nail that Jell-O

Gerald Cohen gcohen at MST.EDU
Mon May 23 20:30:06 UTC 2011

Talk of nailing jelly to the wall must have caused hilarity in the
African-American community, where "jelly" and "jelly roll" could mean
female genitalia. The reaction was no doubt that those white folk
don't know what they're saying.

In this regard, note the lyrics in the blues song "Hang It On
The Wall," by Charlie Parker:


    Sweet jelly


Sweet mama, won't you let it fall


In: Eric Sackheim, 1975. The Blues Line: A Collection of Blues lyrics from
Leadbelly to Muddy Waters. Page 198.

Cf. also my item "Sexual Terms and Metaphors in the Blues, part 1,"
In Studies in Slang, part V (= Forum Anglicum, vol. 22), Frankfurt
a.M.: Peter Lang, 1997.  Pp. 73-126. (Charlie Parker's 'Hang It On
The Wall' is mentioned on page 95).

Gerald Cohen

On 5/23/11 1:25 PM, "Ben Zimmer" <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:

> On Mon, May 23, 2011 at 1:18 PM, victor steinbok wrote:
>> On Mon, May 23, 2011 at 11:19 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>>> The earliest use, at least until an earlier one is found, was
>>> submitted by Prof. Joe E. Decker of the University of Tampa: ''You
>>> could no more make an agreement with them,'' wrote Theodore Roosevelt
>>> in 1915, describing his troubles with the Colombian Government leaders
>>> during negotiations for rights in the Panama Canal Zone, ''than you
>>> could nail currant jelly to a wall - and the failure to nail currant
>>> jelly to a wall is not due to the nail; it is due to the currant
>>> jelly.''
> [...]
>> But here's the definitive one. It supplies the date (July 2, 1915) and the
>> source--"private letter to me" (written by William Roscoe Thayer), as well
>> as the complete relevant text:
>> To make things more interesting, it's in the biography of Hay published in
>> 1915 (so it's not likely to have appeared in the earlier edition ;-) ).
> That's likely the source that Decker used. In a letter to the editor
> responding to Safire's original query about the phrase, he had
> explained that the quote appeared in a letter to Thayer.
> .html
> --bgz
> --
> Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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