abacuses counting frames composed of color-coded beads that are slid along rods or wires for quick hand calculation; still popular in Japan and other Eastern countries.
Acka Backa, Sody Cracka a typical jump rope rhyme, similar to "Rich man, poor man" and Angelou's mimetic poem "Harlem Hopscotch."
ad hoc makeshift; improvised.
Akim Tamiroff eccentric-looking Russian character actor (1899-1972) who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Pablo in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Alley Oop the dinosaur-riding cave man and beau of Ooola, both characters in V. T. Hamlin's popular cartoon strip, which originated in 1933.
Amazon one of a race of female warriors mentioned in Homer's Iliad.
aphorisms short statements of wisdom, such as "God helps those who help themselves."
arabesque an elegant ballet pose in which one arm extends forward and the other arm or a leg extends gracefully to the rear.
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust from the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer.
Axis agent a spy for the combined enemy, consisting of Germany, Italy, and Japan, the Axis powers.
backsliders a common fundamentalist pejorative for people who were once Christian, but who gradually return to faithlessness or immorality.
barrelhouse blues a pulsing, unmelodious jazz beat.
Basil Rathbone captivating British actor (1892-1967) who starred as Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and had major roles in Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Last Days of Pompeii, and A Tale of Two Cities.
before one word of this changes, heaven and earth shall fall away a paraphrase of Jesus' promise in Matthew 5:18.
Bette Davis two-time Academy Award-winning American actress (1908-89) who starred in All This and Heaven Too, Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Little Foxes, and All About Eve.
"blows and scores" ago that is, after a protracted history of assaults and retaliations.
Bluebeards killers like the protagonist of Charles Perrault's French folktales, written in 1697.
The Brazos a Texas river, flowing past Waco to Freeport on the Gulf of Mexico through stereotypical cowboy country.
Brobdingnag a country in Swift's Gulliver's Travels that is inhabited by giants twelve times the size of humans.
brother would turn against brother an approximation of Mark 13:12.
Butler; Henley Samuel Butler (1835-1902), author of Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh, and William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), author of the poem "Invictus," which students often memorize for its bold espousal of self-determination and individualism.
C.C.C. a relief program initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 which utilized two and a half million young men for conservation and reforestation projects.
C.M.E. Church Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.
c/o a postal abbreviation for "in care of."
Capistrano a city in Orange County, California, and the location of the ruins of Mission San Juan Capistrano, dedicated in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, where legend declares the swallows nest each year from March 19 to October 23.
Captain Marvel a comic book character created by Carl Burgos and Bill Everett and first appearing in print in November 1939.
Carnera Primo Carnera, whom Joe Louis defeated on June 25, 1935.
cat-o'-nine-tails a whip fashioned from loose strands which end in knots that leave clawlike marks on a victim's body.
cat's face a wrinkled patch which is inadvertently ironed into freshly laundered clothes or linens.
cat's ladder an intricate web, like the finger games children play with a looped string.
Cheshire cat's smile continuing the image from Alice in Wonderland, a reference to the cat which disembodies itself, leaving only its smile behind.
chifforobe a combination chest of drawers and wardrobe.
chow-chow a piquant or hot pickled relish made from a variety of garden vegetables, particularly cucumber, cabbage, carrot, pepper, and onion, and served with blander foods, such as pinto, lima, or navy beans.
Cisco Kid dashing Mexican "Robin Hood" character in Western movies, radio, an early television series, and a 1950s comic strip.
clabbered milk curdled, or soured milk.
claque a person, or persons, hired to applaud a theater or opera performance or an actor.
Claude Rains, Herbert Marshall and George McCready three significant screen actors of the 1930s and 40s. Rains (1889-1967) earned fame early in his career for his performances in The Invisible Man, Notorious,Robin Hood, The Prince and the Pauper, and Casablanca. Herbert Marshall (1890-1966), an urbane British leading man who lost a leg in World War I, starred in I Was a Spy, The Dark Angel, A Bill of Divorcement, and The Little Foxes. George McCready (1909-73) left banking to act in Gilda, Paths of Glory, and Commandos Strike at Dawn.
