A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from April 19, 2010
Astorperious or Asterperious (from “Astor”)

Entry in progress—B.P.
Wikipedia: Astor family
The Astor family is a significant American family of German descent notable for their prominence in business, society, and politics.
Founding Family Members
John Jacob Astor (b.17 July 1763, d, New York 29/30 March 1848) and his brother George, (b. Walldorf/Heidelberg 28th Apri1 1752 d,London December 1813) known as ‘George & John Astor’ flute makers; came to England in around c1778 - c1831 from Walldorf, Germany In 1783 John Jacob left for Baltimore, Md., active first as a dealer in woodwind instruments then in New York as a merchant in ‘Furs & pianos’ later in real estate, amassing a legendary fortune; During the 19th century became the wealthiest family in the United States. After moving to New York, he met and married Sarah Todd. Towards the end of that century, a branch moved to Britain and achieved great prominence there. As the 20th century wore on, the American branch began to decline, but their legacy lives on in their many public works including the New York Public Library, and remain the seventeenth wealthiest family in history. Members of the British branch hold two hereditary peerages, a viscountcy and a barony.
John Jacob Astor’s brother, Henry Astor also emigrated to America. He was a horse racing enthusiast, and purchased a thoroughbred named Messenger who had been brought from England in 1788. The horse became the founding sire of all Standardbred horses in the United States today.
Family Namesake Places
Beyond the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Astor family name is imprinted in a great deal of United States history and geography. There is a town of Astor in the states of Florida, Georgia, Iowa, and Kansas and there are Astorias in Illinois, Missouri, New York, and Oregon. There is an Astor Park in Wisconsin, and an Astor Row, Astor Court and Astor Place in New York City. A large number of town and city thoroughfares also bear the family name. The New York City neighborhood of Astoria, Queens is named after the family as well.
The Astors were also prominent on Mackinac Island, Michigan and Newport, Rhode Island with their summer house, Astor’s Beechwood Mansion. At Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, there are the Lord and Lady Astor Suites; the hotel salon is called Astor’s. Cliveden House Hotel in Buckinghamshire, England, once home to Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor and Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (née Langhorne), is also home to Lord and Lady Astor Suites.
A number of Astor family members are buried in Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan, New York.
23 March 1929, Afro-American, “Harlem’s English,” pg. 6:
“Astorperious” is supposed to have originated in Florida. It means “high hat” and is a tribute to the Astors.
1. Chapter 1: Blanche White. The story began, for me, with this quote from Barbara Neely’s 1998 detective novel Blanche Cleans Up:

If she’d wanted the man, she could have had him.  He had been really clear on that.  She was the one who hadn’t been clear.  She still wasn’t…  She hoped she hadn’t let a good thing get away from her just to be asteperious.  But she’d hated the idea of being matched and labeled, and she’d never been keen on marriage. (p. 99)

Blanche is Blanche White, a “black maid-cum-snoop extraordinaire”, as the book’s back cover identifies her. The meaning of asteperious was none too clear to me from the context.

Chapter 2: Zora Neale Hurston. The dictionaries were, unsurprisingly, not helpful with asteperious. So I went to our friend Google, which had no web or newsgroup hits, but did suggest i might have meant asterperious (a word that would surface as asteperious in a non-rhotic dialect (such as that spoken by the North Carolinian African American Blanche). Googling on that took me back to Zora Neale Hurston.

From her short story “Sweat” (1926):

Kill ‘im Syke, please.”. “Doan ast me tuh do nothin’ fuh yuh. Goin’ roun’ trying’ tuh be so damn asterperious. Naw, Ah aint gonna kill it.

And here’s Rodney O. Lain (Signifyin(g) as a Rhetorical Device In Selected Writings of the Harlem Renaissance …, 1994 Master’s thesis, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, ch. 3) on a essay by her:

Four years later, in a cogent observation entitled “My People!” [in her 1942 autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road] Zora Neale Hurston, albeit facetiously, echoes [Roger] Abrahams’ findings about blacks’ love of language, especially the tendency to create new, often humorous words.

with this quote from it:

If he can’t find that big word he’s feeling for, he is going to make a new one. But somehow or another that new word fits the thing it was made for. Sounds good, too.  . . . Somebody didn’t know the word total or entire so they made bodacious. Then there’s asterperious, and so on. When you find a man chewing up the dictionary and spitting out language, that’s My People.

A search for the spelling astorperious pulled up three more Hurston cites:

From “A Story in Harlem Slang” (1942):

Jelly slammed his hand in his bosom as if to draw a gun. Sweet Back did the same.

“If you wants to fight, Sweet Back, the favor is in me.”

“I was deep-thinking then, Jelly. It’s a good thing I ain’t short-tempered. ‘T’aint nothing to you, nohow. You ain’t hit me yet.”

Both burst into a laugh and changed from fighting to lounging poses.

“Don’t get too yaller on me, Jelly. You liable to get hurt some day.”

“You over-sports your hand your ownself. Too blamed astorperious. I just don’t pay you no mind. Lay de skin on me!”

They broke their handshake hurriedly, because both of them looked up the Avenue and saw the same thing.

From “Why They Always Use Rawhide on a Mule” (in her 1935 folklore collection Mules and Men):

“Who gittin’ old? Not me! Ah laks de lies. All I said is yo talkin’ skeers off all de trouts and sheepheads. Ah can’t eat no lies.

“Aw, gran’pa, don’t be so astorperious! We all wants to hear Larkins’ tale. I’m goin’ ketch you some fish. We ain’t off lak dis often.

And from her “Glossary of Harlem Slang” (accompanying her 1942 “Story in Harlem Slang”):

Astorperious: haughty, biggity

OCLC WorldCat record
Asterperious : 319th Heavy Bombardment Squardon in the South-West Pacific Area
Author: Frank Tierney
Publisher: Sydney [Australia] : August and Robertson Ltd., 1944.
Edition/Format: Book : English

Posted by Barry Popik
Monday, April 19, 2010 • Permalink

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