"Jazz Means Happy and Loose Like" (1917)

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Dec 3 19:38:50 UTC 2007

On Dec 3, 2007, at 10:05 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:

>> 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.

check out the wikipedia on Rastus, which suggests that the name Rastus
was from Erastus and was given by slave-owners to their slaves -- and
quickly became generalized as a pejorative term used by whites for
blacks.  (the Cream of Wheat guy is named Rastus, by the way, though i
suspect that the company no longer uses the name.)

Cuffy (or Cuffee) is another thing entirely.  this is the day-name
Kofi (and was the name of a slave who led a revolt in Berbice in 1763;
the anniversary of the Cuffy slave rebellion is now Republic Day in
Guyana).  if Cuffy/Cuffee/Kofi occurred in small numbers in the list
of slave names, this was presumably because the african name was
replaced by something else -- though i'd like to see a study of the
slave names more recent than 1937.


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