Glossary for 'Eulalie and Washerwoman'

Conjure Woman's Cat

  • Able Grable - 1940s' slang for an attractive and available woman, based on the name of the actress Betty Grable, 1916-1973.
  • A messa mashe af deer – a Yiddish curse calling for somebody to die a horrible death.
  • Aunt Hagar – According to myth, Blacks are descendants of Abraham and Hagar and Whites are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, making Hagar the first ancestor of all African American slaves. This myth is behind the 1920s W. C. Handy/J. Tim Brymn blues song “Aunt Hagar's Blues” (also called “Aunt Hagar’s Children”).
  • Aunt Sally's Policy Players Dream Book - One of the better known books that list objects found in dreams and assign them to one or more numbers that were used for placing bets in policy and bolita gambling. The book was initially published in 1889.
  • Bellamy Bridge – An old bridge over the Chipola River north of Marianna, Florida, which is long said to be haunted. Out of service for many years, the bridge is now part of a heritage trail.
  • Beelutherhatchee - An imaginary place.
  • Big moose comes down from the mountain – Something important is happening, perhaps personal, perhaps judgement day.
  • Blue flagged – Blue flags on a locomotive or car indicated that the rolling stock could not be moved due to a maintenance or other issue. Metal signs have since replaced the flags.
  • "Blue Shadows" - One of several songs with this name, the one mentioned in the book comes from the 1950s Lowell Fulson, 1921-1999, recording. Born in Oklahoma, is work followed the "West Coast blues Tradition" with its jazz and jump blues influences. A memorable line from the song is "You know, the blues is my companion, every night and every day.”
  • Bogot people - Descendants of the Lower Creek Apalachicolas who sought refuge near present-day Blountstown, Florida when Indians were sent westward in the years following President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal act of 1830.
  • Chamber Lye – Urine used as a detergent. In folk magic, female urine brings luck in gambling, especially when it’s used to “feed” (adding various liquids to keep ingredients active and powerful) a mojo bag.
  • Chap nit – Yiddish expression generally translated as “not so fast!”
  • Chewing John - One of three roots named after the mythic John the Conqueror who was purported to be a Black slave who knew how to outwit and/or cast spells upon his master without getting caught. To say his name would protect a person from being hexed. Chewing John,  Alpina galanga, is chewed liketobacco for luck in court cases. See “Three Johns.”
  • Claude Neal - Claude Neal was accused of raping and murdering Lola Cannady in Jackson County, Florida in 1934. While he was arrested and charged, insufficient evidence was found to take the case to trial. Though he was moved from jail in order to keep him out of the hands of angry citizens, Neale was ultimately captured, tortured and lynched by a mob. No one was ever charged for his murder.
  • Conjure Woman – Female hoodoo practitioners who communicate with the spirit world, employ herbs for common physical ailments, and who create spells, powders and charms within the scope of natural magic often as an adjunct to a strong Christian faith. Conjure women were feared and sought out for what they could do and are a strong part of the Southern African American tradition as well as the blues songs that went hand-in-glove with it. Ntozake Shange wrote that "African American writers are empowering their conjuring women protagonists to find God in themselves and love her fiercely." Much of the mainstream awareness of conjure originated with Charles Chestnut's 1899 book The Conjure Woman. Chestnut's stories were highly influential in the work of other writers including Zora Neale Hurston.
  • Cooper Book - A Sacred Harp tunebook first published by W. M. Cooper in 1902, and popular in the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. A 2012 revised edition is available. See Sacred Harp.
  • Coowahchobee - The phonetic version of the Seminole word for "panther." The Seminoles spoke dialects of Muscogee/Creek and Mikasuki/Hitchiti that whites referred to as the "Seminole language.” The Seminole people did not have a written language.
  • Diddy-Wah-Diddy – A mythical town dreamt about by slaves and those conscripted into turpentine camps, chain gangs and orange grove labor in which ready-to-eat food presented itself to those who were hungry and sat on the curb waiting to be fed for free.
  • Dime - Mercury dimes worn around one's neck or sequestered in a shoe or mojo bag were thought to improve a person's finances.
