Cackalacky and derivatives

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Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by PauladePlume » Sun Aug 11, 2019 8:34 pm

Okay, you guys have diligently and thoughtfully answered every question I've ever posted, so here's a new one. This is American slang-based.

Today on Twitter somebody did a promoted tweet for a business named Cackalacky. The hairs on the back of my neck went up!

My understanding is this is a racist phrase from slavery days when it was really "crack a lacky" (hit a lazy slave with a whip). Sometimes said as crack-a-lackin' like: let's get going! (Other spelling permutations also abound).

Googled. A common spelling and use seems to be cackalack, which seems to be a nickname for North and South Carolina. Those states would fit with the slave narrative. Interesting (and I think uncoincidentally), any site that I looked at about the meaning of it seemed to imply, "who knows what the origin is?" Like let's not deal with the racial undertones of this phrase. Although, interestingly, in the urban dictionary it says it's a phrase black people used for places inhabited by a lot of whites. I think they've not forgotten the real origin/meaning.

One site did try to tie it to some sort of Irish phrase crack or craic. Perhaps it does relate to that? But again, my understanding is it's a holdover American slavery phrase.

If I'm right, and if ya'll can trace it, I will personally undertake a campaign to get rid of this ugly phrase from our accepted vernacular. Thanks.
Paula
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Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by PauladePlume » Sun Aug 11, 2019 8:43 pm

Oh. Forgot to add: some websites tried to tag it to some dubious permutation of a supposed Native American word. My intuition tells me that's an anticipatory straw man defense...
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Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by trolley » Wed Aug 14, 2019 12:34 am

I doubt you’ll get a definitive answer on that one. There seems to be a lot of folks trying to track the origin down and as many different theories as there are researchers. Most of the theories sound like complete cack. I don’t listen to rap and had never heard the North/South Carolina connection. I have heard “crack a lack” in reference to something happening or moving or starting. When I was younger, “You’d better get cracking” meant “You’d better get moving or better get something happening”. “A cracking party” meant a very good party. Sometimes you’d hear it as “better get crack-a-lacking” or “it was a crack-a lacking party”. I always just assumed it was a nonsensical term and the “alacking” part was just tagged on for effect…like “easy peasy”. There are some pretty far-fetched ideas out there, though (like the whip a lazy slave one that you mentioned). I would not be surprised if the Carolina connection was just a simply a similar sounding nick name used by people who were not from there. “I spent six months in Cackalacky, one day”. I even found two definitions of “crack-a-lack” that were exact opposites. One claimed that it was African American slang for a place with a lot of white people (particularly hillbilly or country bumpkin types) while another claimed it meant a place without many (or any) white folks….crack (short for cracker) + lack (as in absent or missing). I’m getting a bit of a brass monkey feeling about these origins. Then I realized that I didn’t know why Jimmy cracked corn (or what in the hell he was really up to) in that old song. I started crack-a-lackin’ down that rabbit trail looking for a connection but that petered out pretty quick. The only explanation I can really buy is the dreaded “origin unknown”.
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Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by PauladePlume » Wed Aug 14, 2019 9:45 pm

Thanks, Trolley, for the response.

I'm virtually certain this relates to slavery. Lackey is a pejorative phrase for a manservant. That's what slaves used to be called: "You my lackey." Calling someone a lackey in the South is still an insult (I'm a Southerner many generations over - 1700s).

Lackey/lacky also carries the further connotation of being not only a servant but a lazy one. Hence, "crack a lacky." Get that lazy servant working. Crack is the sound whips make, which instill fear simply upon hearing. Slavery was greatly maintained by fear. Thus, "Crackalacky" was whipping your servant or whipping at your servants. That's why I "get cracking" usually means get busy.. before you get whipped! Or to the Overseer: get the whips crackin to get them folks workin.

"Jimmy cracked corn" could have various meanings, but here's the most likely one. One possibility, of course, is the literal meaning of cracking corn into corn meal, although for the reason explained below, I don't think this is the meaning in that song.

Corn was the main staple given to the slaves for food. It was cheap, plentiful and stored easily dried whole or cracked into meal. That's why Southern Cuisine heavily includes cornmeal-based recipes. The slave women were the cooks for their own and the white families, so they made up recipes (corn not native to them in Africa) with what they were given. Hence, cornbread/corn pone as a frequent side, and they came up with hush puppies (the kitchen where the slave women cooked was usually off the main house and often many open windows/doors, so, when the dogs gathered round, they made a little corn pone cakes and threw them to the dogs to get 'em out of the kitchen - go away & hush puppies!). Chess pie is also a Southern poor person's dessert: eggs sugar, vinegar and...you guessed it... cornmeal.

Back to Jimmy. Corn was also used to make the first liquor native to America: bourbon. "Jimmy cracked corn" could have meant literally he cracked the corn into meal but because of the follow-up line "and I don't care," it most likely meant he got into the Master's bourbon. In the song the Master dies. They're celebrating. 🥃🥃🥃
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Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by PauladePlume » Wed Aug 21, 2019 11:00 pm

Is anyone else willing or able to weigh in on this inquiry? Erik or Ken?
Thx!
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Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by PauladePlume » Wed Sep 04, 2019 4:37 pm

So, no one. Wow.
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Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by Phil White » Thu Sep 05, 2019 6:05 pm

I have never heard the word, and I guess it is a US thing.

My first thought is that the German "Kakerlak" means a cockroach. There are plenty of expressions that have gone into US English in particular either from German directly or vial Pennsylvania Dutch or Yiddish.

It is entirely plausible that "cackalacky" developed from such roots to mean something like "cockroach-infested" or "deeply unpleasant". But "entirely plausible" is not the same as having established a good case for such an etymology. I merely put it out there...
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by PauladePlume » Sat Sep 07, 2019 7:06 am

Thank you, Phil. It's very true that American English has drawn heavily on German words. I would gladly research this myself, but I don't either know or probably din't have access to some of the detailed resources various people on this site often use to answer questions. I was just hoping somebody would take this one up as others I have posted through the years. Appreciate your response.
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Re: Cackalacky and derivatives

Post by Phil White » Sat Sep 07, 2019 10:44 am

Unfortunately, from your own research and the attempts of others on this board, it would seem clear that the origins of this one are lost in the mists of time. Without a good chain of evidence that would link the word to a particular community in its earliest days, we can only ever speculate, and I can find no useful written evidence anywhere. This means that I cannot even begin to date the expression. It looks like it is one of those terms that is only really used in spoken English, so all we have is conjecture as to its origins.

I just came across this post on an old list server

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/piperm ... 51664.html

To follow the thread, you have to click the "Next Message" link at the bottom, but this first post seems to cover much of the ground. Unfortunately, the links to Paul Jones' articles no longer work.

Later in the thread, someone brings up the idea that it may be from the German "Kakerlak(e)", suggesting that it may have been brought in by GIs stationed in Germany.

But the consensus remains: "origin unknown".
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