More on Wolof "hip"

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Thu Dec 9 21:02:10 UTC 2004

On Dec 9, 2004, at 3:11 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: More on Wolof "hip"
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> At 12:19 PM -0500 12/9/04, Baker, John wrote:
>>         Excellent article, Jesse.  I took a look at the Slate reader
>> comments, which on Slate are called the Fray.  While most of them
>> have little of value to contribute, I thought that two of them, from
>> speakers of Wolof, were particularly useful, and I reproduce them
>> below.  The first one has some particularly useful information about
>> Wolof, and the second, while not as insightful, has some interesting
>> speculations concerning other possible derivations.  Jesse has
>> already responded to the point about Wolof orthography, but these
>> posters have further information concerning actual Wolof
>> pronunciations.
>> John Baker
>> Subject: Crying Wolof
>> From: raffi73
>> Date: Dec 9 2004 3:53AM
>> This Wolof speaker would like to correct something in Jesse
>> Sheidlower's article. I'm not contesting the central point of the
>> article and I agree that the Wolof origins of hip are more than
>> dubious.
>> But Sheidlower wrote "the word in question is actually spelled
>> Xippi", which doesn't make much sense. Wolof is essentially an oral
>> language. It has started being written in the 20th century, but
>> whatever spelling you see is just a transliteration. The "X" in
>> Xippi is pronounced like a Spanish Jota, as in Juan. The word can
>> also be spelled "hippi" and "khippi", with the same pronunciation.
>> You really cannot draw conclusions from the transliteration of an
>> oral language, which can vary a lot according to the country.
>> Example : Wolof is mostly spoken in Senegal and Gambia, respectively
>> a former French colony and a former British colony. Because several
>> letters, for example "j", "i" and "e", are pronounced differently in
>> French and English, most common Wolof surname are spelled very
>> differently in the two countries, despite the fact that they are
>> pronounced exactly the same way : Diop in Senegal = Joop in Gambia,
>> N'Diaye in Senegal = N'Jie in Gambia, Diouf in Senegal = Joof in Ga!
>>  mbia.
> The comments above are reasonable, as we've been discussing--the
> question for a pro-Wolovian is whether the evidence is being skewed
> by citing /xip(pi)/ in the "hip-" form.  The main problem, as Jesse's
> piece makes clear, is the lack of direct evidence for the
> transmission.  As for the comments below, this really does illustrate
> the danger of crying Wolof--the plausible babies (maybe "dig"?) are
> thrown out with the obfuscatory bathwater.  It would help DannyBoy's
> case if he picked up a dictionary with decent e(n)tymologies, where
> he would learn that inter alia "OK" is from "oll korrect" (and not
> from Old Kinderhook, Choctaw, *or* Wolof), that "fetch" is from Old
> English, which didn't have much of a Wolof substrate, that "goober"
> is indeed Out of Africa, but from Bantu ngubi (in fact if he checked
> the AHD4 entry for "goober" he'd find a few more English words that
> can be plausibly derived from African sources) rather than Wolof
> "ger-teh" (?), that "toke" is more likely from Span. toccare, etc.
> etc.
> Larry

I assume that "toccare" is a lapsus digiti for "tocar." And, FWIW, if
it is from Spanish, it's
more likely to be from some variety of North-American Spanish than from

>> Subject: re:Sheidlower/ Crying Wolof/origin of hip
>> From: DannyBoy
>> Date: Dec 8 2004 2:48PM
>> I have some authority on this subject: I spent two years in Senegal
>> (Peace Corps), spoke reasonably good Wolof and kept my own glossary
>> of words which I later hand-copied as a dictionary since there were
>> so few English-Wolof glossaries available. Furthermore, I wrote a
>> newspaper column some years ago (Tampa Tribune) opining a number of
>> these connections, all from my own observations. To wit:
>> 1) I never heard the word "hipi" over there. But I heard what may be
>> a regional variant, "Hebu", meaning "one who is aware." Sheidlower
>> makes no notice of the fact that Senegal was where countless slaves
>> from the entire West African coast were transshipped, from coastal
>> slavers to oceangoing ones, at the Island of Goree in Dakar's
>> harbor. I am unclear how many Wolofs were among those taken, but
>> between Africans dealing with the slave trade, or those taken slaves
>> and brought here, there were significant chances for contact. By the
>> way, while the letter "h" isn't used in Wolof, the sound exists, and
>> it is represented sometimes in modern Wolof orthography - which no
>> one over there actually uses; people either write Wolof using Arabic
>> characters, or learn French in school using Roman ones, or are
>> illiterate in Wolof - by the letter "x". It may be closer to a
>> guttural "ch" than to a nice breathy "h", but close enough for the
>> sounds to have crossed over.
>> 2) The word for "dance" in Wolof is "fecc", pronounced "fetch."
>> Stepin Fetchit?
>> 3) The word for "to smoke" in Wolof is "tokh," pronounced as it
>> looks with a guttural ch at the end. "Toke" maybe?
>> 4) I never bought the translation others touted between the Wolof
>> word for "peanuts" - "gerte", pronounced "ger-teh" - and "goobers,"
>> so I appreciate the stretches those looking for connections will
>> sometimes make. But there are others which are better.
>> 5) I may have been one of the first proponents of the connections
>> between an enthusiastic Wolof affirmative - "waaw-kay" and our
>> favorite American slangism, "OK." But the sense is very close. In
>> Wolof, "yes" is "waaw", pronounced "wow." You say "waaw-kay" when
>> you're being particularly emphatic about it. Sort of an Austin
>> Powers "yeah, BABY!" "I brought home dinner." "Waaw-KAY!" I always
>> thought the "Old Kinderhook" explanation relating it to Martin Van
>> Buren's campaign slogan was weak; the entymology relating it to
>> Cherokee "okeh" may have been stronger. But I think mine is at least
>> as plausible.
>> 6) "Dig" is so obviously from Wolof that I don't think any debate
>> can exist about it. Its sense is dead-on. Wolof "degg", which is
>> pronounced "dig", means both "to hear" and more deeply "to
>> understand," which is exactly what the slang "dig" means. You don't
>> bother digging that the TV is on in the next room. You dig what
>> someone is telling you.
>> 7) "Bopp" in Wolof means "head," and among the senses of "bopping"
>> in English is that moving of the head when you're not quite dancing
>> but moving your head to the music. I don't know "bop"'s etymology
>> back past the origin of bebop jazz, and I don't know where that
>> phrase came from, or if "bop" precedes it.
>> 8)This isn't exactly an etymology, but it is quite possible that the
>> generic stereotypic African-savage phrase "ooga booga" comes from
>> Wolof. A common phrase in the language is "nge bugge" - pronounced
>> "oonga booga" - which means "you want" or "do you want." Something
>> said multiple times daily and probably heard by any foreign visitor.
>> I had one or two others but can't lay hands on my column. The main
>> ones are above. Anyone else who knows anything about Wolof out there?
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On
>> Behalf
>> Of Jesse Sheidlower
>> Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 10:23 PM
>> Subject: More on Wolof "hip"
>> ADS-L'ers who are a fan of the Wolof "hip" story might be
>> interested in my article on the subject in Slate:
>> They let me namecheck Larry for the headline, thank goodness,
>> though they insisted on using the word "coined".
>> Jesse Sheidlower
>> OED

More information about the Ads-l mailing list