Don’t worry, Ravens fans. John Harbaugh is just like you. He did not fully understand the meaning or origins of the team’s monosyllabic mantra. He thought it was a typo.
“I thought they just misspelled ‘trust,’ ” the Ravens coach said last Friday, laughing.
If quarterback Lamar Jackson is the star who’s defined this NFL season, “truss” (along with its younger cousin, “big truss”) is the word that’s defined the league’s best team. It is at once whimsical and earnest, irrepressible and flexible. It is representative of the Ravens’ new generation — of players, fans, even memes.
Go on Twitter, and you’ll find Ravens fans with “truss” in their handle. Click on over to running Mark Ingram II’s collection of licensed apparel, and you can buy T-shirts emblazoned with the word. Visit defensive tackle Domata Peko Sr.’s home, and you’d be hard-pressed to miss his gingerbread house — it’s the one with “Big Truss” spelled out in candies on the roof.
“It's crazy, man,” Ravens rookie wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown said Thursday. “It's a movement.”
Truss is here to stay. The Ravens will carry it into their regular-season finale Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers and then the playoffs after that. A Super Bowl appearance would take the word to Miami in a kind of homecoming.
Admission to the team’s bandwagon does not require encyclopedic knowledge of the word, but it does help to know that the Ravens aren’t talking about bridges here. Here’s a truss-worthy guide to the word, from its etymology to its rise to fame to its many meanings:
1. What is the origin of “truss”?
Brown, a native of Hollywood, Florida, a city in Broward County just north of Miami, said “truss” has been in his vocabulary since he was little. “It’s a thing in South Florida,” he said. When the first-round pick arrived in Baltimore this year, he found in Jackson, another Broward County native, someone who spoke his language.
“When I got here, I was saying it,” he said. “I was like, 'Oh, yeah. He says it, too.' ”
The spelling of the word is a variant of “trust,” in much the same way that “color” is the preferred spelling in the United States, while “colour” is preferred elsewhere in the English-speaking world. But the word’s South Florida roots are not exactly the subject of academic research.
Before this Ravens season, the word had rarely captured the public’s imagination. In its 1991 album “Apocalypse 91 ... The Enemy Strikes Black,” the Long Island-based rap group Public Enemy featured the song “Can’t Truss It” as one of its singles. Chuck D reportedly later explained that “Can’t Truss It” is about “how the corporate world of today is just a different kind of slavery.” Truss meant trust, yes, but there was likely a double meaning: To truss something is to bind it.
Four years ago, the word resurfaced in popular culture, this time in a context that hewed more to its Ravens-related meaning. In a 2015 Vine, the rapper Drake filmed himself saying, “Man’s never been in Marquee when it’s shut down, eh? Truss me, daddi.” The clip was soon sampled in the English rapper Skepta’s gold-certified song “Shutdown,” which later was featured in the popular “NBA 2K17” video game.
2. When did “truss” enter the mainstream?
Jackson has been tweeting the word since last season, before he even took over the Ravens’ starting job. In response to an October 2018 tweet saying, “I’m Forever Good,” he wrote, “Truss.” Same for a message about knowledge gained through adversity. And for shout-outs from Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice, former Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith and Utah Jazz star (and former Louisville standout) Donovan Mitchell.
But the word entered the mainstream when running back Mark Ingram II wrapped up his postgame news conference after the Ravens’ 41-7 win over the Houston Texans last month. In the Week 11 game, Jackson had gone 17-for-24 for 222 passing yards and four touchdowns and finished with 10 carries for 79 yards. He was next up at the lectern, and Ingram made the most of his introduction.
“I would just like to introduce you all to the man, the myth, the legend, the MVP front-runner,” he told reporters. “If anybody else’s got to say something different about that, then come see me. I’m right here in B-more outside [M&T Bank Stadium]. If you got an issue with that, come see me. I’m about that. Big truss.”
Two weeks later, after Justin Tucker hit a game-winning 49-yard field goal as time expired to beat the San Francisco 49ers, the kicker opened the Ravens’ postgame presser by honoring Ingram’s comments.
“I feel like in the spirit of my teammates who have been up here to talk to you guys the last few weeks, I should say something, like, real inspiring. Like ‘big truss.’ "
Two weeks after that, Jackson and Ingram crashed a live “SportsCenter” interview with Harbaugh. Wearing a commemorative AFC North championship hat and T-shirt, Ingram swung an arm around Harbaugh, looked into the camera and said, “Truss.” Harbaugh one-upped him: “Big truss.”
3. What does 'truss’ mean?
Semantically, there is little difference in the Ravens locker room between “truss” and “big truss.” “Truss” is a noun, not a verb, that’s often rendered as a proper noun. (See also: the “Dab.”) But the word’s meaning depends on whom you ask.
Brown described it as an affirmation, a kind of emphatic acknowledgment. “If somebody says something, you’re like, ‘Truss.’ Like, ‘Yeah.’ ”
Tucker’s interpretation was more personal. “Truss that if I say it, I mean it,” he said. “It's that simple.”
Defensive tackle Michael Pierce called it a “mixed-use word,” something like Owings Mills’ answer to the Hawaiian word “aloha.”
“Depending on who you’re talking to, it may mean different things,” he said. "For me, it just means you trust your brother, you trust your family, and we all got each other’s backs.”
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Peko, who joined the Ravens in mid-November, just as the mantra was taking off, pointed to the word that birthed “truss.”
“I feel like truss is like trust, right? That’s what I got out of it,” Peko said. " ‘Big truss’ — like, trust one another, you know what I mean? And that’s what this team’s about, man. It’s everyone just playing for one another, and when you trust one another, man, it makes you want to go harder for someone, you know what I mean? And that’s what I got out of it, is just really trusting your teammates to do their job and them trusting me to do my job. And when we’re all doing that, man, watch out. It’s hard to mess up.”
Unless, of course, you call it trust.
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