The Dozens

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Jul 13 05:19:04 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.

DARE records a 1977 passage by Smitherman in which it is
asserted/speculated that "the original verses involved twelve sex acts
[committed with 'yo momma']". Doesn't sound nearly as ridiculous as the
atrocious mutilated-slaves story, but I'd like to see some evidence.

Maybe "dozens" might originally refer simply to "[a sequence of] dozens
[i.e., a bunch] of remarks"?

When I was young[er] (ca. 1960-1962, Detroit) I encountered this bantering
activity many times, maybe every day or two at school. Maybe I even
participated once or twice. It was not then usually called 'playing/doing
[the] dozens' IIRC; I don't remember it being called anything in
particular. Surely "your mama" was a favorite topic. IIRC, the 'white' boys
did this just about the same as the 'black' boys. I don't recall the girls
doing it, but then .... In the 'best' cases, the volleys might have
approached ONE dozen jocular insults in total, as I recall.

No doubt some of the scholars have comparable recollections.

-- Doug Wilson

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