poon-tang (was Re: [ADS-L] your most sought word or phrase origins?
goranson at DUKE.EDU
Fri Dec 15 14:08:45 UTC 2006
Quoting "Douglas G. Wilson" <douglas at NB.NET>:
>> [....] Here's one of many which I've looked at: "poontang".
>> Dictionaries derive
> this from French "putain" (some say 'perhaps', 'probably', etc.). However
> AFAIK there is no supporting 'paper trail': this derivation is just a
> plausible speculation. I agree that it is plausible, *maybe* the most
> plausible ... but I see a few other more-or-less plausible derivations
> (which I've presented here, I think). Let's establish one with real
> evidence! This is difficult!
> -- Doug Wilson
Thanks. I've now read the interestingarchives on this. A few small
Unless I've misread (which could be), 1927 is still the earliest certain
recorded date for this word with the OED definitions. On the other hand, it's
still a bit uncertain which of three authors was the first to have written
poon-tang. The date of John O'Hara's letter is simple, but the Thomas
can be at least somewhat antedated. And the "Oh Mister Mitchell" song is known
from a 1929 recording, but may (?) have been written and performed
one question: is it possible that both O'Hara and Wolfe got it from the song?
Both, for instance, were in New York in time to hear, for example, Clara Smith
perform there. (Trivia: IIRC I first heard the word in NY.) So far, I found no
date for the song by New Orleans-born Spencer Williams (1889?-1965). Is that
known? Has anyone looked at his lyrics to see if he typically made up such
As you know, Look Homeward, Angel has the word poon-tang three times
pages 166, 174 and 343. This book is a famously-edited version of Wolfe's
manuscript O, Lost. Apologies if this has been remarked before, but O,
the term, also, though only once (the same words as p. 166 of LHA: He takes it
out in Poon-Tang.). That's page 180 in the 2000 publication of O, Lost. LHA
pages 174 and 343 have the word: the pages in O, Lost that correspond in other
words are pages 195 and 377, respectively. O, Lost was completed in March 1928
(according to a chronology in Notebooks of Thomas Wolfe); it's at least
plausible that this section (180) was written in 1927. O, Lost p. 195: You've
been on a Frigging Frolic in Niggertown; LHA 174: You've been on a Poon-Tang
Picnic in Niggertown. O, Lost page 377 presents a minor curiosity. Where LHA
343 has A fellow's got to have a little Poon-Tang, hasn't he?, O. Lost 377 has
A fellow's got to have a little snooey, hasn't he? snooey--sic. That's a new
one to me.
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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