Deep Down in the Jungle redux

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 21 04:26:53 UTC 2006

Abrahams, Roger D. Deep down in the jungle... Chicago: Aldine
Publishing Co. 1967, revised 1970.

On p.94, Abrahams notes that one of his informants had once been a
member of a vocal quartet called The Turbans, "that had made a few
records." That's damning with faint praise at its best. The Turbans
and their successors were seminal groups in the development of R&B.
The group had two national hits, ca.1955, "When You Dance" and "Sister
Sookie." The latter contains one of my favorite R&B verses:

I believe Sister Sookie done lost her mind
She wears a pair of shoes of the strangest kind
With the heels in front and the heels behind
I couldn't tell _whether_ she was coming or gwine

The rhythm of the song as its sung requires the use of "... couldn't
tell IF ..." The use of "whether" simply blows up the rhythm, leading
me to theorize that this was a dialect so conservative that "whether"
couldn't be replaced by "if."

A successor group, The Gladiolas (note the eggcorn), recorded the
song, "Little Darling," which was also a national hit on black radio
and, indeed, a cover version by the Canadian group, The Diamonds, was
a national hit on white radio.

The final successor group, The Zodiacs, hit very big with "Stay," so
big that they crossed over. In the '70's, the song was reprised by
Jackson Brown, who did well with it.

On p.6, Abrahams mentions the ring games, Little Sally Waters, Sally
Go 'Round the Sun. and Here We Go Zootie-O. I know these as Little
Sally Walker, Sally Go 'Round the Roses, and Here We Go Looby-Loo or
... Loop-de-Loop. On the same page, he defines "sounds" as "...
stories and epic poems ..." In Saint Louis, "sounding" was just
another way of saying "joning" (I once read somewhere that this latter
term is also used in DC). You sounded _on_ someone, but you joned
_with_ someone, e.g.

John sounded on / *with Bill.
John joned *on / with Bill.

So, "sound on" patterned with "jump on" and "jone with" patterned with
"fuck with." The motivation for the syntactic difference is a mystery,
since there was no semantic difference between the two.

-Wilson Gray

The American Dialect Society -

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