African-American expressions from August Wilson

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Dec 20 00:45:29 UTC 2012

Having seen a spellbinding performance of August Wilson's "The Piano
Lesson" in New York and reading the text, I find myself interested in
several of the AAE expressions used in the play.  The last four puzzle me.

1)  "jump the broom" -- either to signify an extra-legal marriage or
as a part of a formal marriage ceremony.  (And not solely AA.)

2)  "corn dodger" -- a very hard cake or bread of (Indian = American)
corn.  In the OED, presently through 1885.

Now for the four I would appreciate some elucidation about.

3)  "West is gonna dress you." -- Berniece has made it clear to Boy
Willie that he is not to take and sell the piano.  She says to him
"You gonna play around with me one too many times. And then God's
gonna bless you and West is gonna dress you."

"West could simply be a funeral director down home in Mississippi,
although if it's a personal name it never appears elsewhere.  Or is
there some metaphoric meaning?

4)  "two strokes back" -- Wining Boy is talking about Lymon, a young
friend of Boy Willie, Wining Boy's nephew.  "His [Lymon's] daddy was
the same way. I used to run around with him. I know his mama too. Two
strokes back and I would have been his daddy!"  Later in the same
speech Wining Boy tells how Lymon's mother spent a night with him, in
gratitude for his contributing towards bail for Lymon's father.

Seems an allusion to the "strokes" of intercourse, but I'm puzzled by
the "two ... back".

5)  "white on rice" -- In reference to the encounter that required
bail for Lymon's father, Wining Boy says "He got in a tussle with one
of them white fellows and the sheriff lit on him like white on rice."

UrbanDictionary has several senses.  The one possible is "to be very
close to something"; that is, the sheriff went after him
aggressively.  Correct?

6)   "three time seven" -- Describing an incident where Boy Willie,
Lymon, and Crawley were attempting to make off with cut wood they had
pilfered and hidden and where the first two had escaped from the
sheriff and some white men but Crawley had been killed, Boy Willie
says "I ain't had nothing to do with Crawley getting killed.  Crawley
three time seven. He had his own mind."

Googling finds a song called "Three Time Seven Blues", and the
suggestion that it simply means "21 or over", thus capable of and
permitted to make choices freely as an adult.  But I find hints that
there's something more to it.  From the Bible?  Numerical mysticism?


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