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What does a speaker mean if he/she exclaims "Lawdy me!"? I noticed this exclamation when I was reading a short story "the Conscience of the Court" by Zora Neale Hurston. There was one brown-skinned woman who was charged with felonious and aggravated assault and he exclaimed "Lawdy me!" during the court session by musing it inside herself. I haven't found much information on my own search and I know only that Lawd and Lawdy are the non-standard spellings of Lord and Lordy and they have been used in black speech. These two words "Lawdy" and "me" attached together doesn't make any actual sense for me, but I have my own guessings what they could mean: 1)"Lord help me!", 2)more polite and more invisible way to exclaim "Oh my God" without referring to direct begging of the God, 3)"My dear God, forgive me my sins!" or 4) "Lawdy me!" is only an interjection used to express surprise, shock or the strength of feeling in a case that the person is completely non-religious.

So, I'm interested in the meaning, etymology and cultural or religious background of "Lawdy me!", where does "Lawdy me!" come from and what kind of special meanings or cultural or religious connotations are there behind this exclamation? The reliable resources are also desirable because I didn't found them by myself. Both the religious point of view and the secular point of view are equally welcome.

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"The Conscience of the Court" is a short story originally published in The Saturday Evening Post on March 18, 1950. It is set in Jacksonville, Florida, at the trial of fictional character named Laura Lee Kimble, an uneducated black woman from Savannah, Georgia, now living with her (temporarily absent) employer in Jacksonville. Here is the relevant excerpt:

"Charged with felonious and aggravated assault. Mayhem. Premeditated attempted murder on the person of one Clement Beasley. