Some African American Words of African Origins



At least 60 percent of the ancestors of Americans of African descent came from the Mande (West African) and Bantu (Central African) ethnic and linguistic groups.  These two cultures contributed substantially to the diversity of the linguistic stock in North America.  Africans from the Senegambia region of West Africa included the Bambara, Wolof, Mandingo, Fula, and Serer.  Over 30 percent of Africans arriving into South Carolina during the transatlantic trade were Mande speakers.  The Mande civilization was the greatest and most advanced of the Sudanic empires.  It was also the earliest and most complex civilization to emerge in the western Sudan.

The Mande civilization began with ancient Ghana and developed between C.E. 200 and 1200 in the region between the bend of the Niger River and the middle reaches of the Senegal River.  Ancient Ghana was not the sole state in the region, but it was the first of many kingdoms to emerge as a powerful and wealthy state.  Others were Mail, Songhai, Tekrur, and, to the east, the Hausa states and Kanem and Bornu in the Chad basin.  The Soninke (Mandingo), Serer, Wolof, Susu, and Foulah (Fula) lived in the Senegambia region.  The founders of ancient Ghana were the Soninke a Mande-speaking people who, along with the Malinke, shared a common history and culture.  Among the most important clans were the Sisse, Draine, Sylla, and Kante.  Each clan represented a specific division of labor.  The Sisse were the ruling class from which the principal political officials and governors of the provinces were chosen.  The Kante clan provided the artisans and craftsmen who engaged in metal working, pottery, and carpentry.[1] Most of the New World artisans were selected from Kante guilds.  Linguistically the Mande include the Soninke, Malinke, Bambara, Dyula, Koranko, Khasonke, Susu, Mande (Mandingo), Gbandi, and Ebunde, including the Wolof, Serer, Temne, Kissi, Limba, Gola, and western Fulani.

The Wolof (Mande) arrived exclusively in South Carolina between 1650 and 1700.  This large influx of Wolofs can be explained by the disintegration of the Sudanic empires, the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade, and the breakup of the Wolof empire in the 1670s instigated by the Mauritanian Marabouts.  The fall of this empire created a state of continual warfare as rival political factions attempted to fill the power vacuum.  One result of this instability was the holding of prisoners of war.  This was the only time the Wolof had a great influence on the American slave markets.  Never again would they be transported in any appreciable numbers to the North American continent.[2]

The Wolof, along with the Mandingo and Bambara, were fairly prominent in the trade but were relatively few in comparison to neighboring ethnic groups such as the Foulah.  They were thinly dispersed on the north bank states of Niami, Salnia, Baddibu, and Niani.  A large community of Wolofs lived on the island of Goree, a major center from which enslaved Africans were transported to America to cultivate rice in the South.  These Wolofs formed a class of small traders and artisans.  During the colonial period planters had little trouble finding Wolof speakers to translate for newly arrived Africans from the region.  Thus, Wolof was the first African language to reach the American plantations and lay a linguistic foundation on which other African languages would follow.

In North America, Wolofs were primarily employed as house servants.  Many of the Senegambians were already familiar with domestic service.  They had lived in highly developed cities, and most of the skilled artisans were members of several endogamous castes, which included the smiths, leather workers, butchers, and griots (oral historians).  Many of these skilled artisans continued their trades in South Carolina, and many griots’ stories found their way to the Sea Islands in the form of Brer Rabbit stories.

The Brer Rabbit, Brer Wolf, Brer Fox, and Sis’ Nanny goat stories were among the Wolof folk tales brought to America by the Hausa, Fula (Fulani), and Mandinka.  Mande tales of Tricksters and Hares were also introduced. The Hare (Rabbit) story is also found in parts of Nigeria, Angola, and East Africa.  Tortoise stories are found among the Yoruba, Igbo, and Edo-Bini peoples of Nigeria.  Other examples of folkore from West Africa are tales such as the “Hare Tied in the Bean Farm,” and “Three Tasks of the Hare” (where he goes to ask God for more Wisdom).  These tales are widespread among the Mandinka and Wolof of West Africa and are common in black folklore in the United States.[3]

The Hare and Hyena (corresponding to Brer Rabbit and Brer Wolf) tales are told all over the West African Sudanic (Sahel) zone among the Fula, Wolof, and Mandinka and eastward to the Hausa of Nigeria.  In North America the enslaved Africans who fled to the Creek Indians introduced West African tales in their region; the tales later gained acceptance as Trickster and Hare tales among various Indian groups.  Tales from the Mandinka heartland spread south to such countries as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and wherever the Mandinka Jula traders migrated.  The African who came from those areas to the New World via the transatlantic slave trade brought the folk tales as part of their oral tradition.  These tales later resurfaced as the Uncle Remus stories retold in the Georgia and Carolina Sea Islands.  Most of the folk tales told by Uncle Remus are Hausa in origin and were transported in North America by the Mandinkas (Mandingos).

The Mande were the first enslaved Africans to arrive in South Carolina, bringing with them a unique cultural heritage.  In the 1700s Wolof was by far the dominant African culture on both sides of the Atlantic, in the upper Guinea coast and the coast of South Carolina.  The Wolofs’ skills became an integral part of the practices of North American plantation, where numerous African carryovers of Wolof origin found their way into European-American culture.  As a result, Wolofs were the first Africans to have elements of their language and culture retained within the developing African culture.  Mande and Wolof were the two most widespread languages of the Senegambia.  Bilingualism was important for the trade and commerce in the region.

