Full Glossary for Their Eyes Were Watching God
Ah been feelin' dat somethin' set for still-bait In other words, she is saying that she's feeling like she's the target of the community disapproval, like a bait on a hook that can't move or wriggle as a worm might do.
Ah done cut a hawg I've made a mistake. Tea Cake thinks that perhaps he has said something he shouldn't have said.
Ah knowed you would going tuh crawl up dat holler In other words, I knew that you were going to take that path in the discussion. Sam will "smoke out" Lige in his rebuttal. The two men engage in regular and predictable arguments. Each one knows pretty well what the other one will say, but all of this is part of the entertainment on the porch of the store.
Ah'm uh son of Combunction a polite way of swearing; similar to "Well, I'll be a son of a gun. . . ."
All de women in de world ain't . . . teppentine still and saw mill camp free and easy women, women from the lowest level of laborers. Turpentine stills and saw mills were usually located in the woods, removed from town and close to the trees essential for their products.
All them dat's goin' tuh cut de monkey in other words, if everyone has finished acting silly.
and yo' feet ain't mates In the first part of Matt's response, he does something that frequently occurs in folk speech: He equates the man Sam with a lie. "You'se a lie, Sam," he says, adding "Yo' feet ain't mates," meaning that Sam is not put together right and hence can't be believed.
angel with the sword a metaphor for death; the biblical reference comes from Numbers 22:23: ". . . the angel standing in the door with his sword drawn. . . ."
Bahaman drummers Hurston worked with Bahaman musicians in one of her theatrical efforts, and she used some of their nicknames for the characters in this novel.
bander log possibly a long log that people sat on while they bantered, joked, and gossiped.
beaten biscuits Southern cooks have long prided themselves on their beaten biscuits, pounding the dough for 20 or 30 minutes with a mallet or hammer, beating air into it until it is light.
before de ornery varmit could tack a sailing and boating term, consistent with the strong wind that was blowing during this episode. To a sailor, "tack" means to turn the bow to the wind. The mule wasn't fast enough to turn and run into the wind in pursuit of the children.
bell-cow the leader of the herd; here, the most important women in town.
black gaiters ankle-high shoes with elastic gores at the sides. For Joe, they would be a classy sort of houseslipper.
black-eyed peas and rice This combination is known as "Hoppin' John." It is a staple with a long history in Southern cooking.
booger man the mythical monster who is often called the "boogeyman"; a frightening imaginary being, often used as a threat in disciplining children.
bore the burden in the heat of the day The biblical reference is to Matthew 20:12: "These latecomers did only one hour's work, yet you have treated them on a level with us, who have sweated the whole day long in the blazing sun."
bucked each other beat and/or challenged each other.
buy and sell such as them Nanny is concerned about both the protection and economic security that Logan can offer Janie.
celebration funerals and wakes often become festive affairs when family and friends gather, not only for the burial but also for a celebration of the life of the deceased.
class off act better than other people, show off.
cold-cocked her a look looked her straight in the eyes.
come kiss and be kissed come and talk to me, Janie is saying; it's implied that the townspeople should do more of this in their lives.
commence to begin; start; originate.
crazy as a betsy bug a variation of "crazy as a bed bug," an insect of a family (Cimicidae) of wingless, bloodsucking hemipteran insects, especially the species (Cimex lectularius) with a broad, flat reddish-brown body and an unpleasant odor that infests beds, furniture, walls, and so on, is active mainly at night, and may transmit a variety of diseases.
Daisy is walking a drum tune The drum is the key percussion instrument in a musical group. It sets the tempo. Daisy is walking with the stylish snap of a precision solo drummer — and she knows it!
dat great big ole scoundrel beast up dere The speaker is referring to a picture of an enormous dinosaur on a billboard advertising the Sinclair Oil Company. A dinosaur was the logo of Sinclair and was prominently displayed at their filling stations. In all likelihood, the men do not know it is a dinosaur.
dat ole forty year ole 'oman a reference to Janie; the remark, by a woman, about a woman, is made out of spite and envy. Although Janie is 40 years old, she is still an attractive woman, much to the annoyance of the women.
de big fuss in de store dat Joe was 'fixed' and you wuz de one dat did it Here again, the busybodies are at work, suggesting that Janie has put some sort of spell on Joe. Joe is terminally ill, and the people do not understand the illness. It is much easier for them to accuse Janie of putting a voodoo spell on Joe to hasten his death than it is for them to understand that Joe's condition is helpless.
