[Ads-l] wench

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Wed Mar 30 11:44:05 UTC 2016

On 3/30/16 12:00 AM, ADS-L automatic digest system wrote:
> Date:    Tue, 29 Mar 2016 16:32:18 +0000
> From:    Joel Berson<berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject: Re: wench
> Advertisements using "wench" to refer to a Negro (a black or colored, including Native American) female can be found in early 18th century American newspapers, perhaps as far back as 1704, the first year of the earliest newspaper in British North America.  (At the moment I could only quote from 1739.)
> I now notice that the quotations I have always use "Negro wench" in combination.  That makes me wonder when "wench" alone began to denote a Negro.
> Joel
Right: what I was noticing was that 3 of the 4 quotes from the OED entry 
were from dictionaries from 1828 on; the first one is from 1765 and 
David's is from 1809, and both of those are "Negro wench". So, perhaps 
"wench" did *NOT* actually take on that meaning but was falsely read to 
do so by the later lexicographers? OR because of a variety of possible 
racial categorizations, that specification is needed? Do we see "wench" 
in combination with other racial labels ("mulatto", "octaroon," are the 
only ones coming to my mind right now . . . "Indian"? )

---Amy West

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

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