Much of Mande culture was transmitted to white Americans by way of the plantation “Big House.”  African cooking in the Big House creolized into southern cooking.  The relationship between house servant and master was bidirectional and reciprocal in nature, with each adopting something of value from the other’s culture.  The masters acquired such knowledge as the herbal cure for snakebites and innovations in animal husbandry practice and rice cultivation. From the mammies, white American children learned and passed on African folk beliefs, tales, and stories s told by Uncle Remus.  From the Mande, American English borrowed numerous words now a part of everyday English.  African culture and linguistic retentions moved into American culture via the Mande and the Bantu; the Mande displayed the greatest influence on white American culture, whereas the Bantu of  Central Africa formed the largest homogeneous group among enslaved Africans who worked the fields of the American plantation.

While many of the Senegambians were enslaved as craftsmen and artisans, the field slaves were mainly Central Africans who, unlike the Senegambians, brought a homogeneous, identifiable culture.  The Bantus often possessed good metallurgical and woodworking skills.  They had a particular skill in iron working, making the wrought-iron balconies in New Orleans and Charleston.  But as field workers the Bantus were kept away from the developing mainstream of white American culture.  This isolation worked to the Bantus’ advantage in that it allowed their culture to escape acculturation, maintain uniformity, and flourish. The Bantus had the largest constituency in South Carolina and possibly in other areas of southeastern United States as well.  Given the homogeneity of the Bantu culture and the strong similarities among Bantu languages, this group no doubt influenced West African groups of larger size.

In Bantu survivals in the United States, the Luba appear to have dominated the other Bantu groups.  At least 260 place names of Bantu origin are found    throughout nine southern states.  The predominance of Bantu linguistic survivals in American folk tales and songs suggests a Bantu Diaspora in the American South.[4] Herskovits noted that the Bantu culture had survived in the Sea Islands and that blacks there had retained the strongest African heritage, second only to Brazil, because of their isolation from the mainland.[5] Bastide identified tree main centers of Bantu culture in the United States:  the Sea Islands, the coastal region of Virginia, and the area centered on New Orleans.  He found a double level of African culture in Louisiana, Dahomean in religion (voodoo cult) and Bantu in regard to folklore and aesthetic culture.[6] Bantu contributions to South Carolina and Louisiana include not only wrought-iron balconies but also wood carvings, basketry, weaving, clay-baked figurines, and pottery. Cosmograms, grave designs and decorations, funeral practices, and the wake are Bantu in origin.  Bantu musical contributions include drums, diddley bow, mouth bow, quills, washtub bass, jug, gongs, bells, rattles, ideophones, and the lokoimbi, a five-stringed harp.  This list of linguistic Africanisms was compiled Joseph E. Holloway.

adobe[7] Twi (Akan) a palm tree, leaves or grass used for roof covering.

ananse[8] Twi (Akan) and Ewe, spider; Bambara nansi, chameleon.

bad[9] Very good, used esp. in emphatic form, baad. Cf. Michael Jackson’s I’m baad!” Similar are mean, in sense of satisfying, fine, attractive; wicked, in sense of excellent, capable. Cf.  African use of negative terms, pronounced emphatically, to describe positive extremes: Mandingo (Bambara) a ka nyi ko-jugu, it’s very good!    (lit.“it is good badly!”); Mandingo (Gambia) a nyinata jaw-ke, she is very beautiful! Also West African English (Sierra Leone) gud baad, it’s very good!

bad-eye[10] Threatening, hateful glance.  Common African-American colloquialism.  Cf.  Mandingo nyejugu, hateful glance (lit. “bad eye”) and similar phrases  in other West African languages.

bad-mouth[11] In Gullah, slander, abuse, gossip; also used as v. Cf. Mandingo da-jugu and Hausa mugum-baki, slander, abuse (in both cases, lit. “bad mouth”).

bambi[12] Bantu mubambi, one who lies down in order to hide; position of antelope  fawn for concealment (cf. Walt Disney, Bambi).

bamboula[13] African drum used in New Orleans during the nineteenth century.  Also, a vigorous style of dancing there, early twentieth century.  “Drum” in early jazz use.  Cf. bambula, beat, hit, or strike a surface, a drum.  Similar terms in other West African coastal language groups.

banana[14] Wolof word for fruit and was first recorded in 1563, and entered British English in the seventeenth century via Spanish and Portuguese.

banjo[15] Kimbundu mbanza, stringed musical instruments, whence also Jamaican English banja and Brazilian Portuguese banza.

be with it[16] Mandingo expression, to be a la (lit. “to be with in, in it”) to be in fashion.

bidibidi[17] Bantu bidibidi: a small bird; a small yellow bird.  Ebonic: “a little biddy bird.”

biddy[18] Baby chick, chicken, fowl.

big eye[19] Igbo anya uku, covetous, greedy (lit. “big eye”). Cf. West African and Caribbean English big yay, big eye. Same in Gullah and Black English.

bo[20] Temne and Vai (Sierra Leone), friend; informal term of address for an equal.  West African and Caribbean English bo, ba.

