Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Original Handbook Of Harlem Jive’

Down With That

Posted by Admin on November 13, 2014

When someone says they are down with that, or down with it, this means they are in agreement with, or have knowledge of, what is being said or done.  The idiom saw a resurgence in popularity in the nineties thanks to rap and hip hop, however, its popularity in the seventies and in jazz circles cannot be overlooked.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of May 28, 2003 published an OpEd piece by Maureen Dowd titled, “Bushies Get Down And Dirty” where she talked about George W. Bush and his associates, whom she referred to as the then-President’s posse.  The article began with this introduction to the piece:

By rolling over Iraq, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld hoped to deep-six the 60s.  President Bush was down with that.  He never grooved on the vibe of the Age of Aquarius anyway.

Over at Wordsmith.com, a transcript of a chat held on February 6, 2008 with author of eight books and hundreds of articles, reviews, and chapters in books, Seth Lerer (he was also a professor at Stanford University at the time) had Seth Lerer use the idiom in a response.  When user Bellingham asked the question as to how his generation of college students would know if their use of language was correct, Seth Lerer replied:

As long as they know the rules when they’re in my class, I’m, as they say, down with that.

In the January 1972 edition of Ebony magazine the idiom was used as part of a quote on page 107, as part of the article by Bill Rhoden, “Pros Donate Talent To Help Black Youth.”  The article covered the story about the first annual 21st Century Professional Basketball Tournament held in Madison Square Garden the previous summer that was produced and sponsored by a black-founded-and-operated philanthropic organization that focused its efforts on economic development and education.

Buffalo’s Randy Smith, a former NSSFNS [National Scholarship Service For Negro Students] recipient, said he was determined to make the tournament, with or without his club’s blessings.  “That’s how most of the players felt,” said Smith.  “The tournament is designed to help black youngsters, and anytime there is something I can do to help the cause, hey, I’m down with it.”

The “Jazz Lexicon” by Robert S. Gold, and published in 1957, pegs the expression to 1935 although no proof is provided to substantiate that specific date.  The “Jazz Lexicon” does, however, have this to say about the jazz musician’s slang from the depression era.

The jazz slang speaker’s aloofness is tacitly justified by his feeling that only those who are down with the action ( aware of what is going on ) should have access to the speech of those who have paid their dues (suffered an apprenticeship in life generally and in the jazz life in particular.)

A definition for the idiom is found in the 1944 edition of Dan Burley’s book on page 15 of his “Original Handbook of Harlem Jive” which does, however, substantiate the assertions made in the “Jazz Lexicon.”

That being said, the word down with the sense of being aware dates back to 1812 as found in the “Flash Dictionary” by J. H. Vaux.  The dictionary states that down is sometimes synonymous with aware, and includes the many ways in which down makes reference to being aware, including, but not limited, to this example.

To put a person down to any thing, is to apprize him of, elucidate, or explain it to him.

It could then be said that someone who is down with that information, is one who has knowledge of the subject matter, and he will either be in agreement or disagreement this information.

Indeed, this is true, as evidenced by the comment in Sporting Magazine edition XXXIX published in 1812 where the following comment is found on page 285.

He supposed he was down (had knowledge of it).

The 1898 edition of “The English Dialect Dictionary” compiled by Joseph Wright, M.A., Ph.D., D.C.L., Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology at the University of Oxford claimed the use of the word down meaning to be aware is found in the 1811 edition of “Lex Balantronicum.”

For the spirit of the idiom to be found in 1811 indicates that the sense of the idiom was used in the late 1700s, and that is proved by its inclusion in Joseph Pearson’s “Political Dictionary” published in 1792 which “contains original anecdotes faithfully collected from his posthumous papers by two of his literary friends.”  You see, in this dictionary, the word down is also used in the sense of being aware.

So, being down with anything has been around for far longer than most of us would have thought.  That’s cool to know because Idiomation is down with that.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pimp Steak

Posted by Admin on July 26, 2013

WARNING:
THE FOLLOWING POST MAY NOT BE
SUITABLE FOR MINORS DUE TO CONTENT.

When you hear someone exclaim in horror: “Pimp steak again?” don’t be alarmed. They’ve just found out they’re being served a hot dog. So how is it that the perfectly good name for a hot dog wound up with this moniker as well?

For one thing, the term pimp didn’t always mean someone who procures customers for a prostitute or brothel and lives off the earnings. Back in the 1630s, it was used to describe any despicable person, and in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the term has been used since the mid-20th century to identify a spy or an informant.

The Boston Phoenix reviewed “The Old Settler” by John Henry Redwood on November 4, 1999. It was playing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston and critics had identified the play as one of the Top 10 most-produced plays of the current season. The reviewer, Carolyn Clay, referred to the play as “theatrical comfort food, rich in ethnicity and emotion, served warm.” The play, set in 1943 Harlem, centered on relationships and healing. The review read in part:

The Old Settler is sentimental and easy to see coming (’40s Harlem meets The Heiress), but it is carefully wrought. And it paints a colorful picture of African-American life in an earlier time, a particular place where magical if disreputable spots called Small’s Paradise and the Savoy Ballroom duke it out with a strong, supper-slinging black Church. Moreover, there is in the elegiac evocation by Bess and Husband of the Southern places they come from a feeling of displacement that’s one of the themes of August Wilson. Redwood tells a tighter story than Wilson does (though at first, with Husband searching like haunted Harold Loomis for his lost mate, The Old Settler seems like a lightweight Joe Turner’s Come and Gone). And if he doesn’t make as vivid and musical use of black speech as Wilson, Redwood does doodle a linguistic tune. Quilly’s conjuring of the chitterling dinner at Singleton’s Restaurant on Lenox and 136th Street is a feast in itself. And who ever knew that a hot dog was called a “pimp steak” or that “swamp seeds” were rice?

Now back in the 1940s, Dan Burley chronicled Harlem nightlife for the Amsterdam News. He was born in 1907, the son of a Baptist minister, he spent his childhood in Kentucky and Texas.  By the time the Black Migration of World War I slowed, the Burley family lived in Chicago, and one of his classmates at Wendell Phillips High School was jazz musician, Lionel Hampton.

He became a journalist for the Chicago Defender after leaving school, and in 1937 (at age 30), he joined the Amsterdam News as a reporter, city editor, nightlife columnist, theater editor and sports editor. What came of his time at the Amsterdam News was a 157-page book entitled “Original Handbook Of Harlem Jive” which was published in 1944. And right there, among the many other expressions that came out of Harlem was this definition for a frankfurter: pimp steak!

But in reading Cab Calloway’s book “Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive” published in 1939, the term doesn’t show up anywhere in his listings.  Either the expression wasn’t in vogue at the time or it was in vogue but not popular enough to rate inclusion in Cab Calloway’s dictionary.

Either way, the earliest this expression can be pegged at is sometime during World War II (1939 – 1945). Hope that works for all you hep cats out there.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »