[Ads-l] _splib_

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Feb 21 19:44:29 EST 2017

Speaking of which, more or less, there was this in Anu Garg’s A Word A Day post today (wordsmith.org):

copacetic or copasetic


adjective: Excellent; satisfactory; OK.

Of obscure origin. Competing theories attribute its origin to Black English, Louisiana French, Italian, Yiddish, and Hebrew, but evidence is lacking. Earliest documented use: 1919.

And yes, the OED does have a first cite from 1919, from American journalist Irving Batcheller’s _A Man for the Ages: A Story of the Builders of Democracy_.  In fact, the trajectory attested by the OED entry makes it seem to me strongly likely that this is originally a Black English word, which is what I had always assumed, but it’s curious that it’s still “o.o.o.” and that those other theories (Italian? Hebrew? Yiddish? Really?) are out there.  

Just checked HDAS, where I see Jon does indeed determine that “copacetic” is “not, as sometimes claimed, fr. Heb., It., or Louisiana Fr.”, but still deems it origin unknown.

Can anyone (Jon? Wilson?) help clarify the story?


> On Feb 21, 2017, at 8:20 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> Thanks, Wilson. HDAS files have nothing before the '60s.
> JL
> On Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 4:12 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 6:55 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> the early '70s
>> Using a word that had passed out of use at least as far back as the early
>> ’50’s - well, in The Lou, anyway - hoping to whip game, because no one who
>> was hip would be reading the claim.
>> Apparently, it was still being used somewhere else, though. In the ’60’s,
>> there was an article in NewsTIME in which a black collegian explain that,
>> when white fellow-students asked him what _splib_ meant, he would "explain"
>> that it meant something like, "Society for Proclaiming Liberty to Blacks"
>> or some such. ROTFLMAO
>> Oddly, _splib_ is older, in my personal experience - back to the late ’40’s
>> - than _ofay_, which I knew only as a literary term till the middle ’50’s.
>> Even then, only a single ace-boon used it. And he probably had learned it
>> as a literary term, too.
>> At that time, _fade_ was the usual term, in The Lou, for a white person.
>> This could have led me to a false etymology, had I not already been
>> familiar with "ofay" from reading it. Well, the concomitant use of "shade"
>> for a black person, i.e. "shades and fades" = "blacks and whites," probably
>> would have been sufficient to preclude my leaping to the wrong conclusion.
>> --
>> -Wilson
>> -----
>> 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
> -- 
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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