George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Nov 24 20:33:10 UTC 2011

There is an absurdly low-powered radio station operating out of
Poughkeepsie that is dedicated to playing only music recorded before 1970
-- WHRW, 950 AM.  The owner of the station is on air 9 hours a week playing
items from his collection of 78 rpms.  Many more hours are filled with
these same 78s, but without human intervention to identify the singer and
I have twice heard a record by a clear-voiced, rather low-voiced, female
singer, with piano accompaniment; but I have never heard it while the
collector was on mike to identify it.  It opens "Little drops of water,
great big grains of sand" (which Mr. Google tells me is a variation of a
religious song).  The rest is a miscellany of blues couplets, some of which
are familiar to me, but including:
"I won't have a Martin street man, and I'll tell you the reason why./ A
Martin street man don't do nothing but stand on the corner and signify."
The sound and style of this record makes me think that it would be an
antedating by a few years of the earliest citation in dictionaries of the
meaning "idle talk, boasting" for "signify", which is now traced to the
late 1920s.  But I have to keep listening to the station until I hear it
played by a human being, instead of a machine to get a firm recording date.

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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