[Ads-l] Bozo as pejorative use of a PN?

Z Sohna zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 5 10:14:53 EST 2021


I researched the origin of the pejorative *bozo* "idiot, stupid person,
fool" in American speech (not the journal, the actual speech) some years
ago.



The pejorative *bozo* "stupid person, simpleton, imbecile, idiot" in
American speech is an Africanism derived from the Kikongo (Angola) *βɔsɔ*
"stupid person, simpleton, imbecile, idiot, nutty".



In Native Black American language, *bozo* occurs as both a noun and an
adjective, the latter of which occurs with notable frequency.



Since the janitor which Charlie Chaplin plays in the film is indeed a
fool/imbecile, the choice of “*Bozo*” for the same character in the theater
production seems not only appropriate, but meaningful.


As it concerns preexisting literature, in Some Sources of Southernisms
(1948), Mathews attributes *bozo* to a "word among the Gullahs [used] as a
name signifying great cheapness" (Mathews 1948, 145). However Mathews'
assertion is ill-informed.


Firstly, the personal names listed by Turner did not necessarily have a
semantic meaning among the Gullah. Turner states: "My Gullah informants do
not remember the meanings of these unmarked personal names (nor the precise
meanings of most of those [names] that are marked)."  (Turner 1949, 41)


Secondly, the purported African etymon to which Mathews alludes - the Hausa
*bozo* 'great cheapness' as noted by Turner (1948, 68) in the Personal
Names section of his work - bears no semantic correspondence with *bozo*
"idiot', fool, stupid person" in Native Black American or General American
speech.


As an aside, there is an interesting potential cognate in the Kumina
language of Jamaica: *buzu, *found in the term *buzu-hed* of identical
meaning. (Compare with the US *bozohed / bozohead* of identical meaning*.*)
As discovered by the late Dr. Fu-Kiau Kia Bunseki, the vocabulary of Kumina
is largely Kikongo in origin. (The Kumina people arrived from Kongo (i.e.,
the Kingdom of Kongo), post-chattel slavery as indentured servants in
Jamaica.)


I suspect that the Kumina term is influenced (phonetically) by phonetically
similar words in General Jamaican.


Regards,
Zola Sohna

Cited works:

Mathews, Mitford M. *Some Sources of Southernisms*. Birmingham, AL:
University of Alabama Press, 1948.

Turner, Lorenzo Dow. *Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect*. Columbia, SC:
University of South Carolina, 2002.



> Date:    Mon, 21 Dec 2020 16:03:04 +0000
> From:    Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject: Bozo as pejorative use of a PN?
>
> Charlie Chaplin performed in "The New Janitor" in 1914.
> In 1916 a play with the same title, the lead character is Bozo.
> Since the word bozo, afaik, it attested only later, might this be an
> unfriendly borrowing of an eastern european PN?
>
> Stephen G.
>
>
> https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANX&sort=YMD_date%3AA&fld-base-0=alltext&val-base-0=%22bozo%20the%20janitor%22&val-database-0=&fld-database-0=database&fld-nav-0=YMD_date&val-nav-0=&docref=image/v2%3A110C9BFA1F116650%40EANX-115C629FA449FA60%402421012-115C62A75730EB90%4062-115C62BE638640E8%40An%2BOriginal%2BCharacter&firsthit=yes
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