Q: "New Guinea" in Hawthorne's Salem?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Apr 29 19:24:35 UTC 2010

In the "Custom House" preface to _The Scarlet Letter_, Hawthorne
describes Salem's "long and lazy street ... with Gallows Hill and New
Guinea at one end ...".

In the Penguin Classic edition, the footnote by Thomas E. Connolly
explains "New Guinea" as "a derogatory term applied to an area at the
head of Essex Street ... spreading from Mill Pond to Summer Street.
The first immigrants from southern Europe settled there."

Surely this is a blunder, and the area was instead so-named because
African-Americans (often natives of, and surely exported from, West
Africa) settled there?  (Margaret Moore, in _The Salem World of
Nathaniel Hawthorne_, seems to think so: she mentions Hawthorne's
description in her section "Hawthorne and Salem Blacks.")

And the OED has "1.b. A derogatory term for an immigrant of Italian
or Spanish origin, or one of similar appearance. Also ginny, guinny.
U.S. slang." only from 1896!  This is consistent with my impression
that immigration from southern Europe to the U.S. increased much
later than the 1850 publication date of _The Scarlet Letter_.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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