Historical note

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 4 01:35:27 UTC 2008

Fo as long as I've been able to understand English, it has been the
custom among black people to say to someone for whom you have done a
trivial, yet, in some sense, meaningful, favor to say:

"Now, don't say that I ain't never did nothing for you!"


A. "You got any chewing gum, man?"

B. "I ain't got only but one stick. I'll tear it half in two and give
you some. [A meaningful display of friendship]

A. "Thanks, man!"

B. "Now, don't say that I ain't never did nothing for you!"

A. [Ritualized response: an ├ęclat of laughter] "Ha! Ha!"

On a local re-run of CSI, one character, under similar circumstances -
having unexpectedly supplied another with useful evidence - says to
the other:

"Now, don't say that I've never done anything for you!"

Ca.1974 at M.I.T., I had occasion to do a similarly-trivial - such
that I've forgotten what it was - yet meaningful, favor, for a very
nice girl (well, girl in those days), known, no doubt, to many, here,
Marcia Linebarger.

After her ritual "Thanks!", I added the ritual, for me (translated
into sE for ease of understanding):

"Now, don't say that I've never done anything for you!"

Poor Marcia was caught off guard and totally discombobulated.
Embarrassed, she stuttered a bit and ultimately replied:

"Why, Wilson! I would *never* tell anybody that you've never done
anything for me!"

Then, it was my turn to feel embarrassed and taken by surprise. I
hadn't meant to cause *her* embarrassment! It had simply never
occurred to me that this expression and its "You and I are good
friends" subtext would be totally unknown to, and its surface
expression taken completely literally by, a white person. it was the
second coming of "fuck over"! Except that I wasn't embarrassed at all,
in that earlier case, merely *very* surprised.

So, JJRL, irregardless of whether Jim Crow was the model for apartheid
(whose proper pronunciation [a.'part.heit] and etymology were supplied
in Life magazine, BTW, at the time that Malan made apartheit official
state policy) or whether the latter was an independent development,
the former certainly made certain that blacks and whites lived in two
different worlds in the United States.


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.
-Mark Twain

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

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