More on Wolof "hip"

Thu Dec 9 21:20:32 UTC 2004

        I thought the most interesting suggestions by DannyBoy were the possible Wolof origins for dig, ooga-booga, and perhaps toke.  (Incidentally, I don't think he meant that English fetch is from Wolof fecc.)  It turns out that the possible Wolof connection for dig has already been noted; AHD4 says "perhaps influenced by Wolof degg, to hear, find out, understand, or Irish Gaelic tuigim, I understand."

        Toke's derivation from Spanish seems to be uncertain; at least, AHD4 notes this possibility  (deriving from toque, not toccare - I don't speak Spanish and don't know if the words are related) with a cautionary "perhaps."  However, the timing issue makes a Wolof derivation a stretch.  I don't know how old "toke" is (I'm on the road today and can't look it up), but here's the oldest cite I found in Westlaw, from 1958, describing events of 1957:  "However, Barragan told Halcon that he could let him have a 'roach' and handed it to Halcon, saying, 'It is only good for two or three tokes.'"  People v. Barragan, 163 Cal.App.2d 625, 627, 329 P.2d 733, 735 (1958).  That seems awfully late for a possible derivation from Wolof.

        Incidentally, AHD4 doesn't mention the other meaning of toke, casinoese for tip.  (Maybe it's really a separate word, not just a separate meaning.)  Here's the earliest use I saw.  This example is atypical, in that the employees are not dealers and the tokes are not from gamblers, but it's still a casino environment.  This long discussion is from a 1965 decision of a National Labor Relations Board Trial Examiner against Harrah's Club, 158 NLRB 758:

        <<Prior to December 23, 1963, the stage technicians at the South Shore Room of Respondent customarily were given gratuities, or tokes, from featured entertainers. Usually the gratuities were in the form of money, although occasionally they were in the form of material gifts. Based on the estimates of the stage technicians and particularly on the records of stage technician William Murray, which show tokes totaling $410 during 1963, I find that the stage technicians generally received in excess of $300 annually in tokes.

        . . . .

        Respondent contends that during all times material herein it has had a policy that tokes are acceptable from customers only and not from noncustomers, that is, persons who are under contract with Respondent or otherwise are performing a service for or selling something to Respondent. Entertainers and featured performers are under contract with Respondent. In support of this contention Respondent offered in evidence a booklet, "You & Your Job," published in June 1963, and distributed to employees, which contained the following statement of policy:

        If you maintain Harrah's high standards of sincere friendliness, courtesy and cheerfulness, you will find that a number of customers will appreciate your attitude to the extent that you will be offered a gratuity, tip or "toke". These are acceptable and we are pleased to see you receive them if offered under the above circumstances.

        This publication only indirectly suggests that tokes from other than customers are outside the scope of the policy statement.

        Early in 1964, in a reprinting of the booklet "You & Your Job," the following paragraph was added on the matter of tipping or tokes:

        When a service is performed not for a customer but for someone doing contractual work for Harrah's and when Harrah's pays the employee specifically for performing such service, no toke may be accepted by the employee performing such service.

        Irrespective of these publications, the record is clear that it was an established practice at the South Shore Room for entertainers, with very few exceptions, to give tokes to the stage technicians. Walker's record on tokes covers a period of 2 years and 3 months prior to December 1963. Generally the tokes were handed in envelopes to each of the stage technicians on the closing night of a show by one of Respondent's supervisors, such as Producer Barkow or Stage Manager Lein; occasionally the performer himself would give the tokes to the technicians.

        . . . .

        There is also evidence both for and against a finding that toking of stage technicians by entertainers is a general practice in the entertainment business. There appears to be places where it is done and places where it is not done. Irrespective of this, since the giving of gratuities is initiated by the entertainer and the stage technician is merely on the receiving end, and since all entertainers, with very few exceptions, gave tokes at the South Shore Room, and the tokes were usually transmitted through supervisory personnel, the practice of toking there clearly existed and was known and accepted by management until the December 23, 1963, notice. Respondent has the right to discontinue this practice, but not as a retribution to the employees because of their union activities.>>

        The gambling literature would probably take this term back further.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Laurence Horn
Sent: Thursday, December 09, 2004 3:11 PM
Subject: Re: More on Wolof "hip"

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.


>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

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