Hypothetical etymon of "diddybopping" PLUS N-word lore

Margaret Lee mlee303 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Apr 4 09:05:43 UTC 2013

"Diddybopping" sounds like what we call 'swagger' today.
--Margaret Lee

 From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 12:43 PM
Subject: Hypothetical etymon of "diddybopping" PLUS N-word lore

Though better known as Emily Dickinson's pen-pal and editor, the Rev.Thomas
W. Higginson  was also one of the six Northern abolitionists who secretly
funded John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. During the Civil War, Higginson
commanded the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, one of the first Union
regiments of "Colored" troops.
His book _Army Life in a Black Regiment_ (1869) narrates this period.

Part of Higginson's journal/memoir appeared in the _Atlantic Monthly_ for
Dec., 1864, pp. 740-748. The following passage, dated Dec. 16, 1862, is on
p. 742:

"The demeanor of my men to each other is very courteous, and yet I see none
of that sort of upstart conceit which is sometimes offensive among free
negroes at the North, the dandy-barber strut. This is an agreeable
surprise, for I feared that freedom and regimentals would produce precisely

It seems to me that "dandy barber" is a possible etymon of the (admittedly
far, far later) "diddybopper" (hence, "diddybopping").  There is certainly
some phonetic and semantic resemblance. (First say "Hey, dandy barber!"
with the proper accent; then pretend you've never heard the phrase before.
"Diddybopper" seems like  reasonable misinterpretation.)

The usual data banks suggest that the "dandy barber" was once a minor
figure in American pop culture. Presumably the barber both trimmed and aped
dandies. Unfortunately, Higginson appears to be the only writer to mention
a "dandy-barber strut."



Earlier in the same passage, Higginson casts a little extra light on
contemporaneous use of the N-word:

"This offensive word, by the way, is almost as common with [the Negro
soldiers] as at the North, and far more common than with well-bred
slave-holders. They have meekly accepted it. ... 'He hab twenty
house-servants an' two hundred head o' nigger,' is a still more degrading
form of phrase, in which the epithet is limited to the field-hands, and
they estimated like so many cattle."

Some unpublished print research I did many years ago persuaded me
independently that "well-bred slave-holders" indeed avoided the word in
polite conversation. (Hence the latterly demonized, but utterly
predictable, Southern-white pronunciation "Nigra.")

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

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

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

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