  • “Doggone my Good Luck Soul” - Hattie Hudson recorded this song for Columbia in 1927. It includes the line, "I've got a gold horseshoe, going to put in on my door, doggone my good luck soul." There is speculation that this little-known singer might have lived in Dallas and also recorded as Hattie Burlson.
  • Dominicker – While the word generally refers to a breed of chicken, it’s an old pejorative term indicating a person of mixed blood, often used for an individual of African American and American Indian parentage.
  • Elvie Thomas - Blues singer/guitarist, 1891- 1979, from Texas who is often remembered for her "Motherless Child Blues."
  • Fahbleecheechee – English rendering of the Seminole spoken word for “hurricane.”
  • Fat 'round de heart – Slang for “scared” or “worried.”
  • Florida Water - A floral scented toilet water used by hoodoo practitioners for spiritual cleansing, the protection of a place or person, and for luck in gambling.
  • Floy Floy - Slang term for venereal disease that can also refer to trash talk. Slim Gaillard, Slam Stewart, and Bud Green popularized the term in their 1938 jazz song "Flat Foor Floogie (with a floy floy)"
  • Four Thieves Vinegar - Purportedly originating in 15th century Italy as a preventive medicine, the varied recipes for this preparation were later adopted in magic for personal protection. Root doctors’ clients would drink it or put it in their bath water.
  • Fuswa - English rendering of the Seminole spoken word for “bird.”
  • Geeshie Wiley – A 1930s blues singer and guitar player remembered for "Last Kind Words." Information about Wiley and her rare OKeh recording is sketchy.
  • Goofer Dust – A mixture of ingredients, including graveyard dirt, snake skin and sulfur, used to harm or kill another person who walks through it or is hexed via a sachet. Places where goofer dust has been spread are said to have been goofered. The term is sometimes used to refer to hexes or hexed places in general.
  • Havana Blossom - A moist, unsweetened brand of scrap chewing tobacco that was popular during the 1940s and 1950s. Loose leafed chewing tobacco is also known as “scrap” as opposed to plugs or pellets. Unlike dipping tobacco which is held in the mouth between the lip and gum, scrap is meant to be chewed.
  • Hinny - The offspring of a male horse and a female donkey. Conversely, a mule is the offspring of a make donkey and a female horse.
  • Hoodoo - A varied system of folk magic primarily of African origin. Practitioners, also called conjurers or root doctors, often included Kabalistic and Christian influences, Native American and European herbal knowledge and a variety of other occult beliefs in work on behalf of their clients. Hoodoo is not a synonym for the Voodoo religion.
  • How I Got Over” - Written by Clara Ward, 1924-1973, of the "Famous Ward Sisters," in 1951, this gospel hymn would receive a wider audience when Mahalia Jackson sang it in 1961 and Aretha Franklin sang it in 1972. Purportedly, the song was inspired by a racially charged incident when Clara, her sister Willa, and their mother Gertrude were attacked by white men who were angry about the Wards' luxury vehicle. The men fled when Gertrude pretended to be possessed by demons. Clara’s sister, Willa Ward-Royster, wrote How I Got Over: Clara Ward and the World-Famous Ward Singers about the group in 1997.
  • Hoyt’s Cologne - An inexpensive perfume that, in folk magic, was used as bring good luck in gambling.
  • Hush Arbor - A secret, out-of-the-way place where slaves would congregate to practice their religion, one that tended to combine Christian teachings with traditional African practices and beliefs. Many songs grew out of these meetings and were passed down as spirituals.
  • Ida Goodson - A blues/jazz singer and piano player, 1909 – 2000, from Pensacola, Florida, remembered for her keyboard work in silent films and bands and for her rendition of the slow gospel song "Precious Lord" with a boogie-woogie ending.
  • Jick – Whiskey, often moonshine.
  • Jick Head – A drunk.
  • Joe Moore – Pronounced, Joe Mow (JOMO), the term is used by some conjurers to refer to objects used as charms, often related to gambling or personal protection. The term has also been used as a synonym for MOJO and for conjure work in general.
  • Jook - Also known as a juke joint or a barrelhouse, a bar offering food, drink, dancing, gambling and socializing. The word rhymes with “took.”
  • Judas eye – A belief that a conjurer can harm a person by looking at him.
