"sugar daddy"

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed Jun 21 20:01:33 UTC 2006

Further affirming Gerald Cohen's reiterated argument
that "sugar daddy" can mean, simply, "(male) sweetheart"--as
well as the OED's "elderly man who lavishes gifts on a young

Early blues songs also sing about the synonymous "sugar
papa" (specifically, "apple sugar papa"; Gertrude ["Ma"]
Rainey, "Bessemer Bound Blues," 1926), "sugar man" (Bessie
Mae Smith, "Sugar Man Blues" [parts 1 and 2], 1930); and the
parallel "Sugar Mama" (Peetie Wheatstraw, "Sugar Mama,"
1938; Tommy McClennan, "New Sugar Mama," 1940).

I found those examples in a old-fashioned way:  Using the
efficient hard-copy Blues Lyric Poetry: A Concordance, by
Michael Taft, 3 vols. (NY: Garland, 1984), keyed to Taft's
compilation Blues Lyric Poetry: An Anthology (NY, Garland,


---- Original message ----
>Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2006 14:45:17 -0500
>From: "Cohen, Gerald Leonard" <gcohen at UMR.EDU>
>Subject: Re: "sugar daddy"
>    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

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