for those interested, if anyone is

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Oct 13 00:51:03 UTC 2012

I'll make the excuse for posting this here, that it is a representation of
AAVE from 1821.  What I really like is that the story gives the colored guy
a zinger that shuts up the white guy -- not often seen in jokes at that
time, nor, indeed, during the next 150 years.
The caption to the story isn't an antedating, but is worth noting by the
myrmidons of the OED.

Fish Story.  A gentleman sent his black servant to purchase a *fresh* fish.
He went to a stall, and taking up a fish began to smell it.  The fish
monger observing him, and fearing the by-standers might *catch the scent*,
exclaims "halloa! you black rascal, what do you smell my fish for?"  The
negro replies, "Me no smell your fish, Massa."  "What are you doing then
sir?"  "Why me talk to him Massa."  "And what do you say to the fish, heh?"
"Why me ask him what news at sea, dats all, Massa."  "And what does he say
to you?"  "He say he dont know -- he no been dare dese *tree week*."

Delaware Gazette, September 13, 1821, p. 4, col. 1


*fish-story* *n.* an incredible tale or ‘yarn’.

1819   *St. Louis Enquirer* 8 Dec.,   A fish story!.. In consequence of the
shoals of white-fish which occupied and choaked the channel between Bois
Blanc Island and Amherstburgh, the steamboat could not pass.

1823   *Missouri Intelligencer* 28 Jan.,   That's ‘a fish story’, but
mine's a true one.


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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