bogue, bogus[21] Hausa boko, boko-boko, deceit, fraud, West African English (Sierra Leone) bogo-bogo, Louisiana French bogue, fake, fraudulent, phony.  The ending of bogus have an analogy with hocuses pocus.

booboo[22] Bantu mbuku, stupid, blundering act; error, blunder.  Common nickname found in Black English.

boody[23] Bantu buedi, act of emission, sex. Cf. black American slang: “give me that booty.”

booger[24] Bantu mbukku, divination, consultation of the spirits; ghost, spirit.

boobaboo[25] Bantu buka lubuk, conjure, enchant, divine; consult a medicine man; imaginary cause of fear, worry; nemesis.

boogie(woogie)[26] Bantu mbuki-mvuki, to take off in dance performance.  Hausa buga (bugi after n. object).  Mande bugs, to beat, to beat drums.  West African English (Sierra Leone) bogi, to dance.  To dance fast blues music, eight beats to a bar; boog, to dance.

bowdacious[27] Bantu botesha, pulverize, grind to powder; extremely, exceedingly, to the ninth degree. Cf. uncle Remus usage.

bozo[28] Bantu boza, knock things over in passing; a strong, stupid person, a stumblebum.  Common in black American slang: “Don’t be a bozo!”

brer, buh[29] Mandingo kckc, elder brother; title used before animal names in fables, tales. Cf. Uncle Remus usage.

bronco[30] Term of Ibibio origin, used centuries ago to denote Spanish and African slaves who worked with and cared for cattle.

buckaroo[31] Ibibio buckra, poor white man; a white person bucking a bronco. See Buckra.

buckra(1) [32] Efik and Ibibio mbakara, master.  Used by enslaved Africans to refer to and address their masters.  By 1730s, enslaved Africans and colonists used it to mean “white man.” Often pronounced and spelled buccara and boccra, by 1775 it had come to mean “gentlemen” and even, by 1860s, the color “white.”

buckra(2) [33] Poor or mean white man, now rare in the United States, except in the South Carolina Sea Islands.  Still current in Jamaican English. Convergence with Spanish vaquero; hence buckaroo, bucker (cowboy).

bug[34] Mandingo baga, to offend, annoy, harm (someone); Wolof  bugal,  to annoy, worry.  Note also West African and Caribbean English ambog, to annoy; this form; pronounced in eighteenth century with stress on second syllable, may reflect the nominal prefix m- in Wolof mbugal, hindrance, annoyance.  The same element may be contained in British and American English humbug, to hoax, impose upon.

cat[35] A person, man, fellow, just a “cool dude.”  Same as hipi cat.

chance[36] Bantu tshianza, hand, handful; a certain number, several.

chick[37] Girl, pretty young woman, one especially “hip,” or attractive.  Cf.   Wolof  jigen, woman.  Note convergence with English chicken.

chigger[38] Wolof jiga, insect, sand flea.  First recorded in 1743, via Caribbean.  Originally pronounced and spelled chigo, chego, or chiego.

cowboy[39] Originated in Colonial period when African labor and skills were closely associated with cattle raising.  Africans stationed at cowpens with herding responsibilities were referred to as “cowboy,” just as Africans who worked in the “Big House” were known as “houseboy. As late as 1865, following the Civil War, Africans whose livestock responsibilities were with cattle were referred to             as “cowboys” in plantation records.  After 1865, whites associated with cattle industry referred to themselves as “cattlemen” to distinguish themselves from “cowboys.”

coob[40] Bantu –kuba, care for, take care of, watch over, a hutch, pen, or      coop for fowls or- small domestic animals: a chicken “coob.”

cool[41] Mandingo cool, slow and gone not; hence fast.  Terms applied to music and dancing: calm, controlled, slow tempo and the opposite, hot, fast, and energetic.  Corresponding terms found in other African languages.

Cooter[42] Kongo nkuda, a box turtle.  Also West African kuta, turtle, used recorded 1832.  Came into southern U.S. dialect via Gullah heard mainly in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana.

daskiki -[43]  Yoruba danshiki, a loose, colorfully patterned, bottomless pull on shirt.  Garment and word were introduced during the civil rights movement of  1960s, when young black men wore dashikis to reassert their identity with African culture.  Made famous by [Ron] Maulana Karenga in the 1960s.

day-clean[44] Bantu kutoka kulu, dawn, “clean sky”; Wolof ba set na, it has dawned (day is clean); Mandingo dugu jera, it has dawned (day has become clean, clear).  Found in Gullah, West African and Caribbean English do-klin, day-clean, and black Caribbean French ju netye (lit. “day-cleaned).

diddle[45] Bantu dinga: dececeive, trick, cheat; cheat, swindle. diddy-wa-diddle.

diddy[46] Bantu wadid-wadid:  you eat and eat; legendary place of plenty to eat.

dig[47] Wolof deg, dega, understand, appreciate, pay attention to. Convergence with Black English to “dig,” understand.

dinge[48] Mandingo den, din, child, young person, younger than the speaker, den-ke, male child, young man.  A black person, dingey; a black  child dinkey.

dirt[49] Akan dote, earth, soil.  Common in U.S., as in “dirt road” or dirt track.”  West African and Caribbean English doti, dirty, earth.  Convergence with British English in its original sense of “filthy.’

