flyting and rap

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 10 16:53:29 UTC 2009

On Monday I sent the following, which seems to have vanished into cyberspace
along with a couple of other posts. This is the fourth try. Don't ask me

Playing the "nines"?  That sounds like baseball. "Playing the dozens" is the
usual idiom.

Many years before rap there were "toasts."  This should get you started:

The first academic to publish toasts was Roger Abrahams in _Deep Down in the
Jungle_  (Phila.: Aldine, 1970).  He collected them in Philadelphia in
1958-59. One or two cleaned-up texts appear in Langston Hughes and Arna
Bontemps, _The Book of Negro Folklore_ (N.Y.: Dodd, Mead, 1958).

Equally important as Abrahams and Jackson is Dennis Wepman, Ronald B.
Newman, Murray B. Binderman, _The Life: The Lore and Folk Poetry of the
Black Hustler_ (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976).

It is not clear, AFAIK, when the "toast" tradition arose. The material was
so shocking that it could not have been published legally before the 1960s.
There seems to be no doubt, however, that toasts were circulating by the
1920s or '30s.

My ultraconservative guess is that one influence behind toasts was the
(mainly white?) vaudeville tradition of dramatic recitations of "lowbrow"
poetic ballads by authors like Kipling and Robert Service. But as usual,
this is merely a guess.

Perhaps also of interest in this connection is the mostly subliterary genre
of "slang songs"  documented in England from before 1600 into the mid or
late 19th C. These employ as much thieves' slang as possible in narrating
the pleasures of being a crook.


The American Dialect Society -

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