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GLOSSARY OF PERIOD SLANG

A note on Harlemese:
Black slang during the Harlem Renaissance is an extremely inventive oral art form. Zora Neale Hurston attributes black slang's richness to the "will to adorn" language. Not all of these words and expressions originated in Harlem—many had Southern roots - but they became urbanized and more widely disseminated during the 1920s. Harlemese was perceived at the time as an important contribution to the New Negro movement; many figures (Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Rudolph Fisher, Carl Van Vechten, and others) compiled and published glossaries of Harlemese slang. A sampling is included in this book's marginalia.

Numbers: a popular gambling game, the winning numbers of which are derived from the New York Clearing House as follows: the seventh and eighth digits (from the right) of the exchanges and the seventh digits of the balances. In Bolito one bets on two digits only.

Official words for "Negro": Then, as now, there was controversy about terms for the Negro race. Negro, black, and colored were common, although a Philadelphia group wanted to outlaw "Negro" as demeaning, suggesting "colored" in its place. The black periodical the Chicago Defender used race man, while others used Afro-Americans, Aframericans, and occasionally Lybians and Ethiopians.

Informal words for "Negro": In most cases these could be used without negative intent when employed by blacks, but were offensive and derogatory when used by whites: nigger, spade, race man, zigaboo, jigaboo, jig (corruption of zigaboo); Old Cuffee (genuine African word for Negro); brother-in-black, Russian (a Southern black up north; "rushed up here from Georgia," hence a Russian); booger, boogie (both contractions of "Booker T."); charcoal, suede, dinge, shine, cropw, cloud, smoke, ink, dinky, spagingy-spagade (from theatrical hog Latin for spade).

Whites: fay, ofay(derived from pig latin for "foe"); pink, dap, pinktail, Celt, Miss Anne, Miss Annie (a white woman); Mister Charlie, Mr. Eddie (a white man); Nordics (used by both whites and blacks); buckra; fagingy-fagade (from theatrical hog Latin for fay).

Talented Tenth: dicty, dickty (nouveau riche, swell, high-toned person); strivers reside at Sugar Hill (the northwest corner of Harlem near Washington Heights, near 409 Edgecombe); hincty (supercilious): Astorpherious (from the Astors, meaning high-hat); muckty-mucks, kack (sarcastic version of dicty); arnchy (a person who puts on airs); lampblack whites (blacks who aspire to white ways).

Blue-vein circle: an organization of mulattos that excluded blacks, an early version of color discrimination

Positive expressions: solid! (perfect); cut, stroll (both mean doing something well); cold (exceedingly well; "Yeah, man! He was cold strolling on that trumpet!" [Hurston]); lightly, slightly, and politely (doing something perfectly); 38 and 2 or forty (both mean "fine"); kopasetee! (an approbationary epithet somewhat stronger than "all right!" based on "copasetic"); bardacious! (marvelous); the berries (expression of approbation); hot! (wonderful).

Pan-cake, handkerchief head, Uncle Tom: a humble, sycophantic black person.
I'll be a cage of apes to you: don't push your luck.
New York: the big apple, the big red apple (always used with the definite article).

West Indian: ringtail, monk, monkey-hip eater (from the legend that the favorite meal in Barbados is monkey hips and dumplings); monkey chaser; mon (derived from West Indian pronunciation of "man").

Pimps and men who commercialize their sex appeal: jelly bean, P.I., mack, sweetback, sheik (also any black man who dresses like a pimp); creeper, Eastman (a man who lives on women).

Exclamations: My people! My people! (usually said with a sigh, commenting on backwardness of black people); Lawd today! (exclamation of wonder); Out this world! (beyond belief); Down to the bricks! (to the nth degree); Oh, no, now! (exclamation of admiration); No lie! (it's the truth); Hush my mouf! Hot choo!.

The South: Bam, down in Bam (the South); peckerwood, redneck (both mean a poor or unloved white Southerner) Black male: hunky hunk (affectionate); Jasper (usually, an imperceptive male); Sam (diminutive of "Sambo") Bookooing: Showing off (from "beaucoup") July jam: very hot ("hot as July jam!"), also little sister ("Hot as little sister!" [Hurston])

First thing smoking: a train (I'm through with this town. I mean to grab the first thing smoking." [Hurston])

Poverty: the Bear (always used with the definite article; "just like de bear: I ain't nowhere [broke]/Like de bear's brother, I ain't no further/Like de bear's daughter, ain't got a quarter." [Hurston])

Male sex: Georgia jumping-root, hambone, honey-stick; dat thing (sex of either sex)

Sex: scooter-pooking, jelly, ground rations, under rations, poontang, getting my hambone boiled, knocking the pad, balling (having sex); "Baby, how is the drawbridge? Any boats passing?" "What's on the rail for the lizard?" (both suggestions for having sex [Hurston]); hootchie-pap, stuff (can also mean excretion); swap spit (kiss).

