Christmas Eve Antedating : "Humbug"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 2 00:25:05 UTC 2010

On Sun, Aug 1, 2010 at 10:07 AM, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> "On a hummer" is a variant.

Got damn, man! You *know* that shit?! I'm truly impressed!

"On a humble" is yet another variant.

All three forms were current in my Saint Louis youth. It took the
indisputable enunciation of the phrase as "on a _humbug_" by Amos "Yo'
Ponyo" Doston, Louietown's premier disk-jockey of the "boogie-joogie
sounds" and seeing "humbuggin' " in print to persuade me that _on a
hummer_ and _on a humble_ were mere variations based on a mishearing
of Doston's innumerable other uses of this as a catchphrase.

In an article about him published in the StL Post-Dispatch (brother
was *big*, locally!), he claimed that _Ponyo_ was a Korean word
meaning "friend" that he had learned while serving in the military in
Korea. Unreal, IMO, and I've never gone for it. But, given that my own
knowledge of Korean ends at _kimchee_...

Doston was on a couple of times a day. For his after-school show, he
used a version of the instrumental, Behind The Sun, or, as he
enunciated it, "Be-HIND [pause] The SUN!" (meaning "down South") as
his theme song, though another catchphrase of his was, "Ain't it great
to be above the magnolias [= in the (relative) North] on a day like
this?!" (It was a real bringdown when I discovered that at least one
species of magnolia is a fairly-common street tree as far north as
Boston, whereas the only place that I ever saw a magnolia in StL was
at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)

As for the meaning of "on a humbug," it had to do with scamming,
acting on the down low, slipping something past someone, getting over
on someone, etc. It's meaning was very fluid.


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 -

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