[Ads-l] Polly want a cracker?

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 11 19:25:32 UTC 2019

"Polly have a biscuit?" - 1843

Appeared in a piece entitled, "Anecdote of a Parrot" in the 
Knickerbocker, Brother Jonathan and New York Evening Post at about the 
same time; and soon afterward in newspapers in at least Brooklyn, 
Buffalo, Natchez MS and Sunbury PA (and presumably more).

Knickerbocker (New York), Volume 22, Number 2, August 1843, page 186.
Brother Jonathan (New York), Volume 5, August 12, 1843, page 441.
New York Evening Post, August 5, 1843, page 2.

The story is about a man who hears a "pious parrot" praying for mercy on 
"Poor Poll, a sinner!"  The man is amazed to find a religious parrot, 
much less one in such a rough neighborhood.  He approaches the parrot, 
strokes it with the tip of his cane and says, "Pretty, pretty Poll . . . 
Polly have a biscuit?", to which the bird replies, "Yes, G--d d--n you! 
hand over!"

------ Original Message ------
From: "Jonathan Lighter" <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>
To: ADS-L at listserv.uga.edu
Sent: 3/10/2019 7:01:44 PM
Subject: Polly want a cracker?

>---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>Subject:      Polly want a cracker?
>A key parrot phrase. The original "cracker" seems to have been a sailor's
>"hard cracker" (hardtack biscuit), and the phrase is evidently an
>1849 _Knickerbocker_ (Dec.) 544: For sale, a Poll Parrot, cheap. He says a
>remarkable variety of words and phrases, cries 'Fire! fire!' and 'You
>rascal!' and 'Polly want a cracker;' and would not be parted with, but,
>having been brought up with a sea-captain he is profane, and swears too
>much for the subscriber, being a pious man, and having children in the
>family, to whom his example is bad.
>1852 [L. Lermont] _Aunt Patty's Mirror_ (Auburn, N.Y.:  Alden, Beardsley, &
>Co.) 144  Common parrots...never in their education get beyond "Poll wants
>a cracker!" and "Poll wants to get out!"
>1855 _Daily Cleveland [O.] Herald (Sept. 6) 1:  With no more apparent
>unction than a parrot would repeat "pretty Polly want a cracker."
>1858_Weekly Ottumwa [Ia.]  Courier_  (March 18) 3: Polly want a cracker?
>1858 _Weekly Hawk-Eye_ (Burlington, Ia.) (Aug. 31) 3: Polly wants a cracker!
>1864 _Urbana [O.] Union_ (Dec. 7) 1: The parrot turned her head, and
>looking at me sharply, said rapidly: ... "Pretty Poll, pretty Poll, poor
>Poll, Polly wants a cracker!"
>1866 _New-Orleans Times_  (May 22) (Suppl.) 2: We give the following advice
>to our contributors: "P.Q."-- Mind your p's and q's. ... "R.G." [i.e.,
>"rotgut"] -- Not any more, thank you. ... Polly--Polly want a cracker?
>1888 _Aberdeen [Scot.] Weekly Journal_ (Apr. 21) [unp.]: Dealer...(to
>parrot): "Polly want a cracker?" Polly (solemnly)--Let her go, Gallegher."
>"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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