"Jazz Means Happy and Loose Like" (1917)

Mon Dec 3 19:59:36 UTC 2007

        I am skeptical of the Wikipedia account, as far as "Rastus" is
concerned.  A Westlaw search shows that every recorded example of
"Rastus" in reported legal cases before 1890 refers to Rastus Ransom, a
prominent New York City lawyer, who likely was not black (newspaper
articles of the period make no reference to his race, which they
presumably would have if he had been black).  In contrast, names such as
"Sambo" and "Cuffy" are found.  The available evidence suggests to me
that the association of "Rastus" with blacks (i) did not occur in
popular culture until the late 19th century and (ii) never had any
factual basis.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Arnold M. Zwicky
Sent: Monday, December 03, 2007 2:39 PM
Subject: Re: "Jazz Means Happy and Loose Like" (1917)

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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