flyting and rap

John-Patrick email1 at FOLKLORE.MS
Mon Jan 12 16:57:20 UTC 2009


Rap can be traced to "toasts" which were poems of various lengths,
mostly rhymed, and often "obscene".  The toasting tradition was known
in the southern US among poor whites and blacks.  As for the origin of
"toasting" or of specific toasts, G. Legman in his 1976 "Bawdy
Monologues and Rhymed Recitations" gives some evidence that some of the
toasts found in Bruce Jackson's _Get You Ass in the Water and Swim Like
Me_ had contemporary Scottish versions (mostly collected in the 1950s).

I know some people assert that

           rap => toasting => poetry tradition in africa

but I have been unable to find a direct linkage and I am unconvinced.

I have also read the

            rap => toasting => flyting in scotland

but I have been similarly unable find printed (or manuscript) examples
of some of the poems going back that far.   The evidence is rather
sparse for erotic materials earlier than the 1920s especially in the
USA.  Of particular note is _The Stag Party_ c1888 and the recently
discovered recordings from Edison cylinders issued on the Actionable
Offenses CD.

I have pasted below relevant parts of Legman's 1976 article "Bawdy
Monologues and Rhymed Recitations" where he discusses "toasting". The
full article is available on my website here:

    "Bawdy Monologues and Rhymed Recitations"
    by G. Legman (reproduced with permission of Mrs. Legman)

    The cruel and dominated environment of prison life, and that of
    disfranchised and underprivileged races and social classes, such as
    hoboes, creates a particular appreciation of such aggressive verbal
    fantasies and a wide attempt to achieve the status of the
    man-of-words who has the courage to be "ba-a-a-d!" Or, in full
    dysphemistic glory, a "bad-ass motherfucker," a current term of
    approval which itself shows perfectly the admired anti-gallant and
    anti-family abrogation of taboo in (verbal) action. The largest
    repertory of such dysphemistic monologues and recitations is to be
    found today in the black subculture in America, on mock-jungle or
    crime-pimping-and-gambling backgrounds; and these have been very
    fully published in Roger D. Abrahams' _Deep Down in the Jungle_
    (1964, and revised ed. 1970) and in Bruce Jackson's _Get Your Ass
    In the Water and Swim Like Me_ (Harvard University Press, 1974),
    under the name of "toasts."

    This term does not correctly match the form of these recitations,
    and was apparently picked up in the American South from the Scottish
    immigrant population, since the floridly obscene "toasts" still
    exist in Scotland, as will be seen below....

    Printed below are some of these rhymed toasts of the "Horseman's
    Word," as collected by Hamish Henderson in Turriff, Aberdeenshire,
    in 1952. [Nos. 1 and 2 are followed in brackets by their American
    Negro counterparts, as collected by Bruce Jackson, with his serial
    numbers.] Following the rhymed recitations are two in prose, Nos. 6a
    and 6B,which are even more strikingly similar to the American Negro
    narrative-toast forms. These were collected by Henderson, No. 6a
    from a Paisley Scot soldier in Egypt, 1942; and No. 6b from a
    Glasgow reporter in Tobermory, Isle of Mull, 1959.

    It is certain that the toasts have not remained really "secret,"
    even in Scotland, and also that some of them have been transported
    long ago to the United States. Kenneth Goldstein gives a version of
    No. 2, collected in New Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, 1960, from a man
    who learned it in the British army; and of a combination of Nos. 4
    and 5, from a woman in Strichen, Aberdeenshire, in his manuscript
    collection, _Buchan Bawdry_. Furthermore, versions of all the
    Scottish toasts in rhyme given below have been collected by me in
    America, from white informants, between 1935 and 1953. No. 3 is sung
    in America as the ending of "The Wayward Boy" (see Edward B. Cray,
    _The Erotic Muse_, New York, 1969, pp. 36-7, a text not including
    this stanza), to the tune of "The Girl I Left Behind Me," as follows:=

        I fucked her once, I fucked her twice,
        I fucked her once too often;
        I broke the mainspring in her ass,
        And left her in her coffin.

