In school, I noticed a lot of the kids were using an old past participle, “swoll”, to describe what we called buff, i.e. a bit tumescent with great exertion as in weight lifting. The dictionary or standard past participle now is swollen, but I noted by wife uses swoll, one of the few remnants in her standard speech from her Black English background. Swoll would have been the form heard by slaves from those folks from the British Isles they worked around, like “aks” for “ask”. As the forms changed in the standard language, they remained as remnants of early acquisition of English by the slaves.

So I got to thinking about how Blacks dominate sports in so many ways in our society and how it would be likely to hear a Black athlete say of someone working out strong, “He was all swoll.” Other athletes would pick up the expression and thus it would pass into the mainstream, roundly condemned by the mavens but a clear reflection of the speech of a community whose prominence in sports leads to some adoption of its word treasure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *