Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 18 15:22:11 UTC 2006

This is probably not helpful, but WTF? It won't hurt, either. I know
the expression only as "I could eat it with a spoon."

"Poontang" I first knew as a literary term (Calder Willingham: End As
A Man, perhaps?") I didn't know that there was any reason to believe
that the term had ever existed in the wild *among BE speakers* before
I joined this listserv, which, to a nanometric degree, perhaps makes
"The word does not appear to have originated in African-American
use.[...]" seem to me to be the correct conclusion.

Barney Bigard wrote and recorded what was probably an instrumental
with the title, "Poontang," ca.1944, but I found that out just a
minute ago by checking the AMG.

There's an album, published this year, _"Ride Daddy Ride": Vintage
Songs About Sex 1927-1953_, which has a version of the song, Poontang,
on it, witten by Ross, or maybe Richard, Adler.


On 12/18/06, Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: poon-tang
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks. The Dec. 9, 1929 NYC recording of Clara Smith singing "Oh! Mister
> Mitchell" by Spencer Williams, James P. Johnson on piano, is available online
> at:
> http://www.redhotjazz.com/clarasmith.html
> Was the song earlier published, copyrighted, performed, or mentioned? If so,
> when? Might it have been performed in NYC earlier where O'Hara and Wolfe may
> have got the word? I haven't found long biographies of Smith or Williams, but,
> speaking of French, Williams was in Paris with Josephine Baker for part of the
> 'twenties. Maybe he needed a rhyme for whang. Yes, iffy, maybe. Of the three
> earliest so-far known cites, I imagine the others getting it from the song more
> plausible than other options (except, perhaps, earlier unknown use). I haven't
> seen the O'Hara letter yet, to see if context and addressee add anything.
> OED online "poontang, n." reads "slang (orig. and chiefly U.S. in
> African-American usage)," but then, in Etymology, continues, "[Origin uncertain;
> perh. < French putain prostitute (see PUTAIN n.).
>   The word does not appear to have originated in African-American use.[...]"
> What gives?
> Here's a longer selection from OED's 1947 cite [my elipses]: "Poley...saw a
> pretty Negro girl...."Eye that poon tang there,' he said. 'I could eat it with
> a knife and fork. Where I come from we call that kind of stuff--table pussy.'"
> At least one of Wolfe's 1929 (or earlier) uses, "Poon-Tang Picnic in
> Niggertown," like the song, follows the (earlier) Jelly-Roll-type food analogy.
> Stephen Goranson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Sam'l Clemens

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