[Ads-l] wench

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Wed Mar 30 18:09:02 UTC 2016


My impression is that in the early and middle decades of the 19th century "wench" alone could mean a "colored gal", generally a servant.  The OED claims so, but I do not have enough reading myself to support that claim.

Also, in the same period a Negro male might be referred to simply as "fellow", with colored implied.  Again, so says the OED, and here I can cite (perhaps insufficient) evidence -- one quotation from Hawthorne's _American Notebooks_, for 1838:  At the Williams College commencement, Hawthorne observed “a good many blacks among the crowd”, “form[ing] a party”, one “old fellow ...full of grimaces, and ridiculous antics, laughing laughably, yet withoutaffectation---then talking with a strange kind of pathos, about the whippingshe used to get, while he was a slave”.  In contrast, in surrounding passages Hawthorne uses "man" to refer to males who are clearly, or likely, white.

Hawthorne also perhaps uses "people" to refer to whites and "blacks" to refer to, um. blacks.  Two successive paragraphs start "A good many peoplewere the better or worse for liquor” and “There were a good many blacks among the crowd.”  (This is not absolutely certain, since the second paragraph goes on to describe the behavior of these blacks.)

(In newspapers of the mid-18th century, I find both "Negro Man" and "Negro Fellow".)


      From: Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com>
 To: Joel Berson <berson at att.net> 
 Sent: Tuesday, March 29, 2016 1:28 PM
 Subject: Re: wench

On Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 12:32 PM, Joel Berson <berson at att.net> wrote:

That makes me wonder when "wench" alone began to denote a [female] Negro.

My guess is ca. 1828. But, does _wench_, *in fact*, mean *only* "colored gal" to white people?
OTOH, IME, _Negro_, otherwise uncontextualized, refers only to adult, black males, as does _nigger_. 

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

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