[Ads-l] "(jump) salty"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 20 03:57:11 UTC 2015

On Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 8:16 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> Sorry if I missed it upthread, but the OED's entry for "(jump) salty" at
> sense 5 begins with these two cites from 1938; I love the nifty verbing
> of "Reno" in the latter:
> 1938   Amer. Speech 13 314/1   Jump salty, implies an unexpected change
> in a person's attitude or knowledge. The person may become suddenly
> angry, or an unhipped person may become hipped.
> 1938   N.Y. Amsterdam News 26 Feb. 17/2   Let's sound a high C on the
> postoffice man whose Girl Friday is "jumpin' salty" 'cause he won't
> Reno the wife who thinks but isn't sure.
> Although these are both under the same general entry, I'll have to take
> the OED's word for it that this clearly AAE usage is derived from the
> "piquant, racy" one at sense 3 that Garson mentions below.  I always
> associated "salty language", perhaps wrongly, with usage by foul-mouthed
> sailors (more specifically, navy men).

I don't think OED's historical sense-ordering for "salty" necessarily
implies that the AAE usage at sense 5 is directly derived from
"piquant, racy" at sense 3. The entry's dealing with several
intertwined senses, and it doesn't seem like there's a nice linear
semantic progression going on here. I agree that "salty language" ties
in with nautical "salty" (which I mentioned as a pre-existing use of
the term in my WSJ piece).

For the sake of completeness, here are all of the "jump salty" cites
I've found in the Philadelphia Tribune from 1935-36. Only two of them
have bylines, and they're both by sports columnist Ed Harris (the
expression was favored on the sports pages early on). A few others
appear in a cryptic "blind item" column called "Centreville Flash."
(Centreville/Centerville was a predominantly black neighborhood in
Camden, NJ.)

1935 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 18 July 11/1 Ed Harris, "Mike Jacobs Diplomat"
Now as far as France and Italy were concerned, Hitler was jumping
salty, spreading that jive.
1935 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 31 Oct 17/7 "Centreville Flash"
Who are, were the boys of Centreville younger set, that took A.W.F.C.
and E.C., out for a car ride, and the Chicks jump salty. Be careful
1935 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 14 Nov 12/5 "The Looking Glass"
He promises to do better this week and not jump salty again until
Cheyney plays Bordentown. Maybe.
1935 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 5 Dec 6/8 "Centreville Flash"
I would like to know how does D.S. feel now since his dearie has
jumped salty. Can you take it, kid?
1936 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 9 Jan 17/2 "Centerville Flash"
I wonder why L.T. jumped salty and put a Joe Louis on [illegible].D.?
1936 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 13 Feb 12/1 Ed R. Harris, "Behind the News"
And he's getting madder and madder 'cause the chick is jumping far too
salty for Abe and he don't want none of that stuff.
1936 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 2 Apr 12/8 "Satchell to Come East"
The fans are still trying to figure whether Satchell jumped salty or
whether the promoters tried to put something over on the public.
1936 _Philadelphia Tribune_ 1 Oct 14/7 "Around the Town with Tony"
Dixon's Wonder Bar is still jumping and I don't mean salty either, for
the entertainment under the direction of George Dorsey and Dixie

The earliest example in HDAS and GDoS is from Roi Ottley's "Hectic
Harlem" column in the Feb. 8, 1936 New York Amsterdam News. Ottley
glosses "salty" as "sarcastic, supercilious, highbrow, as 'Don't jump
salty.'" In that same issue, there's an article that uses "salty"
several times.

1936 _New York Amsterdam News_ 8 Feb 1/7 "Bootsie, You Should've Seen
It! Them 'Walk Together' Cats Were Sure Salty"
Soon after the first curtain went up, Bootsie, some of them Apollo
cats in the balcony jumped salty and started clapping at the wrong
places. These amateur night gigolos were quieted down when the play
got going, however, 'cause them Georgia cats on the stage were salty
cats that was salty.
Strike me pink, Bootsie, them down home cats in "Walk Together
Chillun" was a blip. They didn't believe nothing or nobody. They'd
jump salty at the drop of a hat. And you could've knocked me over with
a reefer, Bootsie, when these same salty cats grabbed their bandannas
in the last act and tore out for the church as soon as the white folks
got their dander up.


Ben Zimmer

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

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