C.P.T.: colord people's time; i.e., late

Women: broad, frail eel (a pretty girl); coal scuttle blonde (a black woman); Sheba (a very attractive woman); pe-ola (on extremely light-skinned black woman); pig meat (a young girl) I'm cracking but I'm facking: I'm wisecracking but I'm telling the truth [Hurston].

Thousand on the plate: beans
I shot him lightly and he died politely: to outdo someone, hands down
Gut-bucket: low dive, type of music or expression from same

Terms of endearment: big sugar, small sugar, mama (girlfriend or wife); papa, daddy (husband or lover)
Hell: Ginny Gall ("Way off in Ginny Gall/where you have to eat cow cunt, skin and all." [Hurston]); West Hell (a suburb worse than Hell); Beluthahatchie (next station beyond Hell); Diddy-Wah-Diddy (another suburb of Hell, where folks in Hell go for good jooking, barbecues, fish fries)

Clothes: butt sprung (stretched in the rear, of a suit or skirt); young suit (ill- fitting, too small; "You are supposed to be brooking in your little brother's suit for him." [Hurston]); zoot suit with the feet pleat (began early 1930s, more popular in 1940s: Harlem-style suit, padded shoulders, trousers 43 inches at the knee with cuff so small it needs a zipper to get into, high waist-line, fancy lapels, bushels of buttons, etc. [Hurston]); drapes, shags, righteous rags (all in the style of the zoot suit): draped down, togged down (dressed in Harlem high style); monkey back (fancy dresser, from "monkey suit'").

"Dig? Dig me? Do you collar the jive?" Do you understand?; and response: "I'll do like the farmer, plant you now and dig you later." [Hurston]

Unsheik: divorce

Passing: passing for white

Lower class: rats (opposite of dicty)

Color: The Harlem vocabulary for shades of pigmentation was highly nuanced, and the color scale went like this:

Light-skinned:
yaller
pink
pink-toes
mustard seed
punkin seed
honey
lemon-colored
copper-hued
olive
Middle ranges of skin color:
high brown
cocoa brown
chestnut
coffee-colored
nut brown
maroon
vaseline brown
seal brown
sealskin
low brown
Dark-skinned:
blue
charcoal
ebony black
eight-rock
eight-ball
inky dink
dark black
low black
lam black
damn black

Syndicating, woofing: gossiping

Brick-presser: an idler (literally, one who walks the pavement)

Authority: the wagon, the man (both mean police, the law)

Physical attributes: can (rump); gutfoot (bad case of fallen arches); palmer house (walking flat-footed, as from fallen arches): liver lip (pendulous, thick, purple lips; "He was called liverlip behind his back, because of the plankiness of his lips."); gator-faced (long face with large mouth); battle-hammed (badly formed about the hips).

Negrotarian: coined by Zora Neale Hurston to denote whites that support the New Negro movement.

White person who consorts with blacks: jig-chaser; dinge queen (homosexual white attracted to black men). Drinking: hootch, smoke, juice, scrap iron (all cheap liquor); conk buster (cheap liquor, also derogatory term for black intellectual); peeping through my likkers (carrying on while drunk); your likker told you (misguided behavior while drunk). Black person who consorts with whites: pink-chaser, lippy-chaser.

Jungle Alley: The stretch of 133rd Street between Lenox Avenue and Seventh Avenue known for its expensive cabarets; also known as Beale Street.

Drugs: reefer, panatela, drag (all marijuana cigarettes); snow, happy dust (both cocaine); snow-bird (cocaine user); busting down (smoking marijuana); tea pad (hangout for smoking marijuana).

Exhortations at dances: "Rock Church rock!" "Oh do it, you dirty nogooder!" "Shake It and break It!" "Walk that broad! Whot old broad? Thot old black broad!" "Oh play it, Mr. Man!" "Oh suck it!" "Get off dat dime!" (stop dancing in the same place); "Mama, come ond get your little blue-eyed baby!" "Jook it, papa! Jook!"

