more seat-of-the-pants etymology for our delectation

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 17 17:37:26 UTC 2008

The NYT BR notes that Blount cites what I would consider to be an
*extremely* rare word: _hully gully_, usually spelled witha hyphen,
amongst the colored. I'm impresed that Blount is aware of its
existence. Astoundingly, IMO, the hully-gully is mentioned in

"The Hully Gully was started by Frank Rocco at the Cadillac Hotel in
Miami Beach Florida."

Unfortunately, no date is supplied. The article goes on to state:

"The rock group, the Olympics, sang the song "Hully Gully", in 1959,
which involved no physical contact at all."

This is nearly correct. It should read more like:

"The Los Angeles-based rhythm-&-blues group, The Olympics, otherwise
known to the wider world only, if at all, for having originally
recorded the song later covered and made famous by The Young Rascals,
'Good Lovin',' in 1959 recorded a song entitled, 'Baby Hully-Gully'."

As far as I'm aware, this is the first appearance of "hully-gully" in
the black community and I'm certain that it occurred there only in the
song title and as the name of a once-popular dance.

Historical note: Olympic Boulevard was the northern boundary of said
community, back in the day. The singing group, made up of Angelenos,
took its name from the name of the street.

The song itself is probably the best example of call-and-response
singing in black popular music ever recorded. I resist the very strong
temptation to supply the lyrics, though they be of no particular
interest, WRT dialect.

["Mama hully-gully / Papa hully-gully / Baby hully-gully, too"]


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.
-Mark Twain

On Mon, Nov 17, 2008 at 10:47 AM, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: more seat-of-the-pants etymology for our delectation
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Sat, Nov 15, 2008 at 11:58 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at> wrote:
>> Take that, you "pros"!  Who needs you, "professoriate"?  Far be it
>> from the Times to assign a book on etymology and lexicon to someone
>> who actually knows something about either--that would be knuckling
>> under to the pros and/or the professoriate.  (Who might point out,
>> inter alia, that "nausea", whose true source is approvingly cited
>> here--"If you a cave person earnestly trying to communicate how you
>> felt digestively, you might without benefit of any verbal tradition
>> come up with something close to 'nausea'"--neither author (humorist
>> Roy Blount Jr.) nor reviewer (Jack Shafer of Slate) evidently having
>> bothered to open a dictionary, where they might have noticed that
>> "nausea" derives from the Greek word for is 'ship' (via the vector of
>> seasickness) and is cognate with "nautical", "navy", "navigate",
>> "nautilus", "noise", etc.  Or maybe all those words go back to how
>> cave persons felt about the sea and other stuff; us professoriate
>> types don't have the subtle intuitions of the self-diagnosed
>> hyperlexics.
> To be fair to Mr. Blount, he does know how to open a dictionary, and
> in fact has served on the American Heritage Dictionary usage panel
> (alongside our own Mr. Horn, if I'm not mistaken?). His book is full
> of etymological talk, mostly derived from AHD and occasionally from
> other dictionaries (and also some relatively well-informed online
> sources like etymonline). And despite his writerly aversion to the
> Saussurean thesis of linguistic arbitrariness, he's not *really*
> arguing for a kind of universally motivated sound symbolism (a la
> Plato's Cratylus) going back to the cave persons.
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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