Cappuccino Soul

Cappuccino Soul

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Harlem Slanguage and Zora's Tales

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I'm reading Zora Neale Hurston's collection of short stories titled, "Spunk" and I'm captivated by the language. Zora was a master at capturing the black dialect and spirit of the times from the 1930s through the 1950s. Here is a sampling of one piece from the book called, "Glossary of Harlem Slang," also known as Harlem Slanguage. I've listed a few of the terms below for your enjoyment.
I'm also mesmerized by another story in the book titled, "Sweat." It appears to be a very early observation of a tragic relationship that involves some very cruel instances of physical and emotional domestic violence. Zora was way ahead of her time. She was promoting empowerment for women when people didn't even know how to describe such a thing. I'll write more extensively about "Sweat" later.


Oh yeah, I'm also determined to bring back the use of the term, "solid!"
(Slang from the 1930s)


Air out: leave, flee, stroll
Astorperious: haughty, biggity
Bam and down in Bam: down South
Beating up your gums: talking to no purpose
Big boy: stout fellow, in South it means fool
Blowing your top: getting very angry; occasionally used to mean, He's doing fine
Boogie-woogie: type of dancing and rhythm, in South it meant secondary syphilis
Butt sprung: a suit or a skirt out of shape in the rear
Cold: exceeding, well, etc
Cruising: parading down the avenue
Cut: doing something well
Diddy-Wah-Diddy: a far place, a measure of distance
Dig: understand
Draped down: dressed in the height of Harlem fashion
Dumb to the fact: you don't know what you are talking about
First thing smokin’: a train
Function: a small, unventilated dance
Get you to go: to force the opponent to run
Git up off of me: quit talking about me
Go when the wagon comes: You may be acting biggity now, but you'll cool down when enough power gets behind you
Gut-bucket: low dive, type of music
Hauling: fleeing on foot
I'm crackin’ but I'm fackin’: I'm wisecracking, but I'm telling the truth
I shot him lightly and he died politely: I completely outdid him
Jig: Negro, a corrupted shortening of Zigaboo
Jook: a pleasure house, in the class of gut-bucket
Jooking: playing a musical instrument or dancing in the manner of the jooks
Juice: liquor
Jump salty: get angry
Knock yourself out: have a good time
Lightly, slightly, and politely: doing things perfectly
Mammy: a term of insult
Miss Anne: a white woman
Mister Charlie: a white man
My people!: sad and satiric expression in the Negro language
Now you cookin' with gas: now your talking
Peeping through my likkers: carrying on even though drunk
Righteous rags: the components of a Harlem-style suit
Rug-cutter: originally a person frequenting house-rent parties, became a good dancer
Russian: a Southern Negro up north, "Rushed up here"
Solid: perfect
Stomp: low dance
Sugar Hill: northwest sector of Harlem, near Washington Heights, many professionals
Woofing: aimless talk
Your likker told you: misguided behavior
Zigaboo: a Negro

1 comment:

Raynard said...

The chap is absolutely just, and there is no question.
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