De big Sunday School picnic The Sunday School picnic that took place on a spring or summer day was often the biggest social event in a small community like Eatonville.
de Jim Crow law These are laws associated with traditional discrimination against or segregation of blacks, especially in the United States.
Dixie Highway U.S. Highway 1, the major Maine-to-Florida highway in the old U.S. highway system.
Don't keer how big uh lie get told, somebody kin b'lieve it Tea Cake believes that the size of a lie has nothing to do with whether some people will believe it.
Drag him out to the edge of the hammock a precarious place to be because a hammock tips very easily when the occupant gets too close to the edge.
dyke . . . Indians Hurston has inserted two seemingly insignificant details here which she will later use for dramatic effect when the hurricane strikes. Tea Cake and Janie live very close to the lake, and they will see Indians leaving as the storm approaches — yet they choose to ignore the wisdom of these local people.
An envious heart makes the treacherous ear Pheoby characterizes the gossipy women with this biblical-sounding adage.
fall down and wash up fall down and worship.
fall to their level The women hope that Janie will someday, somehow, stop having an aura about her. Her charisma reinforces their envy and is proof that they do not think well of themselves.
Feeds 'im offa 'come up' and seasons it wid raw-hide This is a way of saying that the animal is not well fed. "Come up" would be a promise — someone is waiting for something to come up, a job, for example. Rawhide is untanned cattle skin, certainly not very palatable for man or beast. Rawhide is also a material used for whips.
fetid having a bad smell, as of decay; putrid.
flivver a small, cheap automobile, especially an old one.
Folks up dat way don't eat biscuit bread but once a week Biscuits must be made of white wheat flour, something better than cornmeal. Cornmeal is the staple of the poor, used in corn bread, corn pone, hush puppies, cornmeal mush, and a host of other stomach-filling items. Biscuits are special and an indication of some prosperity.
fracas a noisy fight or loud quarrel; brawl.
fractious hard to manage; unruly; rebellious; also, peevish; irritable; cross.
freezolity indifference, or a lack of interest.
Give it uh poor man's trial A poor man takes any respectable job he can get and does his best with it.
gold and red and purple, the gloat and glamor of secret orders Joe evidently belonged to several lodges or fraternal orders, and each one has a different ritual to be performed when a member dies. Hurston mentions the Elks (BPOE) band that plays at Joe's funeral.
goosing a sudden, playful prod in the backside.
got in quotation wid people Sherman's march had ended, the slaves had been freed, and the Union had set up a system to help the freedmen. It was only by talking around, though, that Nanny found out what was going on.
hard of understandin' Pheoby will want a detailed explanation to be sure that she understands all that Janie says.
He ain't got uh dime tuh cry The townspeople are sure that Tea Cake has no money. Janie, however, knows he works and always pays their way.
He'd be all right just as soon as the two-headed man found what had been buried against him Hurston discusses this phrase of conjure in Mules and Men. If indeed Janie has "fixed" Joe, then the conjure man has to find out what the "fix" is and where it is buried. His next task would be to concoct something that would counteract the "fix." All of this was done for a fee, of course, preferably paid in advance.
a huge live oak tree an evergreen oak.
in and through Georgy living in and passing through the state of Georgia.
Isaac and Rebecca at de well This biblical reference is not literally accurate. Isaac never met Rebecca at the well. Isaac's father's servant encountered Rebecca at the well. The servant had prayed for divine guidance in finding a wife for Isaac — that after his long journey to the land of Aramnaharaim, a generous and humble woman would approach him at the community well and offer him a drink of fresh water from her jug, as well as to offer to draw sufficient water for his camels. Rebecca did so and agreed to leave her village and travel to the land of Canaan to become Isaac's wife.
kissin' yo' foot acting more like a servant than a husband and an equal.
kitchen matches These were a type of common household matches made for years by, among others, the Ohio Match Company. They were about two-and-a-half to three inches long and were sold in a box, the side of which contained a strip of abrasive-like fine sandpaper. The abrasive contained the chemicals needed to ignite the match when it was briskly scraped across the surface. Before electric stoves and gas stoves with the automatic pilot lights, no kitchen was complete without a box of these matches. Many campers still include them in their equipment.
knocked up pregnant.
laden loaded; burdened or afflicted.
lamps and chimneys the reference is to kerosene lamps. Apparently, Janie, a good housekeeper, either left the lamps clean when she went away or took time to clean at least one of them as soon as she returned. Kerosene lamps and their chimneys must be clean in order to function properly.
lap-legged brother a suggestion that Mrs. Turner's brother's legs are malformed and not straight — clearly, an insult.
