"Jazz Means Happy and Loose Like" (1917)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Dec 3 18:05:15 UTC 2007

On Dec 3, 2007 12:41 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
> OT. "Rastus" and "Zek'l" were still being used as generic personal
> names for a darky, like "darky" was used as a generic term for a black
> male, into the early 'Sixties. I wonder how far back they go.
> To give the white devil <har! har!> his due, these names were quite
> often also attached to poor whites of the caricatured "hillbilly"
> type.

In his 1944 _American Speech_ article "Designations for Colored Folk,"
H.L. Mencken writes that "in my boyhood _Cuffy_ had disappeared and
_Sambo_ was being supplanted by _Rastus_." He also notes the popular
song, "Rastus on Parade" by Kerry Mills (1895), which is also the
first cite given by the OED.

A 1937 article by Newbell Niles Puckett, "Names of American Negro
Slaves" (reprinted in _Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel_, Alan
Dundes, ed.) states that "Rastus" was not to be found in any of the
available lists of slave names, though the author did find one example
among white school children in Mississippi. "Sambo" and "Cuffy" also
occurred in very small numbers, despite the popularity of these names
in stereotype-laden minstrel performances.

--Ben Zimmer

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list