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Re: Once more with feeling...

Posted by ESC on March 25, 2002

In Reply to: In A coons Age posted by serenade on March 25, 2002

: The more genteel interpretation of the expression 'coon' is that it is an abbreviation of raccoon. The harsher reality is that 'coon' was used, especially in the Southern (slave-owning) states of America, to refer to the African Negroes brought as slaves to America.
: The term was used in writing in at least one instance which I found: Du Bois, W. E. B. 1903. The Souls of Black Folk: Chapter XIV. ... songs, many of the "gospel" hymns, and some of the contemporary "coon" songs,--a mass of music in which the novice may easily lose himself.
: My own experience in Australia in the fifties and sixties is that the word 'coon' was used pejoratively to refer to Aboriginal people, especially in the northern parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory. I did not encounter the term in the Kimberley region of north-west Western Australia when I was there in the early 1970s.
: So widespread was this (imported) word usage that Aboriginal groups in the 1990s sought to ban the sale of cheese sold under the brand name of 'Coon'. The campaign evidently failed after the cheese-maker published an extensive series of advertisements recounting the efforts of a Dr Edward Coon who was credited with devising the recipe.
: A coon's age, I believe, is a misnomer for longevity. Through a combination of severe hard physical labour, poor nutrition, inadequate housing and the emotional and spiritual deprivations of slavery, many African American negroes in the 18th and 19th Century aged prematurely. Even while relatively young, many negroes gave the appearance of advanced old age and were therefore made a byword for longevity.

No, no, no. "In a coon's age" is short for "in a raccoon's age." Read on:

IN A COON'S AGE - "a coon's age - Meaning 'a very long time,' a coon's age is an Americanism recorded in 1843 and probably related to the old English expression 'in a crow's age,' meaning the same. The American term is an improvement, if only because the raccoon usually lives longer -- up to 13 years in the wild - than the crow." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997), Page 168.

" 'coon or coon: 1. N. raccoon (Procyon lotor.) 'coon skins.2. v.t. to steal. 'I had to coon an ace of hearts'.3. v.i., to creep like a coon, clinging close. 'I cooned acrost on a log." From "Smoky Mountain Voices: A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech" by Harold F. Farwell, Jr., and J. Karl Nicholas, editors. (The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, Ky., 1993), Page 45. This book is based on a lifetime of work by Horace Kephart among the people who lived in or near the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

"Coon" came to mean a whole different thing later on in other parts of the country. The saying "in a coon's age" was recorded in 1843 (but I am sure it was in use decades earlier) but "coon" didn't become a term for black people UNTIL 20 YEARS LATER. Here's an entry on that:

"coon was orignally a short form for raccoon in 1741.then by 1832 meant a frontier rustic, and by 1840 a Whig. The 1834 song 'Zip Coon' (better know today as 'Turkey in the Straw') didn't refer specifically to either a White or a Black and the 'coon songs' of the 1840s and 50s were Whig political songs. By 1862, however, coon had come to mean a Black and this use was made very common by the popular 1896 song 'All Coons Look Alike to Me,' written by Ernest Hogan, a Black who didn't consider the word derogatory at the time." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976), Page 54.