Last summer dat multiplied cock-roach wuz round heah tryin' tuh sell gophers Janie and Pheoby have no time for the charlatan, the "two-headed" doctor, the scheming, self-serving quack. Note the hyperbole "multiplied cock-roach." Note also that "gopher" could be a mispronunciation of "goopher," a well-known conjure mixture. It is usually an herb-root mixture alleged to have great power to do whatever the two-headed doctor said it would do.
like a pack of chessy cats The reference is to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, who had an all-knowing smile. Here, Janie is saying that all of her gentlemen callers have smug, too-confident grins on their faces.
a lost ball in de high grass The townspeople love baseball; not only do they like to watch it, but they also like to play it. The field where they play has tall, uncut grass, and fly balls are often lost and the game delayed while both teams search for the ball.
Love is lak de sea . . . it's different with every shore Hurston uses the simile to explain that love is different for everyone who experiences it.
meriny skin like browned-egg-white meringue; a complexion color.
Middle Georgy the middle of the state of Georgia.
a mink skin . . . a coon hide one thing looks pretty much like something else until both can be studied carefully. No one can understand what Janie's life was like with Tea Cake or with Joe until each is examined carefully.
money and insurance papers This is further evidence that Tea Cake is a responsible man, even though he ignores the storm warnings and will be stubborn about not seeing a doctor.
monstropolous hyperbole invented by Hurston; perhaps an extension of monstrous.
motherless chile Tea Cake is out of his element. He feels as though he doesn't belong to anyone, like a child in slavery sold away from its mother. The song "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is often included in collections of spirituals.
Mouth-Almighty someone who talks too much.
mulatto rice a concoction of cooked rice, chopped and browned onions, crisp bacon bits, and some chopped tomatoes.
never hit us a lick amiss never beat or spanked the children when they didn't deserve it.
No Matt Bonner with plow lines Plow lines control an animal. Now that the mule is dead, he will no longer be hitched to the plow.
palma christi leaves the leaves of a gigantic herb plant called palma christi in Spanish-speaking countries; its leaves are believed to reduce severe headaches.
peart lively, chipper, sprightly, smart, and so on.
pickin' my box playing my guitar.
pink silk vest Janie's "vest," or undershirt, is made of silk. Chances are that most of the women in Eatonville wore cotton underclothes.
porch sitters hard-working farmers and laborers; men and women who work for someone else — a white boss. Only in the evening do they gain control of their time. Janie's late husband, Joe Starks, seems to be the only man in Eatonville who didn't work for someone else.
Protolapsis uh de cutinary linin' The reference is to something that upsets the stomach and makes a person nervous. Hurston is pointing out the men's fondness for impressive words, whether they have real meaning or not.
quart of coon-dick cheap moonshine or bootleg whiskey.
relic Janie is the relic, or the person who has survived, from their marriage. The word could also be an echo of the Old English term relict, which means surviving the death of another.
ribbon-cane syrup sorghum molasses.
round house a circular house building, with a turntable in the center, used for storing and repairing locomotives.
rub board The old-fashioned galvanized or glass washing board was in common use before washing machines became economically available.
run our conversation from grassroots to pine trees We've gone as far as we can go with this conversation — from minor matters to larger issues. Hurston has used other expressions like this to indicate limits and extremes in conversations.
Sam Watson, you'se mah fish a good catch — not an empty hook for the fisherman or woman. Joe plans to beat Sam at checkers — that is catch him like a fish on his hook.
Saws another name for Bahamans.
Say you started tuh Miccanopy but de mule . . . Miccanopy is a small community northwest of Eatonville. The man didn't really know where he was going.
school out . . . high bush and sweeter berry take more time to look around and think about what you want to do. Picking a good husband is compared to knowing what part of a berry bush has the sweetest fruit.
sense her into things Sam Watson wants Pheoby to talk some common sense into Janie.
set for still bait a term for fishing, meaning that the bait is easy for the fish to grab.
She sits high, but she looks low Lulu Moss suggests that while Janie carries herself in a high-mannered way, her social standing has come down considerably after her relationship with Tea Cake.
side-meat Matt bought side meat by the slice. Side meat is meat from the side of a pig, specifically bacon or salt pork. In Joe's store, it would be sold by the slab to be sliced at home by the purchaser or sliced and weighed in the store. This is another indication of Matt's poverty or ignorance — or both.
sit in the doorway Hurston does not even suggest that the migrants go into Janie's house.
sitting on their shoulder blades a position that's closer to lying down that sitting.
