Glossary entry for
jelly roll

The following passage is from The Story of English by McCrum, MacNeil and Cran. New, revised edition. London: Faber & Faber; BBC books, 1992. From page 237:

In the African language Mandingo, jeli is a minstrel who gains popularity with women through skill with words and music. In the English creole of the Caribbean, jelly refers to the meat of the coconut when it is still at a white, viscous stage, and in a form closely resembling semen. In English, jelly and jelly roll are both items of food.

On the street, jelly roll had many associated meanings, from the respectable 'lover, or spouse', to the Harlem slang of the 1930s, 'a term for the vaginaa'."

To cite another source: chapter 4 of Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning in the Blues is entitled "I'm a rooster, baby" and deals with sexual metaphor and euphemism in the blues. The book is by Paul Oliver. Revised 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, 1990 (originally published in 1960). [Ed: see another citation from this work in the Glossary entry for "TB"] From page 109:

"An exhaustive study of black sexual symbols is long overdue, indicative as they are of modes of thought and reactions to popularly held stereotypes. Among domestic metaphors culinary themes are especially common, which a brief examination of one stream of associations may illustrate. Arising simply from the motions of sexual intercourse the term 'jelly roll' is a familiar one which has been in use for more than half a century. In black song it occurs frequently, as in a recording by Peg Leg Howell and His Gang:

Jelly-roll, jelly-roll, ain't so hard to find.
Ain't a baker shop in town bake 'em brown like mine
I got a sweet jelly, a lovin' sweet jelly roll,
If you taste my jelly, it'll satisfy your worried soul

I never been to church and I never been to school
Come down to jelly I'm a jelly-rollin' fool
I got a sweet jelly to satisfy my worried soul
I likes my jelly and I like to have my fun

The term was correctly applied to a jam (jelly)-rolled and lightly baked confection and in consequence the references to baking 'nice and brown' had an added punning significance. So a lover admired his 'jelly bean' and the way she could 'jello' and prided himself on being a 'good jelly-roll baker.' But the baker made not only jelly roll but also other foods." (Oliver goes on to discuss the significance of "biscuit," "biscuit-roller," "cornbread" and other metaphors.)

  • See also the glossary entry for Jelly Roll Morton for some additional Van references to that related term.

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