What is the meaning behind the phrase 'rubber lips'?

Olivia Olphin October 9, 2021

There has been controversy on social media after old comments made by Raiders coach Jon Gruden have resurfaced online. We break down the meaning of the phrase ‘rubber lips’.

What is the meaning of ‘rubber lips’?

The phrase ‘rubber lips’ appears to have multiple definitions. According to Urban Dictionary rubber lips is when you: “Accidentally mangle the pronunciation of a word due to lingual clumsiness. This happens when you stumble over a word you can usually pronounce, or when you find a specific combination of sounds you simply cannot make yourself pronounce.”

A second slang definition of the phrase suggests it refers to “someone whose lips have a pronounced shape”. Mick Jagger was reportedly nicknamed rubber lips because of his iconic lip shape.

However, many people on social media have suggested that the phrase could be a racial trope, reflecting old fashioned comments about the Black community.

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How did Jon Gruden use the phrase?

While discussing comments he made in an email in 2011 where player DeMaurice Smith was referred to as having “lips the size of Michelin tires”, Raiders coach Jon Gruden told senior Athletic writer Vic Tafur that he used the phrase ‘rubber lips’ to refer to people lying:

“I didn’t feel like we were getting the truth. I refer to guys when I see them lying – and I can tell they’re lying – I refer to them as ‘rubber lips. I went too far calling him Michelin lips”.

Gruden has apologised for the wording of his 2011 email, and the NFL is reviewing the matter to see if any disciplinary action is needed.

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Olivia Olphin is an English Literature graduate and a film and literature fanatic. She has many years of reviewing experience, recently working as accredited press for the London Film Festival. She has also written widely about culture and sex education, as well as LGBTQ+ and women's issues.