doll-baby[50] Yoruba omo langidi, little child; oyedeji, wooden images.  Southern dialect idiom common in Black English, distribution mainly along Atlantic Coast.

do one’s thing[51] Mandingo ka a fen ke (lit. “to do one’s t’ing”), to undertake one’s favorite activity or assume one’s favorite role.

done[52] Wolof doon, past completive marker, “he done go”; Mandingo tun, past completive marker.  Cf. also black West African English don, as past completive marker.  Convergence with English done.

fat-mouth[53] Mandingo da-baa, excessive talking (lit. “big, fat mouth”) Same as bad-mouth.

foo-foo[54] Akan foforo, new, fresh, strange.  An outsider, a newcomer, one      who does not belong or is not accepted, a fool, a worthless person. Convergence with English fool.  Cf. black Jamaican English foo-foo, fool-fool, credulous, easy to take advantage of, stupid.

fuzzy[55] Wolof    fas, horse (fas wi, the horse, fas yi, the horses).”Horse” in two specialized senses: “range horse” and “sure bet at a horse race.” Hence, perhaps, fuzz, fuzzy, policeman, from an earlier use of horse patrols.  Covergence with English fuzzy-tail.


gam[56] Hausa gama, boastfulness, showing off.

geechee[57] Originally meant an African from the Guinea coast.  Later, it meant a black who not yet fully acculturated during slavery.  In 1789, applied to Africans brought to Ogeechee River plantation under coercion.

goober[58] Bantu nguba, peanut; use recorded 1834. Another word for peanut is pinder, or pinal, from Congo mpinda, peanut; use first recorded in Jamaica 1707, South Carolina 1848.

goofer-bag[59] Bantu kufwa, to die; v. common to all Bantu languages.  A charm to protect from death.

goofer-dust[60] Bantu kufaw, to die.  Refers to grave dirt.  In Congo (Zaire), earth from a grave is considered at one with the spirit of the buried person.  Used by “root workers” on American plantation.

goose[61] Wolof kus, anus.  To nudge someone in the anus.  “Your goose is cooked.” (Originally from Arabic?)

gris-gris[62] Object worn as protective charm against evil, or used to inflict harm.  An amulet in place of and with the power to remove voodoo curses.  Associated with voodoo rites in Louisiana.  Used by Marie Laveau, noted voodoo queen.  She concocted a gris-gris of salt, gunpowder, saffron, and dried dog dung.  A gris-gris that protected from evil or brought good luck was a dime with a hole in it, worn about the ankle.  Mende in origin, via Hausa.

gullah[63] Bantu Ngola, an ethnic group in Angola.  Refers to African Americans living in the Sea Islands and regions of South Carolina.  Georgia, and northern Florida.  Also refers to their language.

guy[64] Wolof gay, fellows, persons.  Used as a term of address, including “you guys,” addressed even to a single man or woman.  Convergence with English personal name Guy.

He[65] Undifferentiated third-person sing. pron., he or she.  Similar usage is found in most West African and in all Bantu languages, as well as in most forms of black West African and Caribbean English.  In Gullah, he remains undifferentiated, referring to either a male or a female.  For reverse African influence in differentiation between second-person sing. and pl. pron.

hear[66] Mandingo n mu a men, I didn’t understand (lit. “I didn’t hear it’), hearing in the sense of understanding.  Cf. similar application of v. meaning “to hear” in other West African languages.

hep hip[67] Wolof hepi, hipi, to open one’s eyes, to be aware of what is going on.  Hence hipi-kat, someone with eyes open, aware of what is going on.

honkie[68] Wolof hong, red pink; color used to describe white people in African languages.  Cf.  also pink, a white man, and redneck, a power white farmer in the U.S.  In Ebonics honkie referred to whites who would come to the black community, part, and honk their horns for their black dates.  This term was used before the 1960s.

hoodoo[69] Hoodoo, as opposed to voodoo, is less centrally organized as part of voodoo religious practices.  It generally connotes the mystic and magical aspects, usually evolved for negative purpose.  “To hoodoo someone” implied that an individual was made to do something against his will by the use of various concoctions, which could be drunk, eaten, or worn, in order to make someone fall in love or to cause a death.

hulla-ballo[70] Bantu halua balualua, when those that are coming arrive.  Hence noise, uproar, racket of greeting.

hully-gully[71] Bantu halakala, compare (the hands, to ascertain the one holding the rock). A child’s game.

jam[72] Informal gathering of jazz musicians, playing for their own entertainment.  Same element may be contained in jamboree, noisy revel, celebration, a full hand of cards, first recorded in 1860s.  Possible convergence of Mandingo and black West African English jama (from Arabic), crowd      gathering, and Wolof   jam, slave (in U.S., a gathering of slaves or former slaves for their own entertainment). A related Wolof term is jaambuur, freeman, freed man.

jamboree[73] Celebration by emancipated slaves made famous with Juneteenth celebrations.

jazz[74] Bantu jaja, to make dance.  Obsolete forms jas, jasy.  The numerous applications of this term center on basic v. sense of “to speed up, excite, exaggerate, act in an unrestricted or extreme way.”  Note corresponding use as n. and as adj., “jazzy.”  Applied to copulation, frenzied dancing, fast music, exaggerated talk, gaudy patterns and colors, excessive pleasure-seeking.  Cf. Mandingo jasi, to become abnormal or out of character, either diminished or excessive.  Cf.  similar Wolof yees and Temne yas, to be lively or energetic to an extreme degree, applied to exaggerated styles of dancing or music, excessive love-making, etc.

