Hip, hep, dig, dogie. (Was Re: More on Wolof "hip")

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Dec 10 00:01:02 UTC 2004

Good article, Jesse.

Based on Dalby's 1969 suggestion, I wrestled with the likelihood of "hip / hep" as well as "dig" > Wolof. These etymologies are certainly appealing at first blush. ( Let me add here that, in early use (before about 1945) "hep" was at least as common as "hip" and in fact was used by many jazz musicians, by definition the "heppest" people in America.)

Any further discussion of "dig" as having a clear Wolof origin should, I suggest, take into full account the citational evidence in HDAS I, incl. the cross-ref. to British cant "dick."

Of great significance is that nobody has discovered a single hip, hep, or dig in any pre-20th C. African-American source, including the extensive interviews with elderly ex-slaves carried out by the WPA all over the South.  Had these terms enjoyed any notable currency among black Americans of the period of ca.1860-1925, one would expect some recorded examples.  Minstrel songs - admittedly not sources of choice -  didn't use them either.

In addition, it was the opinion of several black New Orleans jazz greats that "dig" was introduced in the late '20s by Louis Armstrong.  Where he got it from, nobody knows. And nobody ever asked him while they could.

In short, not only is there no direct evidence that these words (plus other jazz-related terms noted by Dalby like "jitterbug," "alligator," and "hepcat"), there is no early indirect evidence either. Their documented occurrence in 19th (or better yet, 18th) century  African-American speech would make such etymologies plausible, though not ipso facto certain. Their apparent complete absence from records where they might plausibly be found completely undercuts (for now) the idea that they were brought from Wolof or any other African language yet to be nominated.  The importation of African slaves had dwindled to a comparative trickle by the time it was was outlawed in the early 19th C.  So black speakers would have had to have maintained the currency of these putative Africanisms for generations to transmit them, without a written trace, from Africa to the big-band era.

Perhaps hastily,  I acceded in HDAS 1 to the idea (Dalby's, I think)  that "dogie" might have an African etymon. In the intervening ten years I have seen no further discussion of this  possibility, which struck me as unlikely but well worth considering.  (DARE suggests a derivation from cute little "doggie."  I doubt it.)


Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Wilson Gray
Subject: Re: More on Wolof "hip"

On Dec 9, 2004, at 4:36 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Laurence Horn
> Subject: Re: More on Wolof "hip"
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> At 4:02 PM -0500 12/9/04, Wilson Gray wrote:
>> On Dec 9, 2004, at 3:11 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>> 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
>> Castilian.
>> -Wilson
> Oops. Lapsus mentalis, more like. It's actually an application of
> the well known rule of "_tocar_, from Vulgar Latin *" deletion on my
> part. This is AHD3 speaking, and the derivation is prefaced by a
> "perhaps", and comes via "toque". No details on which variety of
> Spanish. The OED is, as usual, more cautious and just has "origin
> uncertain" for both the verb and the (relevant) noun.
> L

The form "toque" ['toke] is the polite singular imperative of "tocar."
-1967-68-school-year meaning is "touch." But that doesn't mean that it
couldn't have had the relevant meaning as a slang term or been
misunderstood by the non-Spanish-speaking as having that meaning.

According to various histories of the use of weed, it was introduced by
Mexican stoop-laborers to their black-American counterparts. This is
where the Mexican-Spanish bit is relevant. Later, when blacks became
in, the use of grass was passed on to whites. I don't vouch for the
truth of this, since it's only something that I read somewhere, five to
25 years ago.


Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam?  Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around

More information about the Ads-l mailing list