Words to Celebrate Black History Month

DARE would like to celebrate and recognize the contributions, both standard and dialectal, that Black speakers have made to American English.  This is just a tiny sample (29 words for each day of Black History Month 2016) of the rich and varied vocabulary spoken originally or primarily by African-American English speakers that is documented in DARE. No doubt some of these are as old-fashioned as a piccolo joint, yet and still they just might get your nose open. Or, they might make you cry “Say what?” from the get-go. Regardless, we hope you find a new word to love or an old favorite to keep alive by using them at your next set.  And, if you use these words today or have anything else to add, DARE would love to hear from you!


ace   A very close friend.  [From ace any person outstandingly good]

banjo   A stringed musical instrument. (Standard definition) [Introduced from West Africa in var forms]

ball the jack   To perform a particular dance. [Popularized by a dance-song hit of 1913]

call hogs   To snore. scattered, but chiefly Sth, S Midl

cooter   A turtle. [African, akin to Bambara, Malinké kuta turtle; also Central Afr nkudu]

dap   Dapper, well-dressed, good-looking. (also dapped (down), dapt)

element   The sky; air; weather. (also plural) chiefly Sth, S Midl

get-go   The start, beginning.

gumbo   A thick soup or stew of vegetables, meat, or seafood. [Louisiana French, of African origin] chiefly Gulf States, esp LA, but widely recognized elsewhere

happy   Overcome with religious enthusiasm—freq in phr get happy. chiefly Sth, S Midl

joan/joaning   To engage in a ritualized exchange of insults. (also jone/joning)

jump salty   To get angry.

kitchen   The nape of the neck; the hair at the nape of the neck.

later   Good-bye!

mojo   A charm, amulet, or spell; magic. [Of African origin; cf Gullah moco and Fula moco’o] chiefly Sth

mother wit   Natural intelligence; common sense.

nose open, get one’s   To be infatuated or in love.

one   usu following a pronoun: By oneself; only. Nobody here but me one. (especially Gullah speakers)

piccolo   A jukebox. chiefly S Atl; also NYC

pinder   A peanut. [Kongo mpinda] chiefly S Atl, Gulf States

quarrel   with at or with: to scold, nag, find fault with. People never scolded anybody, they “quarreled at” a person. Sth, S Midl

ready   Aware, in tune with advanced taste, “hip.” (also raddy)

say what   Used to request the repetition of something improperly heard or understood; also an expression of incredulity.

set   A party; a social event.

tea for the fever, not to take   Not to put up with any nonsense. Theresa is a woman with a “take no tea for the fever” attitude.

ugly   Sin, wickedness—used in phr God don’t love ugly. [This proverb appears to be widespread in the Caribbean.]

vine/vines/vined   A suit of clothes, esp a stylish one, usu for a man/clothing, esp one’s best clothes/dressed stylishly.

woof ticket/wolf ticket    A lie, bluff, challenge. (usually in phrases sell (or buy) a woof ticket, etc.)

yet    in phr yet and still: Nevertheless, however. The warmth in the house invited us in, yet and still Santiaga lit the fireplace.  chiefly Sth, S Midl