[Ads-l] Copasetic notes

Thu Mar 9 11:11:11 EST 2017

While I'm not convinced by Stephen's argument that Irving Bacheller invented the word "copasetic," it is nicely argued.  However, one problem is that the word has a universally accepted meaning of fine, all right, or excellent.  In the purported original, it "signified an unusual depth of meaning," so it did not yet have the modern meaning.  In the song "At the New Jump Steady Ball," the presumed vector to the term's use in the African-American community, the meaning was unspecified.  How did the word come to have its current meaning, and how did this come to be universal?

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Stephen Goranson
Sent: Thursday, March 9, 2017 6:19 AM
Subject: Copasetic notes

Here's a post on Copasetic etymology on Language Log:



Garson remarked that the 1998 reprint of a 1925 article in Vanity Fair by Eric Walrond appeared to have added alternate spellings to an endnote. I have only a very poor copy from microfilm of the 1925 article, but Garson appears to be correct. The original footnote to "Everything is kopasettee*" appears to read only "*All right" (without the alternate spellings).

This 1925 text appears during banter before entering the "coloured cabaret in New York." Back in Jan. 19, 2005 Douglas Wilson suggested that copasetic (he preferred a different spelling) might be a "shibboleth." I don't know if the sense of "password" was intended, but I note "copasetic was the password" in the 1920 song, a new word borrowed, in my view, from the 1919 (and later reprinted) book. The book as the potential source was noted here about ten years ago, before new evidence turned up, and at Anatoly's etymology blog comments, and in Comments on Etymology.

Here's another semi-early use, probably borrowed from Carl van Vechten 1925: in The Impuritans by Harvey Wickham (1929). Wickham oddly accused Claude McKay, author of Return to Harlem (1928) of trying to (literarily) "pass." "It is not kopasetee." (p. 289)

Here's the title of a previously-mentioned article by David L. Gold: "American English Slang Copacetic 'Fine, All Right' Has No Hebrew, Yiddish, or Other Jewish Connection," Studies in Etymology and Etiology... (2009) 57-76.

Stephen Goranson

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

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list