is you ain't, ain't you is (1904)

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Aug 31 18:01:31 UTC 2005

Perhaps a gap-filler is in order :

1938 in Henry T. Sampson _That's Enough Folks_  (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998) 15 :  Is you is or is you ain't gonna give us those cookies ?

And something more recent, though set in 1947 :

1999 Dan Gutman _Jackie and Me: A Baseball Card Adventure_ (N.Y.: Avon, 1999) 45 "You the new batboy ?...Well, is you is or is you ain't ?" "I is!" I said more assertively. "I mean, I am."

For lagniappe :

1997 Joe Pachinko _Swamp!_ 53 (Berkeley, Calif.: Superstition Street Press) Is you is, or is you ain't a racist ?

1998  Merlin B. Coslick _Medical Billing_ (N.p.: Electronic Medical Billing Network of America, 1999) 42 Printer compatibility (is you is or is you ain't my printer ?).

And the aptheosis of all things is-you-is :

1992 Nicholas Humphrey _A History of the Mind_ (Rpt. N.Y.: Copernicus, 1999) 24 "Is you is, or is you ain't ?"  Hamlet put it differently : "To be, or not to be."

Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: is you ain't, ain't you is (1904)

I posted previously on "is you is or is you ain't", which appeared in the
dialect humor of Octavus Roy Cohen in 1921 (long before Louis Jordan's
1944 hit "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?"). But a dialect joke
involving "is you ain't" and "ain't you is" appeared even earlier...

Atlanta Constitution, May 2, 1904, p. 2/3
As They Say It in Texas.
(From The Philadelphia Press.)
"Have you ever been in Texas?"
The man who thus inquired had very evidently been there. He proceeded:
"You know they speak what is almost a lnaguage of their own down there.
Here's an example:
"A little girl went into a rural grocery store.
"'Ain't you got no eggs?' she asked.
"'I ain't said I ain't!" replied the storekeeper.
"'Well, responded the girl, 'I ain't ast you is you ain't, I ast you ain't
you is. Is you?'"
Atlanta Constitution, Nov 19, 1909, p. 8/3
Senator Taylor, of Tennessee, is responsible for this story:
"There was an old negro whose worthless son was married secretly. The old
man heard of it and asked the boy if he was married. 'I ain't sayin' I
ain't,' the boy replied.
"'Now you Rastus,' stormed the old man, 'I ain't askin' you is you ain't;
I is askin' you ain't you is!'"
Atlanta Constitution, Dec 11, 1910, p. B7/4
Down at Houston the other day Dinah went to borrow some sugar from Aunt
Chloe and the following conversation took place:
"Yo' ain't got no sugar, is yo'?"
"I ain't sez I ain't, is I?"
"I didn' ax yo you ain't, I ax you ain't you is. You ain't is yo?'"

--Ben Zimmer

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