Colored Methodist Episcopal Church an African-American offshoot of the Southern Methodist Church, which withdrew from the parent church in 1870 as a separate entity devoted to the evangelizing of Africa's non-Christians. In May 1954, members voted to rename it the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
"Cómo está usted?" How are you?
coq au vin chicken in wine sauce.
cotelette Milanese chicken breast cutlets dredged in egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and crumbs and braised in butter.
cotton bolls the hard, prickly, taloned, fibrous pod which encases a growing fluff of cotton and thwarts the picker's efforts.
Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington major black musicians of the Big Band era.
crabs body lice that live in the pubic area.
cracker a disparaging, derogatory slang term for a white, bigoted, violent Southerner.
crocus sack a burlap bag, often called a "croker sack" or a "gunny sack."
crushed aspirins or oil of cloves home remedies applied to an aching tooth or gum.
cyclopean eye In Greek mythology, the cyclopes were a race of one-eyed giants.
D'Artagnan one of the heroes of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
Daughters of Pythias a women's auxiliary of the Knights of Pythias, founded in 1864 as a charitable and fraternal order.
djinn a spirit, or jinni of Muslim lore which, like the supernatural servant in Aladdin's lamp, can be summoned to assist humans.
Dolores Del Rio fine-featured Mexican actress (1905-83) who starred in Madame DuBarry and Cheyenne Autumn.
Donald O'Connor musical comedy actor and dancer of stage, screen, and television (1925- ) who starred in Singin' in the Rain, No Business like Show Business, and The Donald O'Connor Show.
"Donde está mi padre?" Where is my father?
"Donde vas?" Where are you going?
double entendres expressions which carry two possible interpretations, one of which is often coarse or obscene.
drag disparage, or denigrate.
dykes and bulldaggers slang terms for aggressive lesbians.
Eastern Star a fraternal order, founded in 1876, composed of Master Masons and female relatives and to service, fellowship, and civic responsibilities.
the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke a crucial chapter in the Christian gospel which defines justice, describes the appropriate way to pray and the contrition required of a suppliant of God, predicts the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and concludes with an act of healing.
elder minister in charge of district church management.
Elks a men's benevolent, ritualist, and fraternal order which began in 1868.
en garde a fencing term indicating that opponents have taken their places for a duel.
enchilada con carne a tortilla wrapped around a meat filling and topped with chili sauce.
entangled in the Oedipal skein ensnared in a psychological complex, which Sigmund Freud described as an unconscious attraction between mother and son. He based his term "Oedipus complex" on Oedipus, king of Thebes in Greek mythology, who inadvertently kills his father and marries his mother, sires children, then blinds and exiles himself for his crimes.
epizootic an epidemic within a herd of animals.
esposita little bride.
"The Fall of the House of Usher" one of Edgar Allan Poe's most dismal tales of horror, which features the theme of premature burial.
the Fates characters in Greek mythology who determined the course of human life.
Fillmore District the traditional black district in central San Francisco.
First Corinthians a loose rendering of I Corinthians 13:1, 3, which encourages charity in that great
Fisk a university founded in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1866, and famous for such noteworthy graduates as writer W. E. B. Du Bois and poet Nikki Giovanni.
fo' bits and six bits fifty cents and seventy-five cents.
French seams a method of doubly securing two pieces of cloth by folding over the edges of a seam and sewing a second time.
Gabriel Prosser leader of a slave revolt in 1800 in Richmond, Virginia.
George Raft popular character actor of the 1930s and 40s who frequently played smooth, menacing underworld figures in gangster movies.
German Brot dark, round glazed loaves of rye or wheat bread.
Gettin' Up Morning a Negro spiritual that describes resurrection in idiomatic terms separate the sheep (them) from the goats (the whitefolks) a reference to an image in Matthew 25:32 which pictures the separation of the saved from the unsaved as the action of a shepherd dividing sheep from goats, which are known to be quarrelsome with more peaceable animals.
