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The Political History of ‘Shuck and Jive’

Author and former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin earned angry responses this week for using the Facebook headline: “Obama’s Shuck and Jive Ends With Benghazi Lies.”

The phrase “shuck and jive” has an unfortunate history over the last few political seasons. Then New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo caused controversy in 2008 by using the phrase and White House press secretary Jay Carney drew criticism for employing the phrase in 2011.

In 2010, Stanford University Press published What Can You Say?: America’s National Conversation on Race, a scholarly look at our contemporary political conversation by anthropology professor John Hartigan Jr.. The book examined various definitions of “shuck and jive” that were cited during the Cuomo controversy. You can read an excerpt below, complete with links:

Eric Kleefeld, on Talking Points Memo, consulted Joan Houston Hall‘s Dictionary of American Regional English to point out that the phrase, meaning “to be deceptive or evasive,” is “especially frequent among black speakers.” Ben Smith consulted Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang and reported that the source “attributes [the phrase] to a specifically African American–though not racist–origin.” … Pam Spaulding posted an etymological reference … “To ‘shuck and jive’ originally referred to the intentionally misleading words and actions that African Americans would employ in order to deceive racist Euro-Americans in power both during the period of slavery and afterwards.”

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