Heard on The Judges: "The Man"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 23 16:18:05 UTC 2008

Thirty-ish, black plaintiff from Dallas, TX, describing a telephone

"He [my boss] akses me what-all was wrong with the truck. Well, I
tells him what was wrong, but he claim he don't understand what I'm
talking about. So, I gives him to _The Man_. I lets _The Man_ tell

Judge Maria Lopez:

"Who's 'The Man'? Who do you mean by 'The Man'? The mechanic?"


"Yes, ma'am. The mechanic."

In BE, under the right circumstances, anyone can be "The Man." In the
above case, the mechanic is "The Man" because he has the expertise
and, hence, the _authority_ to tell the boss what the problems are
with the truck and make the boss take his word for it.

When I was a child, I used to hear itinerant workmen come to the door
and ask for "The Man," clearly, in such cases, referring to "the man
of the house." If they knew or had become aware that the head of
household was female, such workmen would ask for "The Lady."

In Texas, at least, narration or story-telling in the historical
present tends to bring forth the first-person -s. I remember a
co-worker so into the telling of a story that he not only said, "I
goes walking into the bar," but he also mimed the walking.

OT. Whites seem not to be as much into story-retelling as blacks. With
two or more black people, it's like this:

"You(-all) 'member the time that I was at that bar that I was tellin'
you(-all) about?"

"Yeah, man.

"Well, I goes walkin' into the bar ..."

With a black person and one or more white people, it's like this:

"You remember the time that I was at that bar that I was telling you about?"


"Well, I go walking into the bar ..."

"You've told me / us about that, already."

"I know. Anyway ..."

"I've / we've heard this story."

"Uh, right. So, I went ..."

"I / We know this story."

[Black guy gives up, wondering what in hell is wrong with these
people. The story is so good that even *he* wants to hear it, again!]

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
 -Sam'l Clemens

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

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