Gladstone hand luggage composed of cloth or leather sides attached to a rigid frame.
a gnashing of teeth a frequent New Testament image, found in Matthew 8:12,13:42, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, and Luke 13:28.
go down on suffer a setback or defeat.
God is love. John 4:8.
God is not mocked. a portion of verse seven from Paul's letter to the Galatians, in which he warns that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
gray rococo façades housed my memories of the Forty-Niners, and Diamond Lil, Robert Service, Sutter and Jack London The ornate surroundings call up memories of San Francisco's post-Gold Rush heyday, when Diamond Lil earned fame for saloon performances and writers like Robert Service and Jack London preserved the atmosphere in picaresque poems, stories, and novels such as "The Cremation of Sam McGee," "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," Songs of a Sourdough, Tales of the Fish Patrol, and Martin Eden.
the Green Hornet a popular radio show which originated on WXYZ Detroit on January 31, 1936, and continued until December 5, 1952. The Hornet, the great nephew of the Lone Ranger, was created by George W. Trendle and written by Fran Striker, who also wrote episodes of The Lone Ranger.
had pull with influenced.
hants haunts, or ghosts.
harlot in the Bible John 8:3-11.
He who can hear, let him hear an altered version of Ezekiel 3:27.
hermaphrodite a person born with both male and female sex organs.
Horatio Alger Graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Alger (1832-99) wrote 130 books in three series — Ragged Dick, Luck and Pluck, and Tattered Tom — about determined boys who work their way up from poverty and obscurity to fame and riches. Altogether, the Horatio Alger series sold twenty million copies.
House Un-American Activities a committee of the U. S. House of Representatives convened to eradicate fascists, communists, or other un-American infiltrators through intimidation, public disclosure, or imprisonment.
How long, oh God? How long? a plea often heard in spirituals, possibly having its roots in Psalms 13:1 and Isaiah 6:11. George Bernard Shaw ends his drama Saint Joan with Joan asking, "How long, O Lord, how long?"
I came to Jesus, as I was, worried, wound, and sad, I found in Him a resting place and He has made me glad. an approximation of the third and fourth lines of verse one of "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say," an evangelistic hymn written by John B. Dykes in 1868 to a tune by Horatius Bonar.
I hungered a random summary of Matthew 25: 35-40.
in alum drops that is, bitterly.
indlay ergbay ildrenchay literally, lindberg children — that is, victims of kidnapping, like Charles Lindbergh, Jr., who was later found murdered.
inferno dwelling that is, living through the childhood hells of humiliation, hate, and abuse.
Iwo Jima a volcanic island south of Tokyo, Japan, and the site of a costly battle by American Marines in February 1945.
jacks a coordination game requiring the player to bounce a ball and toss and pick up a series of six-pointed metal game pieces.
Jane Withers Atlanta-born actress (1927- ) who, from age six, has starred in movies, television, and commercials.
John Brown American abolitionist who was hanged in 1859 for leading a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.
Jordan a river in Palestine where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. In Christian hymnology, "crossing the Jordan" symbolizes the soul's passage into heaven.
juice harp(Jew's harp) a metal or bamboo percussion instrument common to Europe and Asia since ancient times and originally named a jaw harp. Holding the harp between the teeth, the player vibrates the central stem with strums of the finger while changing positions of the mouth, tongue, and jaw to alter the resulting twangy tones.
juju magic resulting from use of a charm or amulet.
Katina Paxinou coarse-featured Greek-born film actress (1900-73) who won an Oscar for her role as Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Katzenjammer Kids cartoon characters in a New York Journal strip drawn by Rudolph Dirks. A hybrid version of Max and Moritz, a German cartoon, the strip was first printed in 1897.
Knights of Columbus a fraternal organization, founded in 1882 and limited to Catholic males.
la niña little girl.
Lester Young innovative tenor saxophonist (1909-59) for Count Basie.
Let your light so shine part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:16.
libido sex drive.
like Hamlet and Laertes in the final scene like the conclusion to Shakespeare's tragedy in which neither party survives the duel.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. . . . Blessed be the name of the Lord Job 1:21, a stoic verse often cited at funerals and graveside rites.
