[Ads-l] wench

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Wed Mar 30 20:06:19 UTC 2016

Amy, I think your questions have been addressed, although not definitively answered, by later messages from Christophe and myself.

The fact that 3 of the 4 quotations in the OED were from dictionaries perhaps is only because they provide definitions, published at earlier dates, and presumably reflecting usage at those times.  I suspect it's hard to search databases productively for "wench" when not qualified by "Negro" etc.  I don't know how to tell when the entry for "wench" was last updated, but if it hasn't been since 1989 then searches of the American newspaper databases, not available then, might be productive.


      From: Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM>
 Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2016 7:44 AM
 Subject: Re: [ADS-L] wench
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

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

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