Amos, Andy, and "unlax"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 22 02:09:46 UTC 2008

At 5:25 PM -0500 1/21/08, Wilson Gray wrote:
>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?

Sorry, Wilson.  I hate to be the source of disabuse (better than dat
abuse), but there are *185,000* google hits for "relax yourself",
headed by various no doubt ripoff organizations teaching you how to
do it, including one featuring "[a] stylish music video from
Colombia, complete with dream-rock grooves."


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

[exasserbating the problem]

>On Jan 21, 2008 4:57 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
>>  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 <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
>>    ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  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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