Language of the Blues: FAT MOUTH

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Here’s the latest installment of our weekly series, The Language of the Blues, in which author/rocker Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues. To learn a lot more about what your favorite blues songs really mean, grab a signed copy of Devi’s award-winning book The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to ZuZu (Foreword by Dr. John) at!. “One of the wittiest, bawdiest, most fascinating dictionaries ever.” (Reuters)

DOCD-5001The phrase fat mouth means someone who talks too much. It showed up in American English in the late 1600s. In Tommy Johnson’s “Big Fat Mama Blues,” he noted that actions are more effective than words when he sang:

Every time the meat shake
Fat mouth lose a home

In their groundbreaking book The African Heritage of American English, Joseph Holloway and Winifred Vass speculate that this slang was derived from the Mandingo word da-ba, which translates as “fat-mouth.”

Mandingo people were among the millions of Africans taken from the Senegambia River region of West Africa to the New World during the slave trade. The bustling towns along the Senegal and Gambia rivers were home to Bambara, Wolof, Mandingo, Fula, and Serer people. Together, these tribes comprised the Mande civilization–the earliest and most complex civilization to have emerged in western Sudan (circa 200 A.D.).

The Mandingo used da-bato describe an obnoxiously excessive talker, especially one who tries to get a partner into bed with obvious flattery. According to Holloway and Vass, this may also be the origin of “blabbermouth.”

“Big Fat Mama Blues”- Tommy Johnson
“Long Lonesome Blues”- Blind Lemon Jefferson (Lemon Jefferson)

Tommy Johnson – “Big Fat Mama Blues”


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