cool kind daddies, mamas, et al.

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Sep 13 16:07:15 UTC 2008

The OED draft entry for "cool" has been revamped, and it addresses
most of the points I raised in this post:

Here's the new sense 8a:

  8. colloq. (orig. U.S.).
    a. Attractively shrewd or clever; sophisticated, stylish, classy;
fashionable, up to date; sexually attractive.
  The evidence indicates that this sense originated around the second
decade of the 20th cent.; it is probably not exemplified by quot.
1884, in which the exact meaning of cool, from an article containing a
list of undefined interjections (not all expressing approval) is
uncertain; it could be a comment on a person's audacity (i.e. sense A.
[1884 J. A. HARRISON Negro Eng. in Anglia 7 257 Interjections... Dat's
cool!] 1918 Bodleian Q. Rec. 2 152 A case, a lad, a head, a cool kid,
all words for expressing admiration for another's cleverness or
cunning. 1924 in M. Leadbitter & N. Slaven Blues Records (1968) 155
(song title) Cool Kind Daddy Blues.
[snip post-WWII cites]

The 1918 cite from the Bodleian Quarterly Record is interesting,
though we can assume there's no historical connection to the African
American development of the sense. The 1924 cite is new too, and I
wonder how it fits into the picture exactly. "Cool Kind Daddy Blues"
was sung by Anna Lee Chisholm, but I can't find lyrics for it -- it's
not included in Michael Taft's Pre-War Blues Lyrics Concordance. Taft
does have a few songs by Papa Charlie Jackson from 1925 with other
"cool kind" characters:

Papa Charlie Jackson, "Coffee Pot Blues"; Chicago, c. Feb. 1925
Poor Evelyn's in jail with her back turned to the wall
Hollering cool kind daddy, you know you the cause it all.
Papa Charlie Jackson, "All I Want Is a Spoonful"; Chicago, c. Sept. 1925
Now cool kind mama says you needn't've stalled
Throw it out the window, I'll catch it before it falls.
I got the blues so bad, I couldn't sleep last night
My cool kind mama want to fuss and fight.
Papa Charlie Jackson, "Texas Blues"; Chicago, c. Dec. 1925
Takes a good old fireman, a cool kind engineer
Now to pull that train, take me away from here.

And here's one more from _Songsters and Saints: Vocal Traditions on
Race Records_ by Paul Oliver:

Papa Charlie Jackson, "Mama Don't Allow It (And She Ain't Gonna Have
It Here)", Chicago, c. August 1925
Came from the country the other day
Some cool kind daddy stole my heart away,
'Cause mama don't allow it, ain't gonna have it here.
Says we don't care what mama don't allow,
Got a cool kind daddy, anyhow
'Cause mama don't allow it, ain't gonna have it here.

There are later "cool kind" songs as well, like "Cool Kind Papa"
(Ollie Shepard, 1941), "Cool Kind Woman Blues" (Willie Dixon, 1952),
and "Cool Kind Treatment" (Eddie Boyd, 1952).

So how well do these fit in with the later exx for this sense? Could
they possibly follow the "assured, unabashed, audacious" lineage

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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