Louis World heavyweight champion from 1937-49, Joe Louis (1914-81), nicknamed the "Brown Bomber,"racked up a record of sixty-eight victories in seventy-one fights.
Lucullan feast lavish or extravagant entertainment, after the manner of Lucius Lucinius Lucullus (110-57 b.c.), a Roman consul and contemporary of Julius Caesar.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and be exceedingly glad an amalgam of Psalm 100:1 with Matthew 5:12.
mark the unsuspecting victim of a hoax, or con game.
married beneath her married below her social station.
Masons a men's charitable service organization, founded in 1797.
master's voice part of a slogan affixed to RCA Victor radios and phonographs along with a picture of a dog listening to sounds coming from the horn of a victrola.
Matthew: twenty-fifth chapter, thirtieth verse through the forty-sixth one of Jesus' sermons in which he reminds the faithful that he will return from a heavenly throne to question people about their charity toward "the least of these" — that is, the hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, and imprisoned.
mercados Mexican grocery stores.
Mickey Mouse Walt Disney's star of animated cartoons, who debuted in 1928.
Montgomery Ward a department store chain that offered mail order service from large catalogues that were sent to the public.
moors grassy wastelands, often the misty, mysterious settings in Gothic fiction.
morocco-bound covered in fine leather.
Mount Nebo the elevation from which Moses observed the Promised Land, as described in Deuteronomy 34:1-4.
mourners' bench a front row reserved for people troubled about illness or personal problems. Mourners sat before others who might see their suffering and join in their prayers.
"The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on . . ." a verse from Omar Khayyám's Rubaiyat which implies that fate is impervious to human wishes.
mumbledypeg a game requiring participants to flip a knife so that the blade sticks in the ground, often between the toes of the player.
my brother was far away on a raft on the Mississippi that is, Bailey was immersed in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Naked I came into the world, and naked I shall go out. an approximation of Job 1:21, which is echoed in Ecclesiastes 5:15.
Nat Turner leader of a slave revolt on August 21, 1831, which ended with the deaths of sixty white victims and the execution of Turner and sixteen other insurrectionists.
Nisei second-generation Japanese-American citizens, or sons and daughters of Japanese immigrants.
now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity I Corinthians 13:13, the conclusion of Paul's essay on charity.
numbers runners petty street criminals who collect money from people betting on a lucky number.
open sesame a foolproof method, derived from the magic command that opens the door to the robbers' lair in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
Owens Jesse Owens, son of an Alabama sharecropper, triumphed in track and field at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin against a background of Nazi racism, which favored the blue-eyed blonds of the Aryan race.
Pancho Villa colorful Mexican bandit (1878-1923).
paranoia an abnormal mental state which often causes the sufferer to feel persecuted.
pavane a slow, stately dance.
Peace, be still Jesus' command to the sea, Mark 5:39.
peckerwood worthless, untrustworthy riffraff.
pedal pushers pants extending to mid-calf length.
the Phantom Ray Moore's cartoon, which first appeared in daily newspapers on February 17, 1936, advanced to comic books, and was made into a movie serial in 1943 and a TV animation in 1986.
Pig Latin a child's private jargon of the 1930s created by placing the initial consonant plus ay at the end of the word, as in ooday for do.
pince-nez eyeglasses which have no temple pieces and which rely on a spring to secure them to the bridge of the nose.
piqué a sturdy ribbed fabric.
play pretties toys.
Pobrecita Poor little thing.
policiás police officers.
pollo en salsa verde chicken in green chili sauce.
pooched out protruded.
post-Earthquake affair a house built after the catastrophe which struck San Francisco on April 18, 1906, leaving 700 dead and blocks of buildings collapsed, burning, or uninhabitable. Many of the replacement buildings contained architectural features which were designed to prevent future earthquake destruction, such as huge bolts and stabilizing bars.
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" hymn which is a standard feature of fundamentalist revival services because of its crooning, mournful melody, melodramatic images, and gentle harmonies.
Pride and Prejudice Angelou is making a pun on the title of Jane Austen's novel.
