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  • Subject



    In the Negro trace, men sit on stoops, pants legs rolled above their sock tops, sipping coffee in the growing, easeful heat. 

    Richard Ford, Independence Day


    Which meaning of 'trace' is that? A street, a district?

    Author penguin (236245) 14 Jun 21, 21:22

    A street, a district?

    It certainly looks from the context as if it could be that, but I am not aware of any such usage or meaning of 'trace.' Maybe it's some sort of literary/poetic semantic stretching.

    edit: there is some dictionary support for "track" or "path" as a meaning of "trace," maybe it's based in that idea.

    #1Author bishop_j (877745)  14 Jun 21, 21:55
    Hmm. That seemed like a reasonable guess, some kind of regional word for neighborhood or district. (Though not street or road, because the preposition would be 'on' instead of 'in.') It wouldn't have surprised me, especially somewhere like New Orleans, with so many languages and dialects.

    So I checked my unabridged dictionaries fully expecting to find it somewhere in the small print, but came up empty in Webster's and Random House, and also in the print OED.

    I'm not sure where else to even try. If Norbert were around, I think he has a print copy of D.A.R.E. (the Dictionary of American Regional English), but online it's evidently now subscription only, and I don't know if there's any other way to access it, like through A****n look-inside-the-book. There might be other online glossaries of dialect or regional (southern?) expressions, but it's such a common word in so many other senses that it would be hard to winnow out all the chaff. Even in a text corpus, I suspect that searching for it in a collocation like 'Negro trace(s)' would bring up a lot of garbage about facial features. /-:

    Just for the sake of completeness, I thought of trying French, but I think my ancient Larousse must be in a box.

    The other completely unspectacular possibility would just be a typo. Perhaps for 'tract'?

    #2Author hm -- us (236141)  14 Jun 21, 22:22

    Ford hat das offenbar später noch einmal so verwendet, 2014 in "Let Me Be Frank With You":

    Perhaps the clearest intimation of Princeton- in-Haddam is a reference to the “still-holding-on black trace … beyond the Boro cemetery” where “tidy frame homes have been re-colonized by Nicaraguans and Hondurans” while becoming “available to a new wave of white young-marrieds who … pride themselves on living in a ‘heritage’ neighborhood.”

    #3Author Jalapeño (236154) 14 Jun 21, 22:31

    Thanks anyway, worth a try.

    #4Author penguin (236245) 14 Jun 21, 22:33

    Here's a document about a trail that developed into a road, called a "trace." (I guess this is where the whiskey gets its name.) Maybe there's a semantic connection there somehow.

    #5Author bishop_j (877745) 14 Jun 21, 23:01
    Interesting, Jalapeño, thanks.

    So if it were regional or local, it would be New Jersey, Jersey Shore, or even Princeton itself?

    But since it's a fictional version of a town, maybe it could be just a fictional regional term as well, just an invention by Ford.

    At least the second instance seems to do away with any question of a typo.

    And although all the dictionaries contain a sense synonymous with 'trail' or 'track,' I still don't think that would fit this context anyway -- again, because the preposition wouldn't be 'in' (unless the people were out in the middle of the roadway or pathway, blocking traffic).

    #6Author hm -- us (236141)  14 Jun 21, 23:10

    And although all the dictionaries contain a sense synonymous with 'trail' or 'track,' I still don't think that would fit this context anyway -- again, because the preposition wouldn't be 'in' 

    I agree -- I was speculating about a semantic or etymological neighborhood that might somehow, as background, give some sense to this clearly nonstandard usage.

    #7Author bishop_j (877745) 15 Jun 21, 00:55

    Ford inserts himself into this landscape in a way very few other contemporary writers have tried: in Independence Day, he makes Frank Bascombe into a landlord who owns two properties in what he calls “the Negro trace,” a black neighborhood in Haddam, New Jersey.

    (Jesse Row, White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination [2019], n.p.)

    The area Port Benty, which is an example of a ‘Negro site’ exposed to such types of threat, happens to be almost ruined. In such a condition, the human settlements, cultural landscapes, historic places, monuments, archaeological sites, linked to the Negro trace are on their way to disappearing, carrying with them irreplaceable evidence.

    ("GUINEA---Sites and Monuments linked to Slavery: Dedicated to the International Year of the Campaign against Slavery and its Abolition," in Heritage at Risk 2004/2005)


    The first passage is from a discussion of Ford's novel; of course, it still doesn't explain how Ford came/comes to use the term in that sense.

    The second passage uses the same term (or what only appears to be the same term?) in a nonfictional context.

    #8AuthorBion (1092007)  15 Jun 21, 08:24

    Interesting. Thank you for the research.

    It took me some time to get into Ford's writing, but I am really enjoying it now. He does remind me of Saul Bellow and in particular Herzog.