Rent party: a party with music liquor and food, thrown in a residence, with admission fees charged in order to raise the monthly rent. Also called social whist parties, parlor social (these two are the genteel terms), struggles, break-downs, flop-wallies, chitterling parties, razor drills, too terrible party, too bad party.

Underground specialist: an undertaker. Box-beater: a pianist at a rent party. Lesbian: bulldyke, bull-diker, bulldycker. bulldagger, flatter.

Homosexual men: pansy, pansie, eel-eater, sissy, [one with] freakish ways, queer, the people, the life (last two used by homosexuals among themselves).

Home defense officer: a private detective hired at rent parties to prevent theft by clean-up men (thieves).

Dancing: rug-cutter (person who cuts up the rugs of his host with his dancing feet; originally meant a person too cheap to patronize regulor dance halls who went exclusively to rent parties); boogie woogie (type of lively dancing; for years in the South it meant secondary syphilis); stomp, scronching (lowdown dance); jooking (dancing low-down; also, playing a musical instrument in the style of a jook); fooping, jig-jagging (slow dancing); shout, bump, bumpty-bump (all slow one-step donces); hoof, wobble, dogging, belly rub (a sexy dance).

Take a Boston: execute unexpected musical riffs.

Kitchen mechanic: a domestic (also pot wrestler) Hair: good hair, righteous moss, righteous grass, near my God to thee, kind hair (all mean Caucasian-type hair); made hair (hair that has been straightened); kinkout (hair straightener).

Nappy hair: bad hair, naps, tight head, mailman hair ("Each knot's got its own route"), every postman on his beat (all mean kinky hair); Jar head (black male whose hair has not been straightened); kitchen (the back of the hair, not usually straightened; "Madam Walker just came over. Yeah, but she forgot to walk through your kitchen.").

Railroad apartment: an apartment laid out so that one walked through each room rather than through a hallway.

Perambulation: percolating, cruising, oozin (all mean promenading down the avenue); freewheelin (same, but more briskness implied); truckin (implies strolling); haulin (fleeing on foot; "Man! He cold hauled it!"); sell out (run in fear); air out (leave, flee, stroll); stanch (step out).

Jook (rhymes with took): a low-down pleasure house, originally in the lumber, turpentine, and railroad camps of the South, cradle of the blues and blade dance steps (jukebox is derived from this).

V and X: a five-and-dime store.

Now you cooking with gas!: now you're in the groove, now you're talking.

Pilch: house, apartment, residence.

She ain't got 'em from creeps to crown and her trotters is B flat, but her gin is regal: she's ugly from tip to toe, but serves good liquor.

Function, fungshun: a small, unventilated dance filled with insufficiently bathed people. Funk derives from this, meaning body odor.

Hot man: a seller of stolen goods.

Nothing to the bear but his curly hair: I call your bluff [Hurston].


Martin: A personification of death ("Wait till Martin comes." [Bert Williams]).

Go when the wagon comes: leave in the face of power ("You may be talking or acting biggity now, but you will cool down when enough power gets behind you. They all go when the wagon comes." [Hurston]).

Whip it to the red: beat your head until it's bloody.

Sender: used as a compliment for one who can get you to do something ("Solid sender!" [Hurston]).

Derision: playin, the dozens, slipping in the dozens, dat's your mommy (all deriding the ancestors of your opponent); Mammy (an insult, never used by blacks in any other way); storm buzzard (shiftless, homeless character); gum beater (a blowhard, braggart, idle talker); dusty butt (cheap whore); sooner (anything cheap or mongrel; originally applied to a mongrel dog who would eat anything. even excrement - "He'd sooner eat stuff as pork chops" - later applied to cheap clothes or shabby person); free schools (said with a sad shake of the head when something stupid is done; "Free schools and dumb Negroes" or "Free schools, pretty yellow teachers, and dumb Negroes" [Hurston]); Big Boy, Biggie (sometimes used to mean a stout man, but originally in the South it was a prime insult meaning a fool; "Don't call me no Big Boy. Elephant is bigger than me and he got a name"); park ape (an ugly, underprivileged black); bozo (a silly person); jay-bird (a simpleton); Oscar (a dumbbell); ah-ah (a male fool); ain't got 'em (has no virtues).