"Bobalition" -- "still" not in OED

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sat May 9 12:13:35 UTC 2009

"Bobalition" was discussed here last June.  I have come across a new
source of discussion, which includes examples of its use.  At the
time I had found quotations from 1816 and 1819.  The 1816 is in the
Rhode-Island American, Aug 6; the 1819 in the Boston Kaleidoscope and
Literary Rambler, July 24 (both via EAN).  In the 1830s EAN finds 3
instances of "bobolition".

My former source was John Wood Sweet, "Bodies Politic: Negotiating
Race in the American North, 1730-1830" (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press,
2003), pp. 366 and 368ff.

My new source is Joanne Pope Melish, "Disowning Slavery: Gradual
Emancipation and 'Race' in New England, 1780--1860" (Cornell Univ.
Press, 1998), pp. 172--183.  In n.17 she lists secondary sources of
additional examples of use.  Melish includes illustrations of four
broadsides using "bobalition", dating from [?1820], 1821, 1822, and
1825; and discusses another from 1821 (178 and n. 22).

On etymology:
From: Douglas Wilson, Mon, 16 Jun 2008 17:11:54 -0700
>The word was apparently originally used in a humorous/derogatory
>manner in an imitation or satire of imagined 'black' dialectal
>usage, AFAIK (maybe I'm wrong; I don't know much about this). Anyone
>can speculate as well as I about various possible pejorative or
>jocular English etyma. There may also be a possibility of a less
>exciting origin of the initial "b[o]-" (such as "Boston"?).

Melish sees "bobalition" as originating in the representation of
black dialect of the late 18th-early 18th century; her discussion of
dialect begins on p. 169.


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

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