Amos, Andy, and "unlax"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jan 21 23:13:46 UTC 2008

Hard to believe, but I can't remember the context of that article.  I suspect it was a memorial recreation of thye author's.

  I used to read _Playboy_ , but just for the citations.


Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Wilson Gray
Subject: Re: Amos, Andy, and "unlax"

Did the person who wrote the Playboy piece claim to have heard the
radio show? "Dose" instead of "dim"? Shouldn't dat be "_de_ Kingfish"?
Of course, he was addressed simply as "Kingfish." I know the name of
the lodge only from reading about the show. If it was ever referred to
as anything but "de Lodge," it must have been on shows aired before I
could understand Ang-lish. "Unlax _yo'se'f"_? Does anyone say "relax
yourself" in any dialect?


Well, most writers of negro dialect, whether black or white, simply
pulled it out of their asses.

On Jan 21, 2008 4:57 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Jonathan Lighter
> Subject: Re: Amos, Andy, and "unlax"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 1932 Louise Schafer Camp et al. _Creative Composition_ [Phila.: J. B. Lippincott] 31: Amos 'n' Andy ..."unlax."
> 1941 in "Theodore Sturgeon" _Without Sorcery_ [N.p.: Prime Press, 1948] 81: I used to love to unlax. I'd put my feet on the doorknob and slide down in the upholstery until I was sitting on my shoulder blade.
> 1950 Ned Calmer _The Strange Land_ [rpt. N.Y.: Signet, 1953] 273: I haven't begun to unlax yet.
> 1953 William Manchester _City of Anger_ [N.Y.: Ballantine] 9: Let's unlax and wait for my husband.
> 1965 John Hersey _Too Far to Walk_ [rpt. N.Y.: Bantam, 1967] 13: Hey, the over-achiever unlaxing!
> 1971 _Playboy_ (Apr.) 206: Let's unlax, Brother Andy. Get dose feet up on de desk and unlax yo'self till Kingfish come from de Mystic Knights of de Sea Lodge.
> Saved best for last:
> 1893 Anna M. Fitch _The Loves of Paul Fenly_ [N.Y.: G. P. Putnam] 89: Turning with features unlaxed from the leer / She wore in the first of the interview.
> I use this word frequently but intransitively. I learned it from Amos 'n Andy.
> JL
> Laurence Horn wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Laurence Horn
> Subject: Amos, Andy, and "unlax"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> More inspiration from football...
> On the radio, from a sports talk show host interviewing a former
> football player about the release of adrenaline after a big game:
> "How long does it take for you to undrain yourself?"
> So I googled "undrain" and found 2130 hits (albeit with the usual
> large proportion of overlap), mostly referring to recipes in which
> one is told to undrain frozen strawberries, canned mushrooms or
> carrots, etc., but also clogged sinks. On the third page of hits I
> noticed the first compositional use, for a technique you can use to
> "undrain your brain". But the vast majority are indeed redundant, =
> 'drain'. Predictably, the prefix in "undrain a drain/clog" can only
> be redundant, while that in "unclog a drain" can never be.
> But while "undrain (oneself)" is probably not regional, it reminded
> me of a verb that I think is, "unlax" (with the meaning 'relax', but
> usually--if google cites can be believed--in transitive contexts,
> although I could be wrong about that). One cite led me to a curious
> American Speech paper from awhile back:
> Margaret Reed (1932), "Intentional Mispronunciations". American
> Speech 7: 192-99.
> This covers what Reed took to be a fad among the "light-hearted
> youth" of Central Westerners (she's writing from Nebraska) to
> circulate...well, intentional mispronunciations. (She's following up
> on a paper by Louise Pound from 10 years earlier in _Dialect Notes_.)
> Her categories include everything from adding or subtracting
> syllables and restressing (antique as "an-tee-cue", "champeen",
> "the-'ater"), tensing lax vowels ("genu-wine"), borrowing of "vulgar"
> pronunciations ("agin", "extry", "who'd-a thunk it", "varmint"), "Al
> Smith" English [a.k.a. Brooklynese, not a moniker Reed herself
> applies] ("boid", "noives", "toity-toid street", "winegar woiks"),
> the "extremely annoying" affectation of children's speech ("sojer",
> "sword" [with /w/, as we've been discussing recently], "Injun", "ax"
> for 'ask' [!-- she does add 'also archaic' for this], "itty bitty"),
> Yiddishisms ("epple", "darlink", "dun't esk"), various other dialect
> borrowings ("enyhoo", "pitcher" [for 'picture'], "divil"), blends and
> folk etymological forms ("bumbershoot", "brass-ear", "animule",
> "absotively"), misdivisions ("a tall", "a norange", but not "a whole
> nother"), spelling pronunciations ("k-nife", "g-nat", "X-mas"), and
> so on. She ends with the wistful hope that while "human nature" may
> be responsible for perpetuating this fad (or these fads--unclear how
> many causal factors are involved), "surely, in its fullest and most
> extreme form, the phenomenon is now passing its peak".
> So anyway, one of Reed's categories (p. 194) is what she terms '"Amos
> and Andy" English, heard over the radio, which is so much in vogue at
> the present time. It is not at all unusual to find the most
> fastidious speakers employing such forms as: [I sample here]
> disremember or misremember, elebben, heabbn, recited (excited),
> sebben, unlax (relax)". Now several of her examples involve
> /vn/>/bn/, a frequently encountered variant, not restricted to (but
> maybe stereotypic of?) AAVE. And of course we're dealing here with
> dialect forms at several removes from direct observation.
> But I'm wondering specifically about her citing of "unlax", which
> I've come across elsewhere noted as AAVE (although not necessarily
> AAVE-specific). DARE (at least the published volumes) can't help me
> here, nor can HDAS, given the initial "u". So what is the
> distribution/history of "unlax"? (It's unlisted in the OED, AHD, or
> Wright's English Dialect Dictionary.) Joan, do you have a draft
> entry for this?
> LH
> P.S. I am, of course, concerned only with the colloquial verb,
> transitive or intransitive, meaning (roughly) 'relax', not with the
> possible homonymous adjective, as in "/I/ is lax while /i/ is unlax".
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