    Of No. 4, a white American epitaph version is given in Morse's _Folk
    Poems and Ballads_[1948] p. 96, beginning: "Here lies the amorous
    Fanny Hicks, the scabbard of ten thousands pricks." The central
    lines of No. 5, about flying, are centuries old: they appear in the
    original graffiti collection, _The Merry-Thought, or The
    Glass-Window and Bog-House Miscellany_ (London, 1731: copy, Oxford),
    and are paraphrased in the self-written epitaph of the English
    printer, John Baskerville, who died in 1775. The original of the
    epitaph form of No. 4 is quoted from two 17th-century English
    manuscripts in John Wardroper's _Love & Drollery_(1969) No. 298;
    both omit the Scottish lines on witchcraft and damnation.

        1.   Here's to oak, the best of wood,
        The stiffest cock that ever stood,
        The swiftest hare that ever run,
        The hairiest fud [cunt] the better fun.

        [100. Hickory wood is the best of wood,
        crackin' does the women good,
        make them open their eyes
        and stretch their thighs,
        give their ass exercise.]

        2.   Here's to the swan that swims in the dam
        And dips her neb [beak] in adultery.
        Here's to the bonny lass that lies on her back
        And fucks for the good of her country.

        [95. And here's to the duck that swim the pond
        and never got a feather wet,
        and here's to the lady who sells her ass
        and ain't caught the syphilis yet.]

        3.   Here to the lass that I fucked last
        I fucked her for a token.
        I broke the main-spring o' her airse
        An' left her cunt wide open.

        4.   Here's to aul' Belle Dick,
        She's skinned mony a standin' prick.
        She's lived a whure an' died a witch,
        And intae hell she's hurled, a bitch.
        And if ye want to do her honour,
        Tak oot yir cock and pish upon 'er.

        5.   There wis a wifie ca'd Missis Skinner,
        An' Murray B------he aye wis in 'er.
        He fucked 'er stan'in', he fucked her lyin',
        An' if she'd had wings,
        he'd have fucked her flyin'.
        An' now she's dead, an' long forgotten,
        He'd dig 'er up an' fuck her rotten.

        6a. Gie me a nice Presbyterian lass, wi' breists like
        'neeps [turnips], an' her airse against a hay-rick ---
        then wi' the snell east wind soochin' through your
        ba's, man, you's fuckin'!

        6b. Gie me a reid-heided, sweattie-happit, ram-hipp=E8d,
        curly-cunted contra quine [country girl] ahint a
        hay-rick, wi' the cauld north win' soochin' through
        ma ba's, an' the spunk jerkin' oot ma cock like shite
        from a sea-gull's airse --- an' boy, Ah'm happy.

    Drinking-Toasts and Hate-Toasts. --- Although the largest
    development of the narrative toasts has been in the Negro culture in
    America, it would be an error to imagine that the shorter rhymed
    drinking-toasts of bawdy or offcolor contents are unknown in the
    white culture. To the contrary, they are equally common among both,
    and are delivered as brief recitations, though not necessarily with
    alcoholic drink in hand nowadays. (One does not /toast /in
    Pepsi-Cola.) It might be mentioned in passing that the plural of
    "toast" was colloquially pronounced "toastisses" in Britain in the
    18th and 19th centuries, and apparently also in America; as recorded
    by Capt. Francis Grose in his posthumous /The Olio /(1792) in an
    anecdote on a city-dweller at breakfast at a country inn. (/The Olio
    /is an excellent but little-mined folklore source, and Grose's
    satirical collection of quacks' advertisements, A /Guide to Health,
    Beauty, Riches, and Honour, /1785, is even better; plus of ourse his
    superb /Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.) /Another such
    reduplicative or interruptive syllable still in use among American
    Negro reciters today --- who do not say "toastisses," so far as I
    know --- is "two-faceted," meaning having two faces, not two facets;
    as quoted in Bruce Jackson's /Get Your Ass In the Water /(1974) p.
    101: "But it's hell to learn when you have to burn for some
    two-faceted cocaine broad."