jelly, jelly-roll[75] Mandingo jeli, minstrel, who often gained popularity with women through his skills in the use of words and music.  A virile man who curries sexual favors of women.  Epithet applied in U.S. to several black musicians, including “Jelly Roll Morton” (piano), “Jelly” Williams (bass), and “Jelly Thompson (guitar).  Convergence with English items of food, jelly and jelly-roll.

jenk[76] Bantu njika, reserve, reticence, inhibition.  “To spread my jenk”: relax, have a good time.

jiffy[77] Bantu tshipi, short.  In a second, in a moment.

jigger[78] Bantu njiga, sand flea, insect.

jiggaboo[79] Bantu tshikabo, they bow the head docilely.  Derogatory term for black person.  In Black English a jiggaboo is someone who is extremely black, with strong African features, as opposed to high yellow, or light-skinned.

jitter-(bug)[80] Mandingo ji-to, frightened, cowardly, from ji, to be afraid.  Jitobaga, a frightened, cowardly person.  To tremble and shake, have “the jitters”; nervousness, fear, cowardice.  Jitter bug:  an excited swing addict, who shakes and trembles in dancing.

jive[81] Wolof jev, jew, to talk about someone in his absence, esp. in a disparaging way.  Misleading talk; to talk in a misleading or insincere way.  Applied to sexual and musical activity.  Ct. semantic range of jazz.  Convergences with English jive, jibe, to sneer at, disparage.

john[82] Mandingo jon, slave, a person owned by someone else.  An average man,  esp. one who can be exploited or easily taken in; a male lover, a prostitute’s client.  Also used in black American folklore, as in John  Henry, name of hero-slave frequently in conflict with “massa.”  The term massa provides a convenient convergence of English master and Mandingo massa, chief.  That Mandingo speakers in U.S. were conscious    of this convergence is suggested by the cycle of black American tales involving John-versus-Massa, which corresponds to a similar genre of Mandingo tales in West Africa involving jon, the slave, versus massa, the chief.

juba (1)[83] A group dance with complex rhythmic clapping and slapping of knees and things, as done by plantations slaves (1834).  Both dance and word are of African origin.

juba (2)[84] One of the earliest records of the term juba dates to American minstrelsy days.  Both Juba and Jube consistently appeared as names of enslaved Africans who were skilled musicians and dancers.

juba (3)[lxxxiv] Bantu juba, jiouba, or diubu, to beat time rhythmically.  Used to describe an African dance step, the Charleston; recorded particularly in South Carolina and West Indies.  Juba is also the Akan female day name for a child born on Monday.

juba (4)[85] Traditional slave food.  Refers to the food that enslaved Africans working in the \plantation house collected from the masas’s leftovers.  Such leftovers were called juba, jibba, or jiba.  On Saturday or Sunday the leftovers were thrown together; no one could distinguish the meat from the bread and vegetables.  This juba was placed in a huge pot and those working in the “de big House” shared it with those working in the fields.

juba (5)[86] Bantu nguba, kingooba, peanut, groundnut, “goober,” from which an old African melody is derived.  The Juba dance was originally performed on plantations but became so popular that whites gave it the name Charleston, after the southern city and major slave port.  The dance was introduced in 1926 to the American stage in an all-black production by E. F. Miller and Aubrey Lyles entitled Runnin’ Wild, and as the “Charleston” it became the dance craze of the 1920s.

juke[87] Wolof dzug, to misbehave, lead a disorderly life; Bambara dzugu, wicked.  Brothel, cheap tavern, low dive.  Mainly Gullah and black use in South To juke (1939), to make the rounds of taverns and low dives, go drinking; used mainly by southerners.  By early 1940s to juke came to mean “to make the rounds drinking and dancing to jukeboxes” (1939).  Juke joints, taverns or roadhouses that featured jukeboxes.  Juke Juke-joint, a hand-out bar.  Cf. also Bantu juka, rise up, do your things.

ju  ju[88] Bantu njiu, danger, harm, accident.  A charm or fetish against such.

kakatulu[89] Bantu  kukatulu, to take off, remove; v.i., to be still, immobile.  Name of a large bird, mockingbird.

kelt, ketch[90] Bantu keleja, filter, strain; catch the drippings, pale stuff.  A light-skinned black person.

kickeraboo[91] The Americanisms “to kick the bucket” evolved from kickeraboo and kickatavoo, killed or dead.  Term has two Africans sources: Krio (the English-based Creole of Sierra Leone) kekrebu, kekerabu, dead, to wither (as leaves or fruit); Ga (West Africa) kekre, dry, stiff, and bo, to befall, end.  “Kicking the bucket” was used in American blackface minstrel songs, regarding the death of a black person, until about mid-nineteenth century, when it moved into Standard American English.

kil[92] To affect strongly, as in “you kill me!” Similar usage in a number of West African languages, including Wolof and Mandingo, or verbs meaning lit. “to kill.”

kook, kooky[93]Bantu kuku, dolt, blockhead.  A strange, peculiar person.

