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.

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“Yo mama is so fat, when she went skydiving she caused an eclipse” (8/20)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (8/20)
“Solar energy is just nuclear energy from a safe distance” (8/20)
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Entry from January 31, 2009
“If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you can look under its wing”

"If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you can look under its wing (and you’ll find a whole can)” is an expression that means the speaker is telling the truth, and it can be checked out. The phrase has long been popular in African-American vernacular. In 1929, Blind Willie McTell’s song “Kind Mama” went: “The rooster chew tobacco and the hen dip snuff.” Jazz great Louis Armstrong used the full phrase, and Geneva Smitherman listed it among “well-known black proverbs and sayings” in her 1977 book.

Bob Bowman titled his 1981 book about Texas sayings If I Tell You a Hen Dips Snuff. The exact origin of the saying is unknown, but it appears to have circulated in East Texas black English.


Texas Sayings
“If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you can look under her wing.”
You can rest assured I’m telling you the truth.

Harry’s Blues Lyrics Online
Kind Mama
by probably Blind Willie McTell
recording of 1929
from The Definitive Blind Willie McTell (Columbia C2K-53234) & Atlanta Blues, 1933 (John Edwards Memorial Found 106)

She’s a real kind mama looking for another man
She ain’t got nobody to hold her hand

Way down yonder on Cripple Creek
Hemp don’t grow but sixteen feet
Would go to bed but it ain’t no use
They pile up on the bed like chickens on a roost

She’s a real kind mama looking for another man
And she ain’t got nobody to hold her hand

The rooster chew tobacco and the hen dip snuff
Said he can’t shimmy but he struts his stuff

Google Books
Mules and Men:
American Negro Folklore and Hoodoo Practices

By Zora Neale Hurston
Philadelphia, PA:  J. B. Lippincott Company
1935
Pg. 64:
De rooster chew t’backer, de hen dip snuff
De biddy can’t do it, but he struts his stuff.

Google Books
Louis: The Louis Armstrong Story, 1900-1971
By Max Jones and John Chilton
Photographs by Dan Morgenstern
Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company
1971
Pg. 18:
As for me, if I tell you that a Hen Dip Snuff, you just look under her wings and you’ll find a whole can full. Meaning that I don’t waste words either.

Google Books
Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America
By Geneva Smitherman
Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press
1977
Pg. 245:
Appendix A
Some Well-Known Black Proverbs and Sayings

(...)
8. If I tell you a hen dipp snuff, look under its wing and find a whole box.
(proving truth and claim of infallibility by speaker)

OCLC WorldCat record
If I tell you a hen dips snuff
by Bob Bowman
Type:  Book; English
Publisher: Lufkin, Tex. : Lufkin Printing Co., 1981.
Editions: 3 Editions
OCLC: 7695234
Related Subjects: English language—Provincialisms—Texas. | Proverbs, American—Texas.

20 April 1981, Tyrone (PA) Daily Herald:
(The book If I tell you a hen dips snuff by Bob Bowman—ed.)
The title comes from an old saying one uses to boast of his integrity. If I tell you a hen dips snuff you can look under her wing, meaning there will be a tin of snuff under that wing as unlikely as it might seem. 

flickr
Texas Sayings
themexican says:
My favorite from Lufkin (my hometown): “If I tell you a hen dips snuff”...
Posted at 9:29PM, 1 January 2005 PST

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, January 31, 2009 • Permalink