Country talk, 1840

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Apr 9 05:20:28 UTC 2010

George Thompson wrote:
>         THE FORCIBLE ARGUMENT. -- "Gentlemen of the jury," said a hoosier lawyer, addressing a real shell-bark jury, "I say that ere magnanimous sun shines in the heavens, though you can't see it, kase it's behind a cloud; but you know it, though I can't prove it; so my client, who rises airly and hunts coons like an honest man, has a good case, though he can't prove it.  Now if you believe what I tell you a bout the sun, you are bound on your bible oaths to believe what I tell you about my client's case, and if you don't then you call me a liar, and that I'll be squatawa'd if I'll stand it anyhow; so if you don't want to swear false and have no trouble, you'd better give us our case."
>         N-Y Daily Express, August 11, 1837, p. 2, col. 5
> I don't have the vol. of DARE that would cover "shell bark" and "squatawa'd".  I see that "shell bark" is a type of tree, and I dare say that it is wide-spread in Illinois.  As for "squatawa'd", I dare say that the spelling will vary greatly, if it's otherwise recorded.

"Shell-bark" [person] is in DARE but only from 1941: "a rough rugged
person" or so.

"Squatawa" [verb] I can't find elsewhere but I suppose the word is
probably based on the name of Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa (several
spelling variations, and I see some instances of the "Ten-" being
replaced by "Ell-", "Elk-"). Tenskwatawa fought the Battle of
Tippecanoe, in Indiana Territory (1811), so I guess might have been fair
game for Hoosier allusions in 1837. I would speculate "squatawa" is
essentially euphemistic for "damn" here but I can't guess whether it had
any significant currency, nor whether it has any serious reference to
Tenskwatawa as a historical figure (as opposed to being a frivolous
appropriation of [part of] the name alone).

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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