God in the details (1960)

sagehen sagehen at WESTELCOM.COM
Thu Jan 27 04:19:07 UTC 2005

>On Jan 26, 2005, at 5:33 PM, sagehen wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       sagehen <sagehen at WESTELCOM.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: God in the deatils (1960)
>> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> --------
>>  Wilson Gray writes:
>>>> I associated that "devil" with the (mega-unPC) proverbial "n*gger in
>>>> the  woodpile", the hidden problem that will cause trouble if not
>>>> sought
>>>> out and  eliminated.
>>> Interesting! I've always assumed that this saying meant only that a
>>> person purporting to be of pure European(-American) ancestry was
>>> suspected of hiding African(-American) ancestry.
>> ~~~~~~~~~
>> There was some discussion of this expression on ADS-L  several years
>> ago
>> (perhaps the archives  could be consulted) in which it appeared that
>> quite
>> a few people understood its meaning to be as you describe. Most of them
>> were young enough that their experience of its use was probably
>> literary or
>> at least second-hand.  Only us old farts knew the real skinny.  But
>> here
>> you are, one of us (OF), and had the same idea.  Was this understanding
>> general among blacks of your generation?
>> A. Murie
>Yes, it is. That it might have some other meaning is a possibility that
>has caught me completely by surprise. I've consulted my brother and a
>few old - no pun intended - friends and they agree with me. We know
>only the "passing-for-white" meaning and the 'hidden-problem" meaning
>is one that none of us has come across before.
>-Wilson Gray
I found an old posting to ads-l from Doug Wilson, summer 2000:

>RHHDAS shows the sense of (1) "hidden nefarious thing" from 1843, the
>>sense of (2) "black ancestor" from 1953.

>It is my belief that the use of the expression in the first sense was
>virtually obsolete in many circles by the time of the origin of the second
>sense. Thus (I think) many people around 1950 still recognized the
>expression but no longer remembered what it meant, and therefore applied it
>to something different.
One is bound to wonder whether the source of the RHHDAS entry was ignorant
of or inattentive to the interpretation  given this by blacks before 1953.

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