The Dozens

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 14 20:43:34 UTC 2006

Charlie, as you know, I ususally am in complete agreement with you.
However, I have a probemn with /d at nt/ as BE. We say "dudn" rhymes with
"cudn" and is pretty much non-distinct from the standard U.S.
pronunciation of "Dutton." Of course, I agree with your primary point
re the etymology of "the dozens."

When I was a kid in St. Louis, "playing the dozens" didn't necessarily
apply to the classic form of the game. The usual terms, as I knew them
in the '50's were:

Front [someone] off
Square [someone] off
Jone with [someone]
Play with [someone]
Sound on [someone]
Sound [someone] down

plus possibly other terms that I've forgotten. None of these
necessarily had any necessary reference to anyone's mother. However,
*any* reference of any kind whatsoever to anyone's mother under any
set of circumstances could be always interpreted as "joning" or
"playing." Mad magazine's (to the best of my memory) "By the way, Ed,
how's your mother?" used to shock me, because it had the form of the
ultimate insult, "By the way, Name, how's your mother /how yo' mammy?"
You had to be speaking to one of your ace boons and have an
aw-man-I'm-just-joking smile on your face when you asked that, unless
you were seriously planning to go to war. The subtext of this question
was always understood to be something like, "Man, I to' yo' mammy's
ass UP last night! I be surprised if the ho could even walk behind the
kina pipe I laid. You sho' you know who yo' daddy? 'Cause it jus'
might be me."

One Sunday afternoon, a bunch of us guys were sitting on the steps of
Joyce Ann's front porch wwhen a couple of older - perhaps 25-30 y.o. -
guys stopped to chat with Joyce Ann, whom they apparently knew in
their official capacity. After the usual banal chit-chat, as they
turned to go, one of them, having obviously forgotten the rules of the
game, unthinkingly asked, "By the way, Joyce, how's your mother?" We
had all been pretty much lulled to sleep by the men's lame,
adult-to-child conversation with Joyce and thought nothing of it.
Except for Lemuel. Before Joyce could give the standard oh,-
she's-fine answer, Lem simply cleared his throat. And, suddenly, we
were all aware that Joyce had just been offered the ultimate insult!
Obviously, the man had meant no offense. But, talk about your social
gaffes! Whoa! That was one for Ripley's Believe It or Not. We all were
ROTFLOAO. Except for the poor man, who had the most embarrassed grin
on his face that you can imagine.


On 7/14/06, Charles Doyle <cdoyle at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: The Dozens
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> A problem with that etymology (aside from lack of evidence--but who's sweating the small stuff?) might be that "doesn't" in many dialects of BEV is replaced with "don't" (as in the given sentence, "Mama don't allow no singing")--either by virtue of a different conjugation or (less likely?) via the Southern loss of  /z/ before /n/ (thence, /d at dnt/ > /d at nt/), according to what Rudolph Troike has called "McDavid's Law" (explaining such pronunciations as "bidness" and "cudn" [for "cousin"]).  One reason (of several) why the "McDavid's Law" explanation is less probable:  BEV does seem to retain the widespread (black and white) "dasn't" as the contraction of "dare not" and "dares not" (by that /r/ > /z/ replacement that Ron B. explained recently).
> --Charlie
> ______________________________________
> ---- Original message ----
> >Date: Thu, 13 Jul 2006 19:24:03 -0400
> >From: sagehen <sagehen at WESTELCOM.COM>
> >Subject: Re: The Dozens
> >
> > My ignorant WAG:  Might it have started life as "doesn't?"  We have our collections of "don'ts" (and then there's "Mamma don't allow no singin' 'round here" &c...).
> >AM
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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