Thank you for asking this question. I feel as if a lot of people don’t know the distinction and a lot of confusion comes from that. We have these definitions in our site glossary, but it never hurts to share the information on people’s dashboards and feeds.
“Dreads” is a shortened form of the word “dreadlocks.”
According to etymologists, “dreadlocks” is a word that was first used to describe the locked hair of Rastafari people. Though the etymology of the word is not debated in the academic community, it is debated in the black hair community due to a number of myths; however, two common stories are told.
One story claims that the word came from the Rastafari followers’ “dread” (“fear” as described Biblically in the books of Hebrews, Psalms, and Proverbs) of Jah, the God of Abraham. This theory most closely correlates to the academic explanation of the word.
Another common theory states that hair of African slaves shipped to the Caribbean matted up during the course of their transport, and therefore their hair became known as “dreadful.” It is important to note that Carribean slave trade predated the first documented use of the word “dreadlocks” by more than two centuries, and it is both uncertain and academically unproven that this connection is grounded in fact.
Because of the second story, many black people prefer not to call their locked hair “dreadlocks.”
Having “dreadful” hair is a racially-charged societal myth that particularly concerns black and African hair types. There is a pressure in the black community to have “good hair,” because Western beauty standards often label natural black/African hair as something negative that must be hidden (weaves), disguised (braided), or heavily-manipulated (relaxed).
Many black people assert there is nothing “dreadful” about their hair, knotted or not. For this reason, the word “locs” was invented to specifically describe knotted black and African hair.
Because “locs” is an invented word and was created to specifically describe black people and black people only (Africans included), it is generally inappropriate for people who are not of African descent to call their own hair “locs.”
Some black people disagree, but this is the very overwhelming consensus in the black locs community. Out of respect for the wishes expressed by that community, DreadlockINFO does not and will not call non-black hair “locs.”
However, not all black people shy away from calling their hair “dreads” or “dreadlocks.”
Even those who believe the second story about slave hair being “dreadful” can take the “dread-” prefix and ameliorate and reclaim the word. Just like how the N-word was a negative term to describe black people, some have embraced it and attempted to change the negative connotation of the word to a positive one. However, some black people still feel and experience negative feelings because of the word and prefer not to use it.
Each viewpoint is justifiable. Such is the same with the preference to embrace/ameliorate “dread” or shun it entirely. (It is also important to note here that only black people can ameliorate the N-word and the “dreadful” societal myth about their hair; for this reason, some black people do not believe non-black people can call their own knotted hair “dreads” or “dreadlocks” and ask they use a different term.)
Because the first etymological story about “dreadlocks” describes the Rastafari fear (“dread”) of Jah, many people—regardless of race—do not want to have the word “dread” in the name of what they call their hair. This is because the academic etymology links the word “dreadlocks” specifically to Rastafari culture, and many recognize that Rastafari culture is not theirs to take from.
Cultures all over the world have had locks through all different eras. However, none other than the Rastas have called their hair “dreadlocks.” The knotted hair of Indian ascetics is called “jata”; the knotted hair of Gaelic people was called “glibs”; the knotted hair of the Polish and Germanic superstitious was called “kołtun.” Yes, instances of knotted hair have been worldwide, independent phenomena throughout history, but only Rastas called their hair “dreadlocks.”
Out of respect to Rastafari culture, some people prefer not to take that word away from them and secularize the meaning of the “dread” Rastas have for Jah. From this respect, the word “locks” was born in reference to knotted hair.
“Locks,” of course, is not an invented word. According to etymologists, this word has been around for more than a century in reference to hair.
Because “locks”—unlike “locs”—was not invented to specifically describe a race, anyone of any race can use the word without negative or appropriative connotations. This, therefore is the most socially neutral way to refer to knotted hair.
Side note: Many languages, such as Spanish, do not have modern words for locks, and because of this, they call all knotted hair “Rastas.”
- Dreads — Specifically linked to Rastafari culture and beliefs, sometimes is connected to slave stories.
- Locs — Black people only
- Locks — Race-neutral
- Rastas — A common word for locks in other languages. Please note that in English, “Rasta” means “a follower of Rastafari” and should not be used to refer to hair.
Hope this helped! The truth is that each story and viewpoint is very convoluted, so I prefer to play it safe in my word choices; I personally use the word “locks” in reference to all non-black people writing into the blog, and I do not use the words “dreads” or “dreadlocks.” It is a personal conviction of respect I have for our global community, since we do have Rasta followers. We have a large following of several thousand people, and when my words are read by so many people each day, I prefer to use words that are least likely to incite conflict in the community.
DreadlockINFO aims to be a place of unification, not further divisions, in the locking community, and I try to do my part to exemplify that in the way I speak on behalf of the site.
I understand this was long and probably quite confusing, so please feel free to ask any questions, if you have any. We would love to help you out! However, please be sure to read our Askbox Guidelines before doing so.
interesting info. if ya dont know, now ya knooww..