"sugar daddy"

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Jun 20 19:45:17 UTC 2006

    I've been looking at Barry Popik's interesting 6/17/06 message on "sugar daddy," in which he antedates the term by three years (1926 back to 1923).

    But besides meaning "an older, wealthy man who supports/helps a young female lover," the term appeared in the speech of African-Americans with an entirely different meaning: (from a woman's perspective): "her sweet lover."
So, for example, Nellie Florence ("Jacksonville Blues") could sing: "But this sugar daddy is sweet enough for me."  The reference is simply to a lover, no an older, rich man.

     My assumption has been that the term arose first in the speech of African-Americans ("daddy," "papa" = a male lover; "sugar" simply refers to something sweet) and was misinterpreted by whites. Whites familiar with cant apparently misinterpreted "sugar daddy" (sweet lover) to be comprised of "sugar" (= money) + "daddy" (a man old enough to be the father of his woman companion"; he is also of course her lover.)

     I wrote this up in my brief article '"Sugar Daddy" Once More,' in _Studies in Slang, vol. 2_  (Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang), 1989, pp. 142-143.
I'm now wondering: Is there anyway to date the African-American term "sugar daddy" (sweet lover)?

Gerald Cohen

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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