"Tell It Like It Is"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Feb 18 04:38:18 UTC 2008

On Feb 17, 2008 10:44 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Feb 17, 2008 7:12 PM, Baker, John <JMB at stradley.com> wrote:
> >
> >         There is a pre-1966 example in Lewis v. State, 183 Miss. 192,
> > 184 So. 53, 55 (1938).  The context is a father questioning his
> > eight-year-old daughter about what turned out to be a sexual encounter,
> > subsequently prosecuted as statutory rape.  His evidence was transcribed
> > as follows, though it seems to me that the court reporter was uncertain
> > of the extent to which the witness was directly quoting himself:
> >
> >         "I said, 'come on and tell me what kind of playing you done and
> > how come him to show you the salve and ___' Tell it like it is?"
> "Tell it like is is?" Used as a question? But 1938 is *very* early,
> even for me. It may very well have appeared in questions, in those
> days. Indeed, it may even has been used in ordinary speech and not as
> a slang term, at one time. Who's to say?

It appears more idiomatically in African American newspapers on
ProQuest through the '40s and '50s. A few cites:

1946 _Chicago Defender_ 6 Apr. 6/6 His advice to his friends who might
tangle with the law is "go in and tell it like it is ... don't put
nothing to it."

1950 _Atlanta Daily World_ 1 July 2/6 New Mission Baptist Church. Rev.
A.A. Reeves, Pastor. Preaching at 11 a.m. Sunday School, 10 a.m.
Subject: "Tell It Like It Is."

1951 _Los Angeles Sentinel_ 10 May B4/1 The col'm's barrister
(Attorney David Ravin) is the inspiration for our forthcoming book,
"Tell It Like It Is!"

--Ben Zimmer

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

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