[Ads-l] official, adj.

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Jun 12 17:59:57 UTC 2020

I recently posted a piece about the origins and background of Juneteenth 
on my blog.

It was not, as is frequently characterized (as in the link Jonathan 
Lighter shared), the day "that the state’s residents finally learned 
that slavery had been abolished," or the day they learned about the end 
of the Civil War, as sometimes characterized.

It was the day the United States Army established military control in 
Galveston, Texas and surrounding area.  Establishing military control 
effectively abolished slavery where it had only been proclaimed before, 
and left unenforced by the local, Confederate government.  The fact of 
the proclamation and the end of the war had been publicized in Texas 
long before they entered the city.  Telegraph communications had been 
down, so news was generally delayed in reaching Galveston, but most news 
from the East got down there within days or a couple weeks at the most.

Interestingly, and not mentioned in most commentary about Juneteenth, is 
that a significant number of the occupying Union forces were black 
soldiers, many of them having been slaves themselves.

I was drawn to the story initially through looking into the history of 
the expression, "white elephant," which I posted several years ago.  
"White Elephant," it turns out, was actually a misnomer, blending 
familiarity with the white elephants kept by kings in Southeast Asia 
with a much older expression, "the man who won an elephant in the 



In looking into that, I ran across an old political cartoon from the 
Civil War which has been described as one of the "most racist" political 
cartoons ever published.  The cartoon shows a large elephant with the 
face of a black man, ridden by a Union army officer.  Another Union 
officer stands in front of the elephant questioningly, and he is 
described as being like the man who won an elephant in the raffle.

I interpret the cartoon as a visual pun on the idiom, not as portraying 
the black man as an elephant.  The idiom was, in fact, used in numerous 
other, non-racial contexts during the Civil War, whenever someone 
captured a position, or a ship, or something of value that was difficult 
to defend, unmanageable, or otherwise difficult to manage.

In the case of General Weitzel, he was faced with hosting thousands of 
refugees from plantations in Louisiana as he marched through the region 
on some military mission.  In the end, he helped establish and enforce 
the first paid labor scheme for former slaves in Louisiana - even before 
the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

It ties into Juneteenth, because Weitzel later commanded a black 
regiment, and he and his soldiers were in Richmond with Lincoln and at 
Antietam, before being shipped to Texas where they were present in 
Galveston on Juneteenth (although some of them may have still been 
onboard their transports until the next day due to tides or something).


------ Original Message ------
From: "Jonathan Lighter" <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>
To: ADS-L at listserv.uga.edu
Sent: 6/11/2020 1:34:42 PM
Subject: official, adj.

>---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>Subject:      official, adj.
>This now common usage was discussed long ago, IIRC, but this ex. is notable
>for its source:
>"The following year [1866] on June 19, the first official Juneteenth
>celebrations took place in Texas. The original observances included prayer
>meetings and the singing of spirituals, and celebrants wore new clothes as
>a way of representing their newfound freedom."
>Juneteenth did not become "official" in Texas till 1980.
>"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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