"Au fait"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Sep 3 03:07:31 UTC 2007

A while back I speculated that "ofay" = "white [person]" is derived
from "au fait" in the sense "fashionable"/"proper" or so, a
distinctively English-language word in this sense AFAIK (although it
may have thought itself French). At least one other person (Gerald
Cohen) had put forth the same hypothesis (or a very similar one) much
earlier. The exact semantic connection is not clear, however,
although various more-or-less plausible scenarios are available.

I quote the beginning of an untitled (at least in this printing)
poem: from N'archive:


_Trenton [NJ] Evening Times_, 30 July 1897: p. '4':

<<W. J. H. in Phila. North American: / Oh, lynchings are au fait / In
Dixey! / They've a hang-up every day / In Dixey! / The elite are
always there / ....>>


The poem is of course sarcastic and harshly derogatory toward "Dixey"
(or its "elite" anyway).

"Au fait" appears in the first line; its pronunciation (with [the
expected] second syllable stress) is pretty much specified.

Somebody with bigger databases than mine might check to see whether
there is evidence of wide propagation ... e.g., maybe the poem was
quoted in the _Freeman_ or some similar publication.

This poem or some similar item may have been a 'vector' whereby "au
fait" came to be used for "white people" (or maybe [transiently] for
some subset of white people).

-- Doug Wilson

No virus found in this outgoing message.
Checked by AVG Free Edition.
Version: 7.5.484 / Virus Database: 269.13.2/984 - Release Date: 9/2/2007 12:59 PM

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list