Dialect Notes 1903: Word-List from East Alabama

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 20 01:14:30 UTC 2010

On Sun, Sep 19, 2010 at 7:58 AM, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> "If it's new to me, and I heard it in this
> offbeat area, it's probably peculiar to the area."

"I reckon that y'all done caught the the old coon, this," to borrow
the punchline of and old joke. I've been taken from the path of
righteousness in making a number of such assumptions. That why I
thought that the 1903 use from E 'Bama was worthy of note. Around the
time that the expression was hip, there was an article in Language
that indicated that, back in the Herman-Melville-Moby-Dick,
wooden-ship, whale-hunting days, harpooners and their associates
ofttimes discussed the exact moment at which the harpooner should
"sock it to" a whale. So, I was fully aware that the, IMO,
somewhat-irrelevant usage cited from Eastern 'Bama was no kind of

It merely struck me as trivially interesting, though *much* less
interesting than the author's description of "snipe-hunting," wherein
the chump is "left to hold open the bag into which the snipes are
supposed to run" or some such. Being in fact not much more than an
interested bystander here, I have no idea whether such is really the
source of the expression, "to leave someone holding the bag," or
whether the cite constitutes an antedating. But, I certainly find it
interesting and it makes perfect sense of a heretofore totally-obscure
idiom. I've wondered for years what sense there was to be found in
that expression. How and why is it a bad thing "to leave someone
holding the bag"? Is there something in the bag that's bad,
embarrassing, or what? Now, the essence of the expression seems

As fate would have it, I've known since childhood that "snipe-hunting"
was some kind of trick. I once saw a movie in which some inconvenient
character was gotten rid of by being sent on a "snipe-hunt." But,
aside from the the fact that the movie made clear that "snipe-hunting"
was a fool's errand, nothing was said about what "snipe-hunting"
involved. This movie was somewhat more confusing because I knew that
there exists an actual bird called a "snipe." So, why is it that going
to hunt them should mark a person as some kind of fool?


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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