    Drinking-toasts are generally rhymed quatrains, and most but not all
    begin with the classic "Here's to . . ." The principal modern bawdy
    forms still surviving are first recorded in the rare erotic
    miscellanies, /Forbidden Fruit: A Collection of Popular Tales
    /[Scotland, /ca. /1890] pp. 39-43; and in /The Stag Party /[Boston?
    1888] /passim, /as described above. A number of drinking-toasts and
    associated quatrains are given in most of the more recent American
    erotic sources, in particular in Morse's /Folk Poems and Ballads
    /[Cleveland, 1948] pp. 93-100. In America at present, at educational
    levels "below" that of college (where bawdy limericks are
    principally appreciated, and often sung), a small repertory of
    limericks has been refashioned into toasts by changing the standard
    opening, "There was a young man of . . ." into "Here's to the man
    from . . ." and continuing identically. Other than the
    limerick-toasts, which are the least common, some of the
    drinking-toasts are presented as epitaphs (ritual obscenity
    connected with death and burial: see /Rationale II. /741-3), or
    simply as amusing or wise old saws. This is an ancient type, of
    which here is the most frequently collected modern example, from a
    white informant, New York, 1950. It is also sometimes seen as a wall
    /graffito, /as are other such floating stanzas.

        When a man grows old
        And his balls grow cold,
        And the head of his pecker turns blue,
        And he goes to diddle
        And it bends in the middle ---
        Did that ever happen to /you?/

    This bawdy form is first found in /The Stag Party /(1888) unnumb. p.
    256, but the wise-saw original is hundreds of years old, appearing
    in /Cobbes Prophecies, his Signes and Tokens, his Madrigalls,
    Questions, and Answers /(London, 1614; repr. 1890), by "Richard
    Rablet," f. C3/v/, in a group of similar "Madrigalls," all beginning
    with the word "when." As usual, it is the rhymes and rhythm that
    have survived, in parodied form

        When a man is old
        And the wether blowes cold,
        Well fare a fire and a fur'd Gowne:
        But when he is young
        And his blood new sprung,
        His sweete hart is worth halfe the Towne.

    /Hate-toasts /are prominent in the Scottish "Horseman's Word" toasts
    quoted above, and were common in Britain at least since the time of
    the Napoleonic wars, sometimes in the form of "crossed" toasts, in
    which one aggressive rhymed drinking-toast or curse is answered or
    countered by another, charm-fashion, to "unhex" it. A well-known
    crossed toast of this kind, as between the Congressmen from Maine
    and Iowa, is given in /Rationale II. /795-6, followed by an even
    more florid anti-American hate-toast, first published in the
    pornographic magazine, /The Pearl /(London, July 1879) No. 1. One
    hate-toast is in the unusual form of an apostrophe to the female
    genitals, ambivalently loving and resenting the woman and her body,
    as will be seen. This is the identical tone struck in the superb
    erotic sonnet-sequence, "Romeo and Juliet" (imitated from Ronsard's
    /"Lance au bout" /and /"O vermeillette fente"), /by the American
    poet, H. Phelps Putnam, who died in 1948, as printed in /Neurotica
    /(1949) No. 5: p. 22, and in other sources. The present toast was
    recited by a young white ex-Marine from Redlands, California, in
    Paris, 1955. It was received with great applause by the group of
    young Americans present, including several girls.

        Cunt, oh cunt, thou dirty slit,
        Besmithered with hair, beslabbered with shit,
        Like a polecat's ass, thou smellest bad,
        But oh thou cunt! thou must --- be --- had.

