Date: Sat, 25 Apr 1998 19:24:27 -0500
From: Mike Salovesh
Subject: Re: Thole story

Since nobody else seems to have responded, at least not to the list, I
guess I'll take a stab at this one.

David Sutcliffe wrote:
> In the recording of an African American born circa 1855-1860, I have the
> expression "one man a-riding tole mule" (tow mule?). I think he's
> actually saying t'ole mule. Can anyone confirm that "thole" (of a horse
> or other draft animal) can mean "lead", "leading"?

It took me a while to realize that when you said 'he's actually saying
t'ole mule' you meant something entirely different than I would have
with the same words.

Have you considered that 'tole', or 't'ole' in your retranscription,
could mean "the old"? I have heard that form (I wanted to call it a
contraction, but that's not quite right) in the speech of older African
Americans. It also appears in the speech of some rural southerners not
usually taken to have African ancestors.

"T'ole" for "the old" used to be one of the ways of spelling specific
words and combinations to give the impression of rural dialects. I've
also heard "t'ole" in field recordings of southern folk music and blues
in contexts where substituting "the old" makes a perfectly reasonable

I think your suggestion that "thole" might have been the form for which
"tole" appears
in the recording is a red herring. It sure is an interesting
suggestion, though.

-- mike salovesh
anthropology department
northern illinois university PEACE !!!