Thursday, August 27, 2015

Playing policy

Another Mencken footnote, from a brief discussion of Italian loan-words:

The word policy, which was used in the United States from about 1885 to 1915 to designate the form of gambling now called numbers , was from the Italian polizza . But it apparently came in by way of English, though with a change in meaning, and it is now virtually obsolete.

H. L. Mencken, The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States , 4th ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936).
The term policy certainly persisted in African-American culture. Here is an episode of the podcast Uncensored History of the Blues about playing policy.

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the gambling sense of policy to the Middle French police, “written proof, certificate.” The Dictionary traces another meaning of policy , “ a voting paper; (also) a voucher,” to polizza.

Also from The American Language
The American v. the Englishman : B.V.D. : “[N]o faculty so weak as the English faculty” : “There are words enough already” : The -thon , dancing and walking : The verb to contact

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