[Ads-l] Polly want a cracker?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Mar 13 21:11:42 UTC 2019

> a Poll Parrot

The usual term for _a parrot_ amongst the colored people of my day. My
boojie analysis of it as a "mistake" based on a mispronunciation of "Polly
Parrot" clearly was an error.


On Sun, Mar 10, 2019 at 10:02 PM Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>

> A key parrot phrase. The original "cracker" seems to have been a sailor's
> "hard cracker" (hardtack biscuit), and the phrase is evidently an
> Americanism:
> 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."
> JL
> --
> "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

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

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list