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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Gall Of Those Skeeters!

I'm sure you've all noticed by now that we have a serious case of logophilia running rampant in the Reference Department. The newest fan to the flame? Barrelhouse Words by Stephen Calt is serious word fun. Every word or expression in this unique dictionary can be found in at least one old Blues song. A barrelhouse, for example, was an "all-purpose tavern, gambling den, dance hall, and brothel" (p 12-13). (Don't they still have those in Las Vegas?) Calt was even smart enough to provide the original couplet with each entry. I especially enjoyed these three:
  • I would say gallnippers, them gallnippers bite too hard
    I sat back in my kitchen, and just sprayed it up in my back yard.
    -Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Mosquito Moan," 1929
    A gallnipper is a Southern term for a large variety of mosquito. (p 98)
  • Pour me out some white mule, pour me out some sandy rye
    I don't want no bug juice, that ol' stuff is too darn high.
    Barbeque Bob, "Blind Pig Blues," 1928
    White mule is a 1920s term for bootleg whiskey, corn liquor (also called "mule"), or any other colorless whiskey, the comparison to a mule stemming from its kick. (p 266)
  • Way down South you oughta see the women Shimmy and shake
    Got a new way a-wiggle, make a weak man break his neck.

    -Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Southern Woman Blues," 1928
    To break one's neck means to marry in Southern slang. (p 36)
Those gall nippers have been awfully busy this summer!

Calt, Stephen. Barrelhouse Words: A Blues Dialect Dictionary. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois, 2009.

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