The Dozens

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jul 13 14:50:06 UTC 2006

BTW, the earliest ex. of  the phrase "play the dozens" in HDAS I is from 1915.


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Re: The Dozens

On 7/13/06, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
> >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.

I believe Smitherman takes that speculation from John Dollard's
classic 1939 article, "The Dozens: Dialectic of Insult" (_American
Imago_ 1:3-25). Dollard writes:

The origin of the title, "the Dozens," is not known to me. What is
known is that there is an obscene rhyme which is used in playing the
Dozens which has twelve unitis in it. It goes in part as follows:

"I --- your mammy one;
She said, 'You've just begun.'
I --- her seven;
She said, 'I believe I'm in Heaven.'
I --- her twelve;
She swore she was in Hell."

Dollard's piece is reprinted in _Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel_,
Alan Dundes, ed.:

That book also reprints the 1962 article "Playing the Dozens" by Roger
D. Abrahams (originally in _J. Am. Folklore_ 75:209-20). Abrahams has
a footnote where he discusses some other theories about "the dozens"
-- one involves dice, another involves teeth.

--Ben Zimmer

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