    #9Author penguin (236245) 15 Jun 21, 13:13

    There's another online use dating to 1907 in the Oakland Tribune, unfortunately behind a paywall:

    Oakland Tribune from Oakland, California on July 4, 1907

    The worst thing that could happen to the Negro Trace would be for the colored voters to turn against President Roosevelt and the Republican party because riot​ ...

    #10AuthorBion (1092007) 15 Jun 21, 13:44

    War die Stadt früher vor allem von Schwarzen bewohnt (oder zumindest mehr als jetzt) und jetzt gibt es nur noch ein kleines Viertel, ein Überbleibsel? Würde das nicht auch zu Jalapenos Zitat in #3 passen, "still-holding-on black trace"?

    #11Author Mattes (236368)  15 Jun 21, 13:47

    Der Ort im Roman ist fiktiv, aber Ford ist Südstaatler, auch wenn seine Geschichten nicht dort spielen.

    #12Author penguin (236245) 15 Jun 21, 14:39

    Der Ort soll ja wohl für Princeton, New Jersey, stehen, laut unter anderem wieder #3. Laut Wikipedia leben in Princeton ca. 6 % Schwarze, 15 % in New Jersey, 13 % in den USA.

    #13Author Mattes (236368) 15 Jun 21, 15:01

    ... in the prosperous, leafy town of Haddam, N.J., a fictional composite of Princeton, Hopewell and Pennington.


    Nein, nicht nur. Ford hat mehrere Orte an der Küste zu einem einzigen verschmolzen, was er wohl oft gemacht hat.

    #14Author penguin (236245)  15 Jun 21, 15:55

    In Merriam-Webster steht noch unter "trace":

    archaic : a course or path that one follows

    Kann das soviel wie Lebensweise, Lebensart bedeuten?

    #15Authorhansmartin (817546) 15 Jun 21, 16:17

    #14 Princeton, Hopewell and Pennington

    Das passt sogar noch besser. In den beiden anderen Städten liegt der Anteil an Schwarzen unter 2 %.

    #16Author Mattes (236368) 15 Jun 21, 16:47

    #15: Nein, das ergibt absolut keinen Sinn.

    Wie würdest du dir denn dann "men sit on stoops" erklären?

    #17Author penguin (236245) 15 Jun 21, 17:11

    There are literally hundreds of US named “traces” online: Belmont Trace, Benson Trace, Magnolia Trace, Eagle Trace, Mission Trace, Nottingham Trace, etc., etc.; the ones I looked at all bill themselves as “communities” of homes, often recently built, some gated. The thing is complicated by the fact that there’s a company that constructs such communities that calls itself TRACE. This may have some bearing on the question; there again it may not.

    #18AuthorBion (1092007) 15 Jun 21, 17:42

    Fredeke Arnim (?) übersetzt:

    Im Schwarzenviertel sitzen Männer auf Türschwellen, die Hosenbeine über den Socken hochgekrempelt, und trinken in der zunehmenden trägen Hitze ihren Kaffee.

    (Wobei ich die 'Türschwellen' überraschend finde; ich hätte eher gedacht, die sitzen auf der Treppe vor der Tür.)

    #19AuthorMr Chekov (DE) (522758)  15 Jun 21, 17:48

    ich hätte eher gedacht, die sitzen auf der Treppe vor der Tür.

    -- agree

    #20Author bishop_j (877745) 15 Jun 21, 17:55

    re 18: I'd thought of those subdivisions etc. too, but I doubt the OP reference is to one of those.

    Those kinds of names have long struck me as pretty artificial, a marketing pitch based in some kind of nostalgic fantasy of origins in a simpler time in the countryside. And there I can't help hearing 'trace' as related to the 'trail' meaning noted above -- whether the people who buy/sell/live in those places are fully aware of that or not. (I largely grew up in such a place, by the way.)

    #21Author bishop_j (877745) 15 Jun 21, 18:03

    Jess Row bezieht sich auf diese Passage und erklärt: “Negro trace” draws on a common Southern expression for a neighborhood or quarter

    #22Authorlibritor (876887) 16 Jun 21, 23:43

     “Negro trace” draws on a common Southern expression for a neighborhood or quarter

    I was born, raised, and educated in North Carolina, and I've never heard it. The South is not a small or monolithic region, and I don't claim to know everything about every regional variant or usage, but I don't think you can call this a "common expression," especially since it seems to have no dictionary support.

    From the information I found on a quick look, Jess Row, the writer of that, does not appear to be a Southerner (growing up in DC doesn't really qualify).

    edit: On the other hand, there's got to be some reason why Ford used that word, and not some other word. I agree with hm -- us in #2 that it would be interesting to see what something like the D.A.R.E. might have to say. I'm sure there are usages in there that aren't found in more standard dictionaries.

    #23Author bishop_j (877745)  17 Jun 21, 02:40
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