kong[94 Bantu nkongo, mixture, conglomeration. Bootleg whiskey.

lubo[95] First used in America in 1732 to identify slaves from Niger Delta.  Use of African name indicated a first-generation African or a newly arrived “saltwater” African.

mahoola[96] Bantu mahula, secrets, divulged matters, indiscretions.  Silly talk.

man[97] Mandingo ce, man, the man; power, authority.  Term of address.

massa[98] Mande (Mandingo) masa, chief.

mat[99] Hausa mata or mace, woman, wife.

mean[100] Similar to bad, as “don’t be mean too me.”

mojo[101] Fula moca, to cast a magic spell by spitting.  Hence mocore, magic spell, incantation uttered while spitting.  Originally, magic spell, charm, amulet,        spell cast by spitting.  Mainly used today in sense of something working in one’s favor: “I got my mojo working!” Also, narcotics.  Cf. Gullah moco, witchcraft, magic.  Black Jamaican English majoe, mojo, plant with renowned medicinal powers.

moola, mula[102] Bantu mulambo, receipts, tax money.  Money, wealth.  Cf. Black English “give me some moola!”  mother yo.’

mama[103] West African, esp. Wolof; used as term of severe abuse or of jocular abuse between friends.  Includes use of explicit insults, such as “motherfucker.”

mouse[104] Mandingo muso and Vai musu, woman, wife.  Attractive girl, young woman, girlfriend, wife.  Convergence with English mouse.  Of several terms for “woman” taken over into Black English from major West African languages.

nana[105] Bantu nana: grandmother; Akan: nana: grandmother or grandfather.

ofay[106] White man. Extended form: ofaginzy. O-occurs as a nominal/adjectival prefix in many West African languages.  Term for “white,” beginning with “f,” also occurs widely: Bama fe, Gola fua, Ndoh fowe, etc.  It has been suggested that ofay represents a rearrangement of the letters of the English word foe into pig Latin, but from its form, the word is more likely to have an African origin.

okay (1)[107] Mandingo o-ke; Dogon o-kay; Djabo o-ke; Western Fula eeyi kay; Wolof waw kayk, waw ke, all meaning “yes, indeed!” “That’s it, all right.”  Note widespread use in languages of West Africa of kay and similar forms as confirmatory markers, esp. after words meaning “yes.”  Recorded use of oh ki, indicating surprised affirmation, in black Jamaican English 1816; predates by over twenty years the popularization of OK in white speech of New England.  Affirmative use of kay-ki in black speech in U.S. is recorded from as early as 1776.  Early attempts were made to explain OK as initial letters of misspelling of English words “all correct” or as French words au quai, on the quayside.  Subsequent attempts have been made to derive term from German, Greek, Scots, English, Finnish, and Choctaw, but little consideration has been given to possibility of origin in black speech.

okay (2)[108] Mandingo o-ke-len, after that (lit. “that being done”).  Use of this syntactic construction is widespread in West African languages.  “After that’ serves as link between sentences in running narrative or discourse, serving to confirm the preceding and anticipate the following sentence.

okra[109] Bantu kingombo, okra, Main ingredient of gumbo.  Food plant indigenous to Central Africa and brought to New World by enslaved Africans. Known to most southerners by 1780s.

palooka[110] Bantu paluka (tshiseki), to have a fit, spasm, convulsion.  A stupid person; an inferior prizefighter.

pamper[111] Bantu pamba, be worried, upset, afraid, disquieted.  To scold or “bless out” someone.

peola[112] Bantu peula, peel off outer skin.  A light-complexioned black girl.

pharaoh[113] Kanuri fero, girl.  Girl, girlfriend, blues term.

phoney[114] Mandingo fani, foni (to be) false, valueless; to tell a lie.  Counterfeit, sham, something false or valueless.  Note also bogue, bogus.


pin[115] Temne pind, to stare at, see.  Black West African English (Sierra Leone)     pin, staring, as an intensifying adv. After v. denoting “to see.” Convergence with English pin.

pinto[116] Temne (a-) bentho bier for carrying corpse.  In South Carolina and Georgia, means “coffin.”

plat-eye[117] Bantu palatayi, scratch like a dog at the door.  Malevolent, supernatural being though to haunt Georgetown area of South Carolina.  Female, animal-like ghost, feared in South.

poke[118] Bantu –poko, deep bag, socket, cavity.  A sack, bag, wallet. Cf. “a pig in a poke.

poon tang,puntang[119] Bantu mu ntanga, under the bed.  Sexual intercourse with a black person. Sexually attractive (black) woman, vagina.  Cf. Lima puntuy, vagina.  Convergence with French putain, prostitute.

poop[120] Wolof pup, to defecate, of a child.  Convergence with similar forms in European languages, including Dutch.  Cf. Black English pup pup.

poor jo[121] Vai dialect work of Liberia and Sierra Leone (1736), heard mainly in Georgia.  Colloquial name for great blue heron.

rap[122] West African English (Sierra Leone) rap, to con, fool, get the better of       someone in verbal play.  Descriptive of a variety of verbal techniques: to speak to, greet; flirt with, make a pass (at a girl); speak in a color way; tease, taunt; con, fool.  Used also as n.  Recently popularized black American usage of rap is, in fact, old.  Note to rap, meaning “to speak or talk.”