Pride is a sin . . . it goeth before a fall a paraphrase of Proverbs 16:18.
prime ribs au jus beef ribs served with natural juices.
"Qué tiene? Qué pasa? Qué quiere?" What do you have? What's happening? What do you want?
"Quién es?" Who is this?
R.O.T.C. Reserve Officers' Training Corps, a military body which demands exacting posture and decorum.
Raise up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it a paraphrase of Proverbs 22:6.
recording angel Revelation 10:1-11.
restaurant cum gambling casino a combination restaurant and gambling casino.
Richard Arlen character actor (1898-1976) who played in Man from Montreal, Dangerous Game, Mutiny in the Arctic, and Men of the Timberland.
Rippers slashers of women, like the self-named Jack the Ripper, the unidentified mangler of seven London prostitutes from August 7 to November 10, 1888.
risco de Mexico Mexican cliff, or crag.
Rorschachs ink-blot tests which utilize respondents' interpretations of unstructured shapes to diagnose their mental states.
The Rover Boys a twenty-volume young adult series written by Edward Stratemeyer under the pseudonym Arthur M. Winfield. Stratemeyer also wrote the Tom Swirt, Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys series, a total of over eight hundred books.
Rye-al-toh A standard name for movie theaters is Rialto, taken from a highly ornate bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy.
scones and crumpets biscuits and cakes usually served with tea.
señoritas young, unmarried women.
The Shadow a popular radio program premiering on the CBS "Detective Story" in August 1930, which grew from Walter Gibson's serialized novels in Street and Smith magazine. The character was originally played by Jack LaCurto; in 1937, Orson Welles assumed the role.
Sloan's Liniment an astringent balm used to treat strains and sprains.
sloe gin a fad drink of the early 1940s composed of grain alcohol flavored with the rosy, sweet fruit of the blackthorn.
sobriquet nickname, or code name.
Southern Pacific Mole a local train which passes through tunnels in Twin Peaks, two hills in central San Francisco.
St. Vitus Dance a chronic spastic twitch of face and limbs.
string-along songs about razor blades Radio prize-fight broadcasts were sponsored by Gillette.
Suffer little children to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven. as found in Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, and Luke 18:16, a variation of Jesus' words to his disciples, who rejected children who accompanied their parents to see and hear Jesus.
taking low being humiliated or berated.
teenincy Southern dialect for very small.
Texarkana twin cities on the border of Texas and Arkansas.
thou art my good and faithful servant with whom I am well pleased an approximation of Jesus' words in the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:21.
Tiny Tim beloved crippled son of Bob Cratchit in Charles Dickens' classic novel A Christmas Carol, published in serial form in 1843.
tithe a percentage of income (usually ten percent) donated regularly to the church in obedience to the specific command of Malachi 3:10: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse that there might be meat in mine house."
Toussaint L'Ouverture François-Dominique Toussaint-L'Ouverture (1743-1803), military leader and liberator of Haiti.
turned to got busy (in this case, preparing food).
two last names divided by a hyphen the European custom of naming a child both the father's and mother's surnames.
Tyrone Power dark-eyed romantic lead (1913-58) who starred in The Razor's Edge, Captain from Castile, and Jesse James.
V-Day V-J Day, August 15, 1945, celebrating victory over Japan and marking the end of the Pacific phase of World War II.
Veronica Lake blond film actress (1919-73) made famous in the 1940s for a hairstyle that concealed one side of her face. She appeared in This Gun for Hire, Hold that Blonde, and The Blue Dahlia.
viewing gauze a layer of opaque cloth placed over the face of a corpse before public viewing, often to conceal deterioration or deep wounds.
The Well of Loneliness Radcliffe Hall's 1928 novel about lesbianism.
When I was a child I spake as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things. verse eleven from I Corinthians 13, one of the most quoted chapters in the New Testament Bible, which deals with charity.
Zapata Mexican revolutionary (1878-1919).
zoot suits flashy, disproportionate men's fashions of the early 1940s featuring oversized shoulder pads, thigh-length jackets, and drastically narrowed pants.