Harlem Jive

Autophysiopsychic Partnership

Writings of the Yusef Lateef Quartet

by Robert Cunningham

Nigger you ask me if I know how to live!!! Is the Pope Catholic? Is a pig pork? Baby-sweets I’ve been living high on the hog since before you was knee-high-to-a grasshopper. Let Sugar daddy pull your coat to the happnins of the hour. A deuce a bells ago me and my main dog, a fine banana from the windy-city split for the apple in a blood red on red LD and if I’m lyin I’m flyin and Mona Lisa was manchild. We went straight to soulville. Lo and beho the first thing we peeped was my main man Slick Sam the black gonga man. He was clean as a chittlin and feelin’ no pain. The dude laided some green on us that was so clean and mean made you wanta screem – slap ya granmanny – somewhere there’s music how high’s the moon. My man put some down platters on the box and we listen to the voice of my master, Charlie Parker, “Autumn in New York,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “Nows the Time,” OOO Baby OOO Baby Feels so good – Feels so good. Me, he and my lady started to move and groove, dinner at the “Y” Why not? the fountain of her youth. We just keep on keepin on 1-in-1, 2-in-2, 88 you 8 and I 8. Let it roll, let it roll, all night long. Don’t knock it someneelce will rock it. Try it you’ll like it OOOOPs I ate the hose’s thing.

Jive is a form of language peculiar to Blacks of the ghetto. Jive goes back to early slavery, to the people whose native languages had been taken away from them. Jive was our new language, jive was a code language, a way to speak to your brother and not be understood by the slave master, the overseer. Jive is a way to convert a cold rhythmless language (English), add some sing-song to it, add some rhythm, make it pulsate as do the native tongues of Mother Africa. Jive was a way to communicate when the police were on the scene and all you were doing was trying to get the house rent have a little fun and fry some fish on Saturday night. Jive was just away to tell your lady you loved her without sounding like Clark Gable. Jive was an attempt to have a language of our own, one that was not spoken by the white world. When jive terminology comes into common usage by white society, the terms used are rejected by the Black community; they are no longer secretive and therefore not as useful. By the time whites “get hip” to jive jargon it never seems to retain the meaning it had in the Black community. Take the word “ofay” which is used to mean white is now used by whites to refer to themselves. Very few whites realize the source or implications of this word. Ofay is a pig-latin term whose root is the word foe. When foe is translated into pig-latin we remove the f and add it to the end and add a, the result being oefa or ofay.

I was a heavy user of jive in my teens. I found it to be a language in which I took much time, thought and pride. But upon reaching adulthood and faced with the problem of being understood in the business world I was at a loss for words, words that I felt were appropriate. Since I have become aware of the need for precise communication in the business world I have been exerting a conscious effort to develop good English. I have a strong desire to be able to speak and write with clarity and precision. You can have all that jive.

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