “Honey, could you please put out the trash for collection?” He’s basically saying that he doesn’t need to keep this girl around.
(Note for linguistic nerds: this phrasal verb is transitive because it has an direct object, you. Many times the direct object will split the phrasal verb, such as “the cop pulled the man over.” But it depends on the sentence. When the object is a pronoun—it, you, him, her, us, them—it will always split the phrasal verb.)
Won’t get out?
Again, this is a rhetorical question posed to a woman. In this case, get out could be replaced by “leave” without changing the meaning. “If you don’t leave…”
I’ll push you out
Some phrasal verbs, like push out, are extremely self-explanatory. He could have also used the common phrasal verb kick out, but the image of being physically pushed out is more concrete in my mind.
Puss blew out, poppin’ shit
The phrase blow out could mean several things (such as “blow out the candle”), but I think he means “destroyed from overuse,” which you would typically use with tires and fuses. He’s describing this hypothetic groupie who is used up.
This line offers us a little break after having to process all of the phrasal verbs from the previous lines. Eminem also paints an image of the kind of girl who pursues him (one who is poppin’ shit or “taking pills”), which leads to the next line.
Wouldn’t piss on fire to put you out
He uses put out for the third time, but now offers a new definition: “extinguish a fire.” Throughout the song, he complains that his relations with these groupies are shallow and meaningless. With this line, he shows his complete contempt for them. This extremely harsh punchline closes out his phrasal verb wordplay with a bang.
But I do know one thing though….
While Eminem wouldn’t use grammatical jargon like this to analyze his work, he does have intimate knowledge of the mechanics of the English language in a way that no academic ever could. And that is what makes him great.
To read about my adventures as a professional MMA fighter in Peru, check out my book: The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.