The Dozens

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Jul 12 22:14:30 UTC 2006

OED assumes some unstated relationship to the ordinary "dozen," which one strongly doubts; no reference I'm aware of claims that the insults ever came in groups of twelve, for example.

  It is barely conceivable (i.e., pretty certainly untrue) that the word derives from the Scots verb to "dozen," one of whose meanings is to stupefy or daze. I'm not able to check DARE right now to see if this verb was ever in use in America.

  So "orig. unkn." seems to cover it.  A West African/ Gullah etymon cannot legitimately be ruled out - or in.


"Cohen, Gerald Leonard" <gcohen at UMR.EDU> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Cohen, Gerald Leonard"
Subject: Re: The Dozens

This is all interesting, but what *is* the origin of "the dozens"? =20
Gerald Cohen


From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Benjamin Zimmer
Sent: Wed 7/12/2006 11:18 AM
Subject: Re: The Dozens

Jonathon Green wrote:
> This apeared in a piece in this morning's Guardian Unlimited (online),
> discussing the nature of the insult hurled at France's Zinedine Zidane
> in the football World Cup Final - which led to his head-butting an
> Italian opponent and getting sent off - and specifically
> 'mother-related' insults around the world:
> "... why are the verbal contests in African-American culture that
> feature disparaging competitors' mothers called "the dozens"? In Still
> Laughing to Keep from Crying: Black Humor, Mona Lisa Saloy, professor =
> English at Dillard University, explains: "The dozens has its origins =
> the slave trade of New Orleans where deformed slaves - generally =
> punished with dismemberment for disobedience - were grouped in lots of =
> 'cheap dozen' for sale to slave owners. For a black to be sold as part
> of the 'dozens' was the lowest blow possible."
> A new one on me and it seems to smack of specious popular etymology. =
> I may be wrong. Can anyone either support the theory or indeed =
> it. And if 'the (dirty) dozens' has been dealt with by the List long
> since, my apologies, I have yet to check.

Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> Sounds like BS to me - and not even plausible BS.

Yeah, because we all know that the proper derivation of "the dozens"
is from Wolof _doxaan_ 'to court a lover', since the verbal jousting
was originally a covert method of expressing affection, much like
pulling on pigtails.

(Give it a few years, and this explanation should be all over the Web.)

--Ben Zimmer

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