Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

249
Banjo Lovers Online


Discussion Forum

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!

 All Forums
 Other Banjo-Related Topics
 Other Banjo-Related Topics: Clawhammer/Old-Time
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Origin of the term "frailing"


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/221923

JasonFruit - Posted - 12/01/2011:  13:42:22



I thought this might be of some interest to people here, since I've never seen it elsewhere.  I was reading to my daughter from Joel Chandler Harris' ​Nights with Uncle Remus​, which are supposed to be collected from elderly black people shortly after the Civil War and told in their dialect.   In one story, "Mr. Lion Hunts for Mr. Man," it uses the term "frailing" to describe the beating Mr. Man gave Mr. Lion:



Mr. Man sa'nter out in de bushes en cut 'im a hick'ry, en he let in on Mr. Lion, en he frail en frail 'im twel frailin' un 'im wuz a sin."



It sounds to me like "frailing" was a black dialect equivalent for "banging" or "beating" the banjo.  I put a little more detail in my blog post about it: jasonfruit.com/page/frailing_origin



Edited by - JasonFruit on 12/01/2011 13:44:35

grackle - Posted - 12/01/2011:  13:48:39


The Oxford English Dictionary lists this as the first know written occurrence of the word "frail":

Etymology: probably < English dialect frail flail.
U.S. dial.


trans. To beat, thrash.
1851 M. L. Byrn "Arkansaw Doctor" 82 The old man plainly told her‥he would frail her worse than a dog would a pole-cat.

JasonFruit - Posted - 12/01/2011:  13:50:38


I'll be danged. I thought I had looked it up in the OED at one time and found nothing. It's beside me as I write, and I see the reference.

Still, though, it's interesting to see it in black dialect, or at least an imitation thereof.

Tinfoot - Posted - 12/01/2011:  14:00:50


Interesting! Makes sense to me how it would become descriptively applied to traditional playing styles. -tucks away a new nugget of knowledge-

UncleClawhammer - Posted - 12/01/2011:  14:47:04


In the book Bound for Glory, young Woody Guthrie threatens to beat someone up with the phrase, "I'll frail yore [sic] knob."

Bisbonian - Posted - 12/01/2011:  16:45:50



It made perfect sense to me the first time I heard it in a banjo context, and I never thought about it.  Now I realize that I was very familiar with Uncle Remus as a kid, and probably the word.


cbcarlisle - Posted - 12/01/2011:  18:21:22



In Indo-European languages, including English & American, "r" and "l" are commonly interchanged.


drew-gurbach - Posted - 12/01/2011:  19:15:33



 Never underestimate the BHO collective brain trust.  cool


Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 12/01/2011:  20:09:05



It seems to me that pretty much all of the various terms used to describe this style "frailing, rapping, beating, claw-hammering" etc. are all words that mean "hitting"; and that is exactly what we do, we hit the strings with our fingernails. So this meaning of "frailing" is unsurprising to me.



In fact, I once changed a line in a song of mine from "frailing on the banjo" to "beating on the banjo" because the meaning was the same, as far as I was concerned, and now I had some alliteration as well.


Deaf Lester Crawdad - Posted - 12/02/2011:  00:04:27



quote:


Originally posted by Marc Nerenberg

It seems to me that pretty much all of the various terms used to describe this style "frailing, rapping, beating, claw-hammering" etc. are all words that mean "hitting"; and that is exactly what we do, we hit the strings with our fingernails.




Well, there are also a number of the plethoric synonyms for frailing that don't seem to be related to hitting anything.   Here's a no-doubt incomplete list from "African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia":



Beating, brushing, clawhammer, double-noting, double-strike, double-thumbing, downpicking, downstroking, downward-pluck, drop-thumbing, fisted, frailing, Galax lick, gunhammer, half-and-a-strike, high-pitched drone, knock-down, knocking, merrywanging (my favorite), old-time, racking, rapping (who knew?), rocking (again, who knew?), strike-and-a-half, striking, stroking, strumming, thumb-cocking, thumping, triple-strike, and, finally, whomping!



Fifteen of the thirty one don't seem to involve "hitting", so it's almost a 50/50 proposition.   However, the alternative alliterative -albiet allegorical- possibilities are almost enough to alter one's mind!



~Pete



Edited by - Deaf Lester Crawdad on 12/02/2011 00:05:09

JasonFruit - Posted - 12/02/2011:  06:02:26


I did a little more digging, and I've found another couple dozen references to the word. The more I look at it, the more it looks like the important part is how many of them (about 50%) are associated with African-Americans and are in black dialect; I think the common use of the word emphasizes the possible African origin of the technique.

bublnsqueak - Posted - 12/02/2011:  06:09:35


Long shot but maybe the semantic origin of the word frail stems from the act of making something frail. i.e as you keep hitting it it gets frailer and frailer (or more and more frail) - until it breaks.

Told you it was a long shot.

Paul

David McLaughlin - Posted - 12/02/2011:  06:17:54


It is simply a dialect version of the verb "flail".

John Gribble - Posted - 12/02/2011:  07:02:10



My favorite synonym for frailing is "flogging." I heard it from a student of mine, a fellow a few years older than me, about 35 years ago. I don't know where he was from originally, but I figure from somewhere in the south from his dialect. 


JasonFruit - Posted - 12/02/2011:  07:09:19



I don't think it has the same connotations as "flail"; it seems always to refer to hitting with something hard, not whip-like, and it doesn't have any implication of ineffectiveness like flailing does. But then again, "flogging" does have the former, though I don't see it in the technique.



Edited by - JasonFruit on 12/02/2011 07:11:48

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 12/02/2011:  08:18:27



quote:


Originally posted by JasonFruit




I did a little more digging, and I've found another couple dozen references to the word. The more I look at it, the more it looks like the important part is how many of them (about 50%) are associated with African-Americans and are in black dialect; I think the common use of the word emphasizes the possible African origin of the technique.






I don't think there's any doubt about the African origin of the technique inasmuch as it's a technique still used in West Africa on banjo like instruments. Surely they didn't learn it from Americans. See this thread, among others, for more on this: banjohangout.org/topic/220455


banjo bill-e - Posted - 12/02/2011:  08:36:32


"Merrywanging"? How did THAT not catch on? Sounds like something that could get you arrested for doing it in public.

David McLaughlin - Posted - 12/02/2011:  11:58:44


I'm just talking about the origin of the word "frail" itself, as it relates to the actual definition of "flail". "Flail" IS the true origin of the dialect version of the word, "frail", whether we flail a banjo or not.

Deaf Lester Crawdad - Posted - 12/02/2011:  13:15:28



quote:


Originally posted by JasonFruit

I did a little more digging, and I've found another couple dozen references to the word. The more I look at it, the more it looks like the important part is how many of them (about 50%) are associated with African-Americans and are in black dialect; I think the common use of the word emphasizes the possible African origin of the technique.




It isn't just "possible", Jason: the technique is still used in Africa to this very day. 



~Pete


Deaf Lester Crawdad - Posted - 12/02/2011:  13:19:54



quote:


Originally posted by banjo bill-e

"Merrywanging"? How did THAT not catch on? Sounds like something that could get you arrested for doing it in public.




That name seems to have migrated here from the Caribbean Islands, where an early version of the banjo was know as (wait for it) the Merrywang.



~Pete


Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.09375