[Ads-l] Cap/Kap - "joke, not be serious, (hence: lie), ritualized joking tradition of Native Black Americans"

Z Sohna zrice3714 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 27 19:51:05 UTC 2021

I mentioned a number of words for which the Way with Words podcast provided
folk etymologies, including:  *kichin* ‘a tightly coiled, spiraled hair
(especially at the nape or temples)’, *kichin* ‘nape, back of the neck
(i.e., the body part)’, and *shank* ‘utility knife, non-culinary knife’.
Notably, on the topic of *kichin*, the male speaker on the podcast didn’t
even seem to know that *kichin* has two distinct definitions: for many it
can only mean the body part (i.e., the nape or back one’s neck); for many
others, it can only mean an individual hair itself when it is tightly
coiled (especially at – but not limited to - the nape or temples); and for
many more, *kichin*  means both the body part, and a tightly
coiled/spiraled hair. None of this nuance was explained or offered to the
white grandmother who called in to the podcast about her Black grandchild.

kichin: ‘nape, back of the neck, neck’ < Kikongo *ki-* ‘a Kikongo Class 7
singular noun prefix’ (Mbiavanga 2008, 13) + Kikongo *ʧiŋgu* ‘nape’
(Stephanie Ndinga, pers comm, Aug 7, 2014);  Kimbundu *kiʃiŋgu* ‘nape’ (de
Assis n.d., 151 s.v. *kixingu*)

kichin: ‘tightly curled or coiled hair(s) (especially at the nape or
temples)’ < Kikongo *ki-* ‘a Kikongo Class 7 singular noun prefix’
(Mbiavanga 2008, 13) + Kikongo *ʒiŋgu* ‘coil, spiral’ (Dr. K. L. Luyaluka,
pers comm, Oct 6, 2020) < Kikongo *ʒiŋga* ‘to curl (said of hair)’ (Laman
1936, 1166 s.v. *zinga*); ‘to coil, curl’ (Bentley 1887, 284 s.v. *jinga*);
c.f. Bahamian English *kazin* / *kuzin* ‘tightly coiled hair’

As for the Native Black American *shank*, it was reduced to “prison” speech
despite its broad use among the Native Black American population (even
children use it), and a folk etymology of “bones as prehistoric weapons”
(???) was offered to the caller. In both cases, an African origin was
neither pondered, nor discussed. If it was, that certainly didn’t happen

shank ‘machete, box-cutter, any non-culinary knife < Kikongo *zaŋgu*
‘machete’ (Laman 1936, 1155 s.v. *zángu*)

shank ‘to cut, slice, slash, stab, gash’ < Kikongo *zeŋga* ‘cut, slice, cut
up’ (Laman 1936, 1160 s.v. *zènga*); ‘gash’ (Bentley 1887, 478 s.v. *zenga*)
< Proto-Banto *ceŋg* ‘to cut’; *dʒeŋg* ‘to cut up’

There are other words (i.e., *kap*) for which folk etymologies were offered
to the caller, and I believe that I posted on this very listserv regarding
this word, its meaning (it does not simply mean “to lie”), and its origin.

I am not a lexicographer, so I neither sacralize – nor limit myself to -
“dated, printed citations”. While they can indeed be helpful, in the case
of the United States (which only recently saw the end of chattel slavery,
sharecropper slavery, and dejure apartheid), they provide little
information on a given word’s origin or “birth”.  Cases in point:

The Native Black American *kingyuka* ‘Devil, the Serpent, a Caucasian’
shows up in recordings in the early 2000s – despite the fact that it is
ultimately derived from the Kimbundu *kinyɔka* ‘serpent, large snake’ (c.f.
Kikongo *nyɔka* ‘serpent’).

The Native Black American *jivelike/jibelike* ‘very, really, extremely,
too’ doesn’t show up in public records until the late 1900s-2000s, despite
the fact that it is a semi-calque derived from the Mandinka *jawuke* ‘very,
really, extremely, too’ < Mandinka *jaw/jawu* ‘bad, evil’ + *-ke* ‘a
Mandinka suffix equivalent to the English suffixes *-like*, *-ly*’.

The Native Black American *tada / tadau* ‘behold!, look!’ doesn’t appear in
print until the early 1900s, despite its African origin, from the Kikongo
*tadi* / *tala *‘behold!, look!’

Had I made the mistake of confusing phonetic correspondence (loose or
otherwise) and printed dates with point of origin, I would never have
discovered the aforementioned etyma. I would have simply pointed to the
English *king*, the *yucca* plant, and the Native Black American *jive*
‘jokes, teasing, etc.’ as the respective points of origin for these lexical
items (since they do appear in print first and “sound close enough”) and
dismissed their definitions as the result of “invention”, “nonsense”, or
“gibberish” (or “imitative” in the case of *tada *– a mistake that all of
the American dictionaries (incredibly) make).

I posted my research to the linguistics archive some time ago to allow for
full and easy access. I’ve also published some of my findings to this
listserv. I encourage you to consult them.

The United States is a country in which a large and culturally influential
portion of its population:

1)    is oral in culture

2)    is marginalized

3)    is a formerly enslaved and persecuted population who were not even
deemed important enough to record in any mature or dignified fashion

Given the aforementioned points, there is a large segment of the population
for which words and phrases exist that simply do not appear in print.

It is Eurocentrist (and disingenuous) to hold an oral, persecuted
population to the power group’s tradition of written/recorded culture, and
request only “dated, PRINTED citations” as part of the research process.
Their history and culture are not supposed to adapt to suit your research
methods. Instead, your research methods must adapt to suit the historical
realities and cultures of the oral populations who comprise the country.

As it pertains to Native Black Americans, in my own research, interviews
(particularly with elders and middle-aged informants) have proved
invaluable as a source of information. However, this requires you to
actually engage that ethnic group in a meaningful way – and it’s not going
to happen from behind a keyboard or by merely sifting through digital

Best regards,

Z. Sohna


Date:    Wed, 21 Apr 2021 14:48:20 -0700
From:    Grant Barrett <gbarrett at WORLDNEWYORK.ORG>
Subject: Re: Cap/Kap - "joke, not be serious, (hence: lie), ritualized
joking tradition of Native Black Americans"

As the host of that radio show, I would love to read your research on "to
cap" and "ki(t|n)chen (hair at the nape of the neck)."

When preparing for episodes, I look for and review substantial prior work
by others, if there is any, and I check it against my own library and
digital archives, and historical, primary online sources.

I most certainly welcome any dated, printed citations from the historical
record you have found that can shed light on those terms.

Best wishes,

Grant Barrett
co-host/co-producer, "A Way with Words"

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

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