rooty-toot[124] Wolof  rutu-tuti, rapid drumming sound. Old-fashioned music.  Also rootin-tootin, noisy, boisterous.

ruskus[125] Bantu lukashi, sound of cheering and applause.  Informal, noisy,commotion, rumpus.

sambo[127 Bantu –samba, to comfort, cheer, console.  Cf.  Also widespread West African personal name: Wolof Samb, Samba; Mandingo Sambu; Hausa sambo; similar names among Bantu.  Black man, male child, popular southern use of the name.  “Little Black Sambo” story appears to be a corruption of a West African folk tale.

say, says[128] Mandingo ko . . . , say.  Similar use of items meaning lit. “Say” found in     numerous West African languages, black West African, and Caribbean          English.  Term used to introduce reported speech, “that . . .,” “he tell him,say . . .”  Cf. black speech “say, man. . .,” “he say this, and he says that.”

shucking[129] Bantu shikuka, hold the head high, be willful, be obstinate.  Lying, bluffing, faking.

skin[130] Temne botme-der, put skin; Mandingo I golo don m bolo, put your skin in my hand.  Cf. black speech “give me some skin, man!” (shake hands with me!). Used in 1960s by African Americans before it moved into white American speech.

tabby[131] Bantu ntaba, muddy place from which mud for building walls is taken.      Building material composed of oyster shells, lime, sand, and saltwater, commonly used in building slave houses in Georgia and South Carolina.

too-la-loo[132] Bantu tullualua, we’re coming! Words of a song.

tote[133] Kikongo tota, to pick up; Kimbundu tuta, to carry, load. Black West African English (Sierra Leone) tot, Cameroon tut, to carry.  Similar forms meaning “carry” found in a number of western Bantu languages.

uh-huh[134] Uh-hum, yes; mhm, no Cf. widespread use throughout Africa of similar responses for “yes” and “no.” Scattered use of such forms occurs elsewhere in the world esp. for “yes,” but nowhere as regularly as in Africa, where, in many languages, they constitute regular words for “yes” and “no.”  Note also occurrence of intonational variants of these forms to indicate differing intensities and situations of response, both in African languages and black American English, as well as in black African and Caribbean English.  African origin of these items is confirmed by their much wider use in American than in British English.

voodoo[135] Fon (Dahomey) vodu, vodun, fetish, witchcraft; to bewitch.  Entered English via black French of New Orleans.

wyacoo[136] Mandingo epithet for a bad but powerful chief.  Arabic Yaqub, Jacob.  Also Yacub, described by Malcolm X as creator of white race.  A white            racist.

Yah (yo)[137] Crebo ya, used after commands; Temne yo, used after statements or commands.  An emphatic concluding particle:  “Indeed!” Often said in endearing tone, thus softening a statement or command.  Also black West African and Caribbean English ya, said after statements or command.

yam[138] Wolof nyam, taste; Serer nyam, eat; Fula nyama, eat; black West African and Caribbean English nyam, to eat.  Also Bantu nyambi, to eat.

yackety-yak[139] Bantu ya ntata ya ntata, of the passing moment only temporary.  Idle chatter, monotonous talk.

you-uns[140] You pl; similar use of you-all.  Regular differentiation between second-person sign. And pl. pron. in African languages undoubtedly played a part in introduction of comparable differentiation in American English, esp. in South.  Reinforced perhaps by differentiated pron. of French and Spanish.  Cf. esp. Wolof yow, you sing., versus yeen, yena, you pl.  Hence convergences with you in sing. And you + one as new second-person pl. form.  Note first-person we-uns by analogy.  Cf. black West African and Caribbean English yu, you sing. versus una, unu, you pl. used in Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Jamaica, and elsewhere.  In Gullah, yu versus une, and in black Guyana English, you versus you-all.

ziggabo[141] Someone extremely dark in skin color.

zombie[142] Tshiluba Nzambi, God, and mujangi, spirit of the dead; Kimbundu nzumbi, ghost, phantom.  Supernatural force that brings a corpse back to life.  Cf. Black Haitian French zombi, black West African and Caribbean English  jombi, Sierra Leone and Cameroon jumbi, Guyana and Jamaica zombie.

[1] John G. Jackson, Introduction to African Civilization, 200.

[2] Joseph E. Holloway, ed., Africanisms in Americn Culture, 5.

[3] Interview by Joseph E. Holloway, with David P. Gamble, Dec. 5, 1985; D. J. Muffett, “Uncle Remus Was a Hausaman?” Also in Holloway, ed.,  Africanisms

[4] Winifred K. Vass, The Bantu Speaking Heritage of the United States, 41-122.

[5] Melville J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past.

[6] Roger Bastide, African Civilization in the New World.

[7] Turner, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect.

[8] Ibd.

[9] David Dalby, “The African Element in Black English,” 171.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid

[12] Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, 18; Dalby, “African Element.”

[13] Source: Winifred K. Vass, linguist of Bantu languages.

[14] Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 127.

[15] Dena J. Epstein, “The Folk Banjo: A Documentary History,”  Ethnomusicology (September 1975); Dena J. Esptein, Sinful Tines and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977),k 120-22, 147l John A. Holm and Allison Watt Shilling, The Dictionary of Bahamian English; Dalby, “African Element.”

