Alaga syrup a brand of cough syrup popular in black communities, especially in the South.
Anglophile a term applied to someone who has an enormous admiration for and devotion to things British.
asafetida bags small bags often used in folk medicine, filled with a bitter, foul-smelling mixture from the roots of various Asiatic plants and worn around the neck in order to ward off disease.
Betty Grable An American actress and film star (1916–73), she was the most popular pin-up girl of World War II; she co-starred with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee (1934) and later appeared in such films as Moon Over Miami (1941) and The Pin-Up Girl (1944).
Big Mama and Big Papa Claudia and Frieda’s grandmother and grandfather.
Black Draught a liquid, over-the-counter laxative; sometimes it is used to combat colds.
CCC camps the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal jobs program during the 1930s and ’40s.
Chittlin’ here, a nickname; chitterlings, the small intestines of pigs, are a soul food staple-battered, deep-fat fried, and served with lots of catsup, along with corn sticks and cooked greens.
Christ’s love of Mary Magdalene According to the Gospels, Mary of Magdala was cured of seven demons by Christ (Luke 8:2) and was at the foot of the cross when he was crucified (Mark 15:40). According to popular tradition, Mary Magdalene was also the woman who, on two occasions (Luke 7:37–38 and John 12:3), washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, drying them with her hair. She has become symbolic of repentant sinners.
Clark Gable an American film actor (1901–1960) who personified his era’s notion of the virile, adventurous American male. He won an Academy Award for It Happened One Night (1934) and is best known for his portrayal of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Claudette Colbert An American stage and film actress (1903–1996) born in Paris, she won an Academy Award for best actress in It Happened One Night.
Dante an Italian poet (1265–1321) best known for his Divine Comedy, which details his vision as he progresses through Hell and Purgatory, escorted by the poet Virgil, and is guided to Paradise by his lifelong idealized love, Beatrice, who leads him to the throne of God.
De Gobineau a French diplomat and social philosopher (1816–1982) whose racial theories became a philosophical justification for Nazi “ethnic cleansing.” His most famous work, Essay on the Inequality of Human Races, states that the Aryan race is superior to all other races. His theory of racial superiority has been thoroughly refuted, of course, and is considered worthless by modern anthropologists.
dicty-like black slang for snobbish, or haughty.
Dostoevsky a Russian writer (1821–1881) whose works combine religious mysticism with profound psychological insight. He is best known for his Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
drays low, sturdily built carts with detachable sides for carrying oversize loads.
eating bread and butter Butter was a treat not often enjoyed by the poor.
Fels Naphtha a popular cleaning product.
gandy dancers workers on a railroad section gang; they are probably named because of the movements made while using tools from the Gandy Manufacturing Company.
Gibbon Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) is best known for his six-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. In this work, which covers a time span of thirteen centuries, Gibbon espoused the view that the decline and fall were inevitable because of the withering of the classical tradition of intellectual inquiry. He blamed this trend, in part, on the rise of Christianity. His negative treatment of Christianity and his bitter irony made the work a subject of controversy.
Ginger Rogers Best known for the movie musicals she made as Fred Astaire’s dance partner, Rogers (1911–1995) received a 1940 Academy Award for best actress for her role in Kitty Foyle.
Greater and Lesser Antilles The whole of the West Indies, except the Bahamas, is called the Antilles. The Greater Antilles include Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles include the Virgin Islands, Windward Islands, Leeward Islands, the southern group of the Netherlands Antilles, Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago.
Greta Garbo This Swedish-American actress (1905–1990) began her career in silent films and successfully switched to “talkies” in the 1930s. Her most famous films include Mata Hari, Anna Karenina, and Ninotchka.
Hamlet’s abuse of Ophelia Ophelia is in love with Hamlet, who treats her with alternating contempt and tenderness. She is a tragic character, driven mad by unrequited love, and drowns herself after Hamlet mistakenly kills her father.
Hedy Lamarr An American film actress born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna, Austria (1913–2000), she co-starred with Judy Garland in Ziegfield Girl (1941) and later starred in Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949).
Henry Ford a car manufacturer; one of America’s richest men during the 1940s.
“Imitation of Life” a black-and-white film released in 1934, in which a white woman becomes rich through the pancake recipe of her black servant; meantime, the black servant is deeply saddened when her light-skinned daughter chooses to pass for white. This version of the Fannie Hurst novel starred Claudette Colbert.
incorrigival a youthful mispronunciation of “incorrigible,” unable to be corrected, improved, or reformed.
Jane Withers A 1930s-40s tomboy actress with dark eyes and dark hair, she was the antithesis of the Shirley Temple icon.
Jean Harlow Hollywood’s prototype for the American blonde bombshell, Harlow (1911–1937) went on to reign supreme in the films of the early 1930s and starred opposite Clark Gable in Red Dust (1932) and China Seas (1935).
Lucky Strike a brand of cigarettes.
Maginot Line a system of heavy fortifications built before World War II on the eastern frontier of France; it failed to prevent invasion by the Nazi forces.
Mason jars glass jars used for canning homegrown fruits and vegetables.
met his Beatrice Beatrice (pronounced Bay-ah-tree-chay) was the ideal woman, beloved by the poet Dante and the symbol of divine and ideal love. She leads Dante through one portion of the Divine Comedy.
Ministratin’ a youthful mispronunciation of “menstruating.”
misanthrope a person who hates and distrusts people.
Moirai In classical Greek mythology, they are the Fates, the goddesses of birth and death.
muscadine a musky grape grown in the southeast United States; often used for making wine.
Nu Nile Hair Oil a hair product used by black men.
Othello, Desdemona, Iago characters from Shakespeare’s Othello. Othello the dark Moor marries the fair, blonde Desdemona and is deceived by the villainous Iago, who falsely accuses Desdemona of being unfaithful. In a fit of jealousy, Othello kills her.
our roomer People sometimes rent rooms within their houses (or even apartments) in order to supplement their incomes.
pomaded with soap lather using soap lather as a hair-grooming product.
sealing wax a combination of resin and turpentine that is used for sealing letters.
Sen-Sen a breath freshener made of aromatic dried particles.
Shet up! a dialectic pronunciation of “Shut up!”
Shirley Temple Adored by everyone, Shirley Temple, with her hallmark dimples, corkscrew golden curls, and twinkling blue eyes, was the highest-paid child actress of the 1930s and early 1940s.
slop jar an indoor container that takes the place of toilets, especially for night use or for people too ill to walk outside to an outhouse.
take holt a dialectic pronunciation of “take hold of.”
Vick’s salve a widely used medication to treat colds; sometimes it is taken internally, although directions on the jar warn against doing so.