    The most frequently collected hate-toast is the "itching (or
    bleeding) piles" curse, a great favorite among both whites and
    blacks. It is also given as the final stanza, or /envoi, /in the
    main Australian cursing and anti-gallant recitation, "The Bastard
    from the Bush," in /Snatches & Lays /(ed. Ian Turner, 1962; repr.
    1973)   pp. 82-3, with an improbable attribution to the poet, Henry
    Lawson. The following text was recited to a group of students
    playing chess in the Student Union, under the announced toast-title,
    "Here's to You, Pal," by a white Southern male student, at Ann
    Arbor, Michigan, in the autumn of 1935, who then immediately swung
    into "The Wayward Boy," as quoted above. Note the use of "goddam" in
    the last line. Most texts dating since World War II replace this
    with "fuckin'." Bruce Jackson gives three forms of this curse, all
    with "motherfucken" in the last line, at his Nos. 22a, 28, and 98
    (pp. 107-8, 124, and 231), the first two in narrative toasts
    explaining the reason for the curse.  =20

        May itching piles molest you
        And scumbags grow on your screw,
        May crabs as big as buzzards
        Light on your balls --- and chew!

        And when you're old and all clapped-up
        And a syphilitic wreck,
        May you fall down through your asshole,
        And /break /your goddam neck!

    Often combined with the "itching piles" curse is one of the most
    dysphemistic of the hate-toasts, "Here's to Mag." The closing lines
    of a Negro version of this are quoted above, comparing them to
    Hamlet's offer in his "crossing" of ordeal-toasts with Laertes, to
    "Drinke up Esile [vinegar], eate a Crocodile." These are from
    Jackson's No. 30, "L.A. Street," and he gives other forms of this at
    Nos. 28 and 97a-b (pages 124, 127, and 230). His No. 28 combines
    "Here's to Mag" with the "itching piles" curse, and this was also
    the case in a toast I collected from a Negro shoeshine boy in New
    York, in 1943 (during a lull in World War II), who stated that he
    came from Denver. When one of the other shoeshine boys saw me paying
    the first one for his toast, he told me that /he /knew one so much
    better, that the first one "wouldn't make a Sunday asshole for it."
    And he gave, as "Brother Joe Hardy," a version of "Casey Jones" in
    which the trip to Hell from Child Ballad No. 278 ends with the
    extraordinary lines (similar to those in Jackson's No. 44, "Cocaine
    Shorty," also a form of "Casey Jones"):

            A little bit of pudding an' a little bit of rice
            Made him crucify his prick like the Jews done Christ.

    I believe this was one of the first encounters by a white collector
    with Negro toasts, and over a decade before the first references to
    these in Richard Dorson's /Negro Tales /(1958) p. 87, and the texts
    presented by Langston Hughes & Arna Bontemps in /The Book of Negro
    Folklore /(1958).

    The combination of "Here's to Mag" with the "itching piles" curse
    (but without any piles) also appears in a hate-toast given at a
    party of pimps and whores, as described in the frightening and
    authentic picture of black pimping and drug-addiction, /Pimp: The
    Story of My Life, /by "Iceberg Slim" (Robert Beck; Los Angeles:
    Holloway House, 1967) p. 165. Other than versions among whites, a
    complete text of "Here's to Mag," very similar to Jackson's No. 97a,
    was collected by Roger D. Abrahams in 1959, from an informant known
    as "Kid," for Abrahams' thesis, /Negro Folklore from South
    Philadelphia /(University of Pennsylvania, 1962):

        This is about a girl named Mag, the dirty bitch,
        She's now suffering from the seven-year itch,
        running from her nose.

        Green flies eating up her motherfucking ass-hole.
        Now before I die, between them dirty thighs,
        And put my mouth on them dirty tits,
        I'll drink two tons of bucket puke,
        and eat a ton of nigger shit.