Six months behind de United States privy house at hard smellin' The reference is to a privy, a toilet, especially an outhouse, which has a thoroughly obnoxious smell if it hasn't been properly maintained. This is Tea Cake's metaphor for being tossed into a federal jail and put to hard work.
sleeveholders fancy elastic bands similar to women's garters, worn on the upper arm of a shirt sleeve to be sure that the cuff falls exactly where the wearer wants it.
snappish cross or irritable, uncivil; sharp-tongued.
The 'ssociation of life . . . De Grand Lodge, de big convention of livin' Janie refers here to the common experience of belonging to fraternal or church organizations and going to their conventions and meetings. Janie wants Pheoby to understand that her experiences in the past eighteen months were as exciting as attending a convention.
stolid having or showing little or no emotion or sensitivity; unexcitable; impassive.
stove wood Although Janie has the most pretentious house in town, it does not have gas or electricity; she must cook on a wood-burning stove.
the street lamp Before electric lights were common, cities and towns lighted their streets with gas lamps. The lamplighter would go around at dusk with a small four- or five-step ladder which he would climb to open the globe of the lamp and light the wick.
"studied jury" Educational resources were limited for this community, and there were very few men with college degrees in law or medicine — or even the ministry. In Mules and Men, Hurston has a character say, "You see when Ah was studyin' doctor . . ." Whereas a man or woman might get a "call" to the ministry, the path to informal law or medicine was self-study or perhaps apprenticeship with a practitioner.
sugar-tit cloth tied around a bit of sugar to form a nipple-like pacifier for a baby.
Then too she considered thirty-five is twice seventeen Janie has grown older and is more experienced than when Nanny married her off to Logan Killicks. She realizes how much of her life has passed. Accurate addition isn't important, the passage of time is.
They don't know if life is a mess of corn-meal dumplings and if love is a bed quilt The experiences of the townspeople are so limited that they can't make any valid observations on life and love.
The thing that Saul's daughter had done to David In I Samuel 18-19, Saul has two daughters, Merab and Michal. Saul gave Michal to David, and she saved his life. Saul was immensely jealous of David because of his youth, beauty, intelligence, and potential power. Saul wanted to kill him, but Michal foiled the plot.
to study about Mrs. Sumpkins' phrase that means she isn't "thinking about" Janie; ironically, from her remarks, she has evidently spent much time doing just that.
trouble and compellment Tea Cake is troubled by the white guards forcing him — compelling him — to help bury the dead.
Tryin' not to keep you outa yo' comfortable no longer'n you wanted to stay In other words, I don't want to keep you here in this uncomfortable place any longer than you want to stay. Earlier in the novel, Tea Cake wanted to comb Janie's hair, and she referred to it as her "comfortable," not his. "Comfortable" would be a unique personal possession.
twelve o'clock whistle Jacksonville is a railroad town, and railroad shops usually had loud whistles that sounded at regular times during the day.
two hundred dollars inside her shirt Janie is following some basic wisdom shared by wise women: Always have enough money on hand for your fare home — no matter who your date is.
uh butt-headed cow a stubborn animal that won't do what its owner wants it to do.
uh common trial similar to the definition above. Just to be working, Tea Cake will take any job available.
uh mite too previous In this particular colloquialism, "previous" means "a little too early."
a vanishing-looking kind of man Mr. Turner's presence is so insignificant that he seems about to vanish.
watchin' de job watching and waiting for Tea Cake to die.
Well, if she must eat out of a long-handled spoon, she must A long-handled spoon has a long history in the English language. Chaucer uses it in The Squire's Tale: "Therfore bihooeth hire ful loong spoon/That shall ete with a feend." It also occurs in Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors: "He must have a long spoon that must eat with the devil." Joe has become almost evil in his illness, and Janie must treat him with all caution — with a long-handled spoon, something that she would use if she were to dine with the devil. References to a long-handled spoon are treated in most standard books of quotations.
Y'all really playin' de dozens tuhnight trading insults, usually in a predictable way, but the insults are based on exaggeration of personal traits and involve derogatory statements about members of each other's family — often, someone's mother.
yo' royal diasticutis a sarcastic reference to Janie's buttocks.
you didn't have gumption "Gumption" is shrewdness in practical matters; common sense.
You got me in de go long opening for a proposal of marriage. Janie has captivated Tea Cake, and he will "go long" through life with her.