[16] Dalby, “African Element,” 177.

[17] Fancher, Lost Legacy, 45.

[18] Random House Dictionary,145; Hurston, Mules and Men, 64, 132.

[19] Holm and Shilling, Dictionary; Dalby, “African Element.”

[20] Dalby, “African Element,” 177

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Random House Dictionary, 169.

[24] Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary, 69.

[25] Bradley, “Word-List,” 12.

[26] Random House Dictionary, 169; Dalby, “African Element,” 178.

[27] Stoney and Sheby, Black Genesis, 177.

[28] Random House Dictionary.

[29] Dalby, “African Elements,” 77.

[30] Texas newspaper article.

[31] Julian Mason in American Speech 35 (1960), 51-55, gives a detailed discussion of the etymology of buckaroo.

[32] Holm and Shilling, Bahamian Dictionary.

[33] Dalby, “African Element.”

[34] Ibid.

[35] Wolof in origin:  cf. hip-kat.

[36] C. M. Woodward, “Word List,” 9: Johnson, Folk Culture, 44.

[37] Dalby, “African Element,” 174.

[38] Holm and Shilling, Dictionary

[39] Wood, Black Majority, 32.

[40] Collymore, Barbadian Dialect, 26.

[41] Dalby, “African Element,” 179.

[42] Courlander, Negro Folk Music, 191.

[43] Holm and Shilling, Dictionary; Dalby, “African Element,” 179; Joseph E. Holloway, “Africanisms in Gullah Oral Tradition,” Western Journal of Black Studies 13, no.3 (1989), 119.

[44] Wentworth and  Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, 125.

[45] Kennedy, Palmetto Country, 154-55.

[46] Dalby, “African Element.”

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Holm and Shilling, Dictionary

[50] Ibid., 180

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., Random House Dictionary, 582.

[56] Turner, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, 194.

[57] Random House Dictionary, 609.

[58] Hurston, Mules and Men, 24l, 281

[59] Robert Farris Thompson, “Kongo Influences on African-American Artistic Culture,” in Holloway, ed. Afrcanisms, 148-84.

[60] Dalby, “African Element,” 180.

[61] Jessie Gaston Mulira, “The Case of Voodoo in New Orleans,” in Holloway, ed., Africansisms, 56; N. W. Newell, in Journal of American Folklore 2 (1889), 44.

[62] Turner, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect.

[63] Dalby, “African Element.”

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Mulira, “Case of Voodoo,” 56.

[69] Thomas, “South Texas Negro Folk Songs”; Vass, correspondence with Madge B. MacLachlan, Jackson, Fla., regarding terms used by her childhood playmate on the turpentine “flats.”

[70] Puckett, Folk Beliefs, 18-19.

[71] Dalby, “African Element,” 178.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid., 181.

[74] Dalby, “African Element,” 181.

[75] Source: Winifred K. Vass.

[76] Random House Dictionary, 767.

[77] Ibid., 768.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Dalby, “African Element,” 182.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Beverly J. Robinson, “Africanisms and the Study of Folklore” in Holloway, ed., Africanisms, 215; Mathews, Some Sources, 145; Vass, Bantu Speaking Heritage.

[83] Robinson, “Africanisms  and the Study of Folklore.”

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Dalby, “African Element,” 182.

[88] Source: Winifred K. Vass linguist; informant.

[89] Ibid.

[90] Ibid.

[91] J. L. Dillard, All-American English.

[92] Dalby, “African Element,” 182.

[93] Random House Dictionary,794.

[94] Vass, Bantu Speaking Heritage.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang. 331.

[97] Dalby, “African Element,” 182.

[98] Ibid.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Ibid.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Random House Dictionary,929.

[103] Dalby, “African Element 182.

[104] Ibid.

[105] W. A. B.  Musgrave, “Ananci Stories,” 53-55.

[106] Ibid., 183.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Ibid.

[110] Random House Dictionary, 1040.

[111] Collymore, Barbadian Dialect, 63.

[112] Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, 382.

[113] Dalby, “African Element,” 184.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Ibid.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Smith, Gullah, 28.

[118] Random House Dictionary, 112.

[119] Wentworth and Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang, 401’ Vas. Bantu Speaking Heritage, 113; Dalby, “African Heritage.” 184.

[120] Dalby, “African Element,” 184.

[121] Ibid.

[122] Ibid.

[123] Ibid.

[124] Random House Dictionary, 1250.

[125] Turner, Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect; Dalby, “African Elements,” 184.

[126] Dalby, “African Element,” 184.

[127] Ibid.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Random House Dictionary; Vass, Bantu Speaking Heritage, 114.

[130] Random House Dictionary; Vass, Bantu Speaking Heritage, 114; Dalby, “African Element,” 185.

[131] Bradley, “Word-List,” 67.

[132] Dalby, “African Element,” 185.

[133] William  A. Read, Louisiana-French, rev. ed. (Baton Rough: Louisiana State University press, 1963).

[134] Dalby, “African Element,” 185.

[135] Ibid.

[136] Ibid

[137] Random House Dictionary, 1652.

[138] Dalby, “African Element.”

[139] See jiggabbo.

[140] Random House Dictionary, 767; Read, Louisiana-French, 128; Dalby, “African Element,” 186.