    The reciter is alluding here to the tenet of faith among young
    American "black studs" and many white ones, that it is particularly
    unmanly to perform cunnilinctus on a woman, though he does not go
    any farther than to refer to her "dirty thighs" followed by refusing
    to put his mouth "on them dirty tits." This matter is discussed
    quite fully in Bruce Jackson's /Get Your Ass In the Water /(1974)
    pp. 19-20, and 44, pointing out that what is really involved is a
    fear of submitting to the woman's dominance. This is also probably
    the explanation of the horrible insults and cruelties against women
    in these toasts, especially those spoken in the character of a pimp,
    for example Jackson's No. 22d, "The Pimp," and even more especially
    No. 31, "The Lame and the Whore," which is much concerned with hellfi=

    It should be observed that a rather different picture of Negro
    sexual latitudinarianism is shown, as to what a person can or cannot
    do --- or imagine --- sexually, and still be considered "manly," or
    even human, in the series of texts given by Jackson, Nos. 40a-b and
    41a-c, "The Freaks' Ball," and a brief similar group in Roger D.
    Abrahams' /Deep Down in the Jungle /(1964) pp. 168-70. There is also
    a similar but rarely encountered song "Shave 'em Dry," of which a
    private tape-recording exists, sung by a woman. Toasts of this type
    are often lumped under the title of "The Motherfuckers' Ball" or
    "The Bulldaggers' Ball" (on the analogy of "The Darktown Strutters'
    Ball," of course). Both titles are intended to imply that all the
    vile sexual imaginings being paraded, in excruciating detail, are
    really to be cast on the account of the unmanly homosexuals and
    overmanly lesbians, the "freaks" and "bulldaggers." These
    recitations, and possibly the orgiastic "balls" themselves (also a
    Scottish term for an orgy, as in the "Ball o' Kirriemuir"), are
    essentially carnival occasions for the abrogation of sexual and
    social taboos. Oragenitalism figures in them as the ultimate
    daredevilry, as in the similar erotic initiation ceremonies of the
    American motorcycle/horsemen gang, the "Hell's Angels."

    All these recitations, and earlier similar songs, feature a striking
    catalogue of the names or "monickers" of the freaks and other
    outcasts present, and some of the rough horseplay at the "ball."
    This is in direct line of descent from a Scottish original that has
    stayed alive in America as "The Hoboes' Convention," given in George
    Milburn's /The Hobo's Hornbook /(New York, 1930), with a highly
    dysphemistic Negro version recorded as a toast by Bruce Jackson, No.
    57, followed by the very similar "Junkies' Ball," No. 58. Another
    strain was carried by British emigrants to Australia in the 19th
    century, where it still lives on as "The Bullockies Ball," printed
    in Bill Wannan's /Robust, Ribald and Rude Verse in Australia
    /(Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1972) pp. 33-34. Wannan also notes the
    intermediate form, a British music-hall ditty of the 1850's, "The
    Cadgers' Ball," included in /Joe Labern's Popular Comic Song Book
    /(London, 1852); and the only mildly Australianized "Moggy's
    Wedding" in Charles Thatcher's /Colonial Minstrel /and /Colonial
    Songster /in the 1860's, reprinted by Wannan, pp. 78-79. The
    Scottish original of all these is the remarkable "The Blythesome
    Wedding," beginning: "Fy, let us all to the Bridal," in James
    Watson's /Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scots Poems /(1706;
    reprint Glasgow, 1869) I. 8-10, which was stated by Alexander
    Campbell in 1798 to be the "first of the Sangs of the [Scottish]
    Lowlands to be met with in print." Only coarse, rather than
    purposely repellent in the style of its modern descendants, this
    introduces its guests in such lines as:

        And there will be Happer-ars'd Nansie
        and Fairie-fac'd Jeanie be name,
        Gleed Katie and fat-lugged Lisie,
        the Lass with the gauden wamb.

    It then continues with a riotous catalogue of the /foods /consumed,
    an element retained only in the Australian "Bullockies' Ball," where
    the foods are also defiled in a free-for-all fight, which replaces
    any sexual orgy.

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