  • Jump Jim Crow - A slave song about a trickster named Jim Crow popularized with added verses by Thomas Dartmouth "Daddie" Rice in 1928. Once the song was appropriated by whites, the terminology became a pejorative, blackface offering. The song's popularity was in part responsible for segregation laws being called Jim Crow Laws.
  • "Lady Luck Blues" - Written by William Weber and Clarence Williams, this song was associated with Bessie Smith, 1894-1937, who recorded it in 1923. As a major influence on other jazz singers, she was called the "Empress of the Blues."
  • “Life’s a Problem” - A powerful song recorded by Sister O. M. Terrell with her cross-note-tuned guitar about the hope one has via God no matter how poor, lame or blind they may be. She recorded the song for Columbia Records in the 1953. Unfortunately, Columbia released the record as country music making it hard for Terrell's fans to find her. Those who loved this song never forgot the line “You may not have the longest end of the rope.”
  • Mister Charlie – An out-of-use pejorative term used by African Americans. Originally, it meant any white man. Later it came to refer to whites in power.
  • Mojo Bag - A flannel bag containing magical items, sometimes called a conjure hand or trick bag. Tricks are spells. Hands are preparations that require multiple ingredients. Mojo bags are used for love, luck and protection, among other things, and contain animal parts, written prayers or names, herbs and minerals.
  • Papa Charlie Jackson - Jackson, 1887-1938, was an influential blues singer and musician whose songs often contained bawdy lyrics, including "4-11-44" recorded in 1926. Most of the references to policy bidding numbers wouldn’t make sense to a modern audience. “Salty Dog Blues” is considered his best-known song.
  • “Pick Poor Robin Clean” - A popular gambling-oriented song composed and recorded by Luke Jordan, 1892-1952, for Victor in 1927. It was also recorded by Elvie Thomas and Geechie Wiley in 1931.
  • “Policy Blues” - A numbers-oriented song sung by Bo Carter (Armenter Chatmon), a Delta Blues singer active in the 1920s and 1930s often remembered for his bawdy songs. "Policy Blues" from 1931 is one of several with that title, and includes the line "Policy man, if my numbers come out, don't fool around on the street."
  • "Precious Lord" - Gospel song written in 1932 by Thomas A. Dorsey, 1899-1993 (adapted from an 1844 hymn) after his wife died in childbirth. Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, Clara Ward, and Tennessee Ernie Ford are among those who have recorded it.
  • Ring Shout - A circular dance originating in Africa that was brought to the United States by slaves and merged with Christian beliefs. Ring shouts were often used after church services and at funerals, featuring a shuffling dance step, percussive hand clapping and stick tapping, and call-and-response singing.
  • Sacred Harp - An a cappella, Protestant-based singing style associated with the Southern United States, with a deep ancestry going back to England’s psalter hymnals and the influence of New England’s “Bay Psalm Book.” The name, selection of songs, and the method are said to have begun with Benjamin Franklin White and Elisha J. King’s The Sacred Harp, published in 1844. Intended as a method of worship and expression, Sacred Harp singers stand in what’s called a “hollow square,” facing toward the center (rather than outward toward an audience) where the leader directs the music.
  • Sanctified Church - A Pentecostal Christian church popular with African American congregations, also referred to as a praise church. Church goers believe salvation comes through God's grace and the baptism (sanctification) of the Holy Ghost.
  • Schmendrick _Yiddish word for “pipsqueak.”
  • Scrub Chicken – An old wiregrass region name for the gopher tortoise which was once hunted for food. During the Depression, the tortoise was also called a “Hoover Chicken.” The tortoise lives primarily in pine woods habitats and is considered endangered.  According to Florida folklore, the gopher tortoise resulted when the Devil tried to make a turtle to impress God, the result being a land-based reptile without the turtle’s love of water.
  • Sculpin – Scuppernong grape, a variety of Muscadine found in the Southern Unite States. The light, greenish bronze grapes work well in baked goods, jelly and wine.
  • Shine – Moonshine.
  • Shoo-shooing - Whispering.
  • Steppin' back on my abstract – Collected in Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men as “Standing in my tracks/stepping back on my abstract,” meaning standing one’s ground.
  • Shvitzer – Yiddish slang for “big shot.”
  • Sister Terrell - Ola Mae Terrell, 1911 – 2006, a gospel singer from Atlanta whose songs were strongly influenced by her Holiness faith, remembered as an itinerate evangelist who sang songs such as "God's Little Birds" and "The Bible's Right."
  • “Sounding Joy” - This hymn, on page 118 of the Cooper Book, was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, with music by Justin Morgan in 1790.
  • Squinch Owl – Screech Owl.
  • “St. James Infirmary Blues” - An old song first recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1928 that can be traced backed to England in the 1800s with multiple lyrics and versions. The song has also been called "Gamblers' Blues." In most versions, the performer is singing about viewing a dead lady friend on "a long white table, so cold, and fine, and fair" at the local infirmary.
  • “Suspicion Blues” - Recorded in 1938 by Washboard Sam (Robert Clifford Brown), 1910-1966, for Bluebird, RCA Victor and other labels. He was known for his songwriting talent and his strong voice.
  • Swamp Booger - A tall, bad-smelling bigfoot-like creature that lives in the northwest Florida swamps that stems from a Euchee Indian legend.
  • Tate’s Hell Forest - A 200,000-acre swamp and forest in Franklin County, Florida near Carrabelle on the Gulf Coast. Once logged nearly to extinction, it is now a preserved area of unique landforms and endangered species. Its name stems from a legend about a man named Cebe Tate who was bitten by a rattlesnake while hunting a panther there. When the searchers sound him, he said "My name’s Tate and I've been through hell.”
  • Titi - A flowering plant, Cyrilla racemiflora, also called Swamp Titi, Black Titi and Myrtle, that grows in dense thickets in pine woods, swamps, wet prairies and bogs. Pronounced tie-tie.
  • Totika – English rendering of the Seminole spoken word for “fire.”
  • Torreya - A rare and endangered conifer found along the Apalachicola River near Bristol, Florida. Also called "Stinking Cedar," the tree was said to be the same gopher wood from which Noah's ark was built. For years, Bristol resident E. E. Callaway promoted the area as the actual Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden trail is in the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. The town of Torreya used in this book is fictional. See “Garden of Eden Trail.”
  • Trick - A form of natural magic, often consisting of a spell with a powder or symbol, that's placed (laid down) where the intended victim is expected to walk. A tricked place is a spot that has been hexed in some way.
  • “Turpentine Blues” - A blues song about the hardships of being a turpentiner popularized in 1927 by Memphis singer Bill Weldon (who is usually mistaken in print and online with the Chicago-based slide guitar player/singer Casey Bill Weldon). Bill Weldon was associated with the Memphis jug band.
  • Tush hawg – Used in various ways, the word often refers to a rough and tumble man.
  • Two-Toed Tom – A huge, legendary alligator feared by residents along the Alabama-Florida border in the early 1900s, and said to be still on the prowl many years later. It was reportedly fourteen feet long, suspected of eating cattle and mules, and assaulting women. His left front foot was missing all but two of its toes, the result of being caught in a steel trap.
  • Tzores – Yiddish exclamation for troubles and woe.
  • Uncle Monday - Uncle Monday was a legendary powerful conjure man who brought his magic from Africa. He was sold into slavery. When he escaped, he joined up with the Seminole Indians to fight against federal troops. To avoid capture, figured out how to become an alligator and hid in Blue Sink in Florida peninsula. His story was collected in the 1930s by folklorist and author Zora Neale Hurston as part of the Federal Writers Project.
  • Washerwoman – The name of the 4.11.44 gig (three-number betting combination) in policy gambling.
  • Weary Souls - A Sacred Harp hymn written in 1804 that appears on page 83b of the Cooper tunebook. The words were written by John A. Granade in 1804 and the tune was arranged by Jesse T. White in 1844. See Cooper Book.
  • "Where the Southern Crosses the Yellow Dog" – This line refers to the spot where the Southern Railway (now Norfolk-Southern) crossed the tracks of the Yazoo Delta Railroad (AKA "Yellow Dog") at Moorhead, Mississippi in a now-obsolete diamond style shaped like a street intersection. W. C. Handy's 1914 "Yellow Dog Blues" popularized the line which, according to the story, he heard from another singer a decade earlier
  • Wing Bone Call – A hunter’s call made from the wing bones of a turkey. It’s used to call turkeys.