square from Delaware (1939)

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 4 01:59:52 UTC 2008

But in what sense does any of these cites constitute the "origin" of
the term? Doesn't "origin' include such information as semantics and
etymology? Why "square" and not "circle," for example?

FWIW, a "square" can be a member of the demimonde who happens not to
be in the same bag as the person doing the speaking. To pimps, any
non-pimp is a square. OTOH, muggers regard anyone who's not a fellow
strong-arm man as a square. That is, anyone who's not hip to any given
thing is a square to the person who is hip to it. It's ingroup vs.


On Wed, Sep 3, 2008 at 5:52 PM, Baker, John <JMB at stradley.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject:      Re: square from Delaware (1939)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>        I think the following passages from On Strivers Row, a play by
> Abram Hill, imply unhipness.  The following is from page 417 of the text
> reprinted in The Roots of African American Drama: An Anthology of Early
> Plays, 1858-1938 (1991) (Google Books,
> http://books.google.com/books?id=HPPAkUbPH8AC).  On Strivers Row was
> written in 1938 but may have been revised later, particularly in
> connection with the 1939 and 1940 productions.  The speaker, Joe, is a
> Harlem hipster, apparently hired by a rival to sabotage a social event
> mounted by an upwardly mobile African-American family.  This seems to
> put the origin of "square" in African-American slang, to the surprise of
> absolutely no one.
>        CHUCK:  Food is served on the floor below.
>        JOE: (_stopping the strutting_) I ain't no square from Delaware,
> nor bloke from Idaho.  Grab that platter.  Take some air.  Who's gwine
> eat on any flooh?
>        . . . .
>        JOE: (_getting close to_ LILY) Them big black eyebrows.  Them
> long lashes.  They flop a breeze that causes me to squeeze.  A fine
> feeling shakes my frame.  Gosh, ain't this a shame!
>        LILY: (_crossing_) Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha--
>        JOE: (_right on_ LILY)  Getcha!  Hoi!  Hoi!  There's plenty
> squares who can slave.  But a hard-cuttin' lover is in the rave.
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
> Of Benjamin Zimmer
> Sent: Wednesday, September 03, 2008 4:54 PM
> Subject: Re: square from Delaware (1939)
> So do we have anything earlier for "square" = 'unhip person (from
> Delaware or elsewhere)'? The 1939 Amst News cite doesn't imply
> unhipness, but the 1940 one certainly does.
> --Ben Zimmer
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> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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