African-American expressions from August Wilson

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 20 23:11:49 UTC 2012

5 Correct


On Wed, Dec 19, 2012 at 5:45 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      African-American expressions from August Wilson
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> 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?
> Thanks,
> Joel
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