[Ads-l] Early "Jazz" Citation

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 17 07:25:13 EST 2022

Thanks for setting me straight, Ben.

Fred Shapiro

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Sunday, January 16, 2022 7:40 PM
Subject: Re: Early "Jazz" Citation

Terrific find, Fred. Here's the page image:


In context, "slab the old jazz" may be akin to "shoot the breeze," "chew
the fat," etc. Or since the preceding paragraph (written a comically ornate
style contrasting with the slang of the quoted passage) is about setting
aside an expletive-filled argument, perhaps "slab" is like "slab off" (OED
quoting Bartlett 1859: "throw aside as useless") and it means "put aside
the old nonsense" or something like that.

As we've previously discussed, in June 1913 there were two widely
syndicated articles that presented "the old jazz" as slang from San
Francisco. See e.g. my ADS-L post from June 2007 or Dave Wilton's writeup:


While the example from The Scoop doesn't mention San Francisco, I think the
likeliest explanation is that "the old jazz" was inspired by the newspaper
articles about slang that were circulating around the country at the time.
And I don't think "teach the Chinaman his music lesson" is a literal
reference to music but yet another slang idiom (not sure about the meaning).

FWIW, the item is signed "Phinney the Eel," which is also the name of a
Chicago underworld character in an Aug. 1913 syndicated piece by Gene


I see there was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News named Gene Morgan, so
this piece may have first appeared there. And I'd guess Morgan is also the
author of the item in The Scoop, as his byline appears elsewhere in that
issue, e.g.:



On Sun, Jan 16, 2022 at 6:50 PM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:

> Actually, I think this is the only known citation of "the old jazz" in
> that time-period that is not relating to the San Francisco area.  I should
> also note the obvious point that this citation is from Chicago, which
> appears to be the incubator of "jazz" referring to music.
> Fred Shapiro
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of
> Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Sent: Sunday, January 16, 2022 6:27 PM
> Subject: Early "Jazz" Citation
> I often criticize other people for far-fetched etymological theories based
> on coincidence, and often espouse the theory that if a citation is "too
> good to be true," it's doubtless not true.  But I have found an interesting
> citation and seek help in interpreting it.
> 1913 The Scoop (Press Club of Chicago) 13 Sept. 429 (Internet Archive)
> And say, Glommer, old peg, let's slab the old jazz.  Some night we'll meet
> at the clubhouse beaker bazaar.  And then we'll both teach the Chinaman his
> music lesson -- eh, kid?
> The earliest known use of "jazz" meaning a type of music was discovered by
> me in a 1915 issue of the Chicago Tribune, a full year or so earlier than
> any other such usage.  I realize that the citation above is probably a
> usage of the slang term "the old jazz" that was current in 1913 in San
> Francisco and elsewhere, and probably is not referrring specifically to a
> type of music.  But does anyone have any idea as to what a slangy use of
> "slab" as a verb might mean?  And does anyone think this could be a
> reference to music?  The context seems musical, unless "music lesson" is
> some kind of metaphor.  The citation is an item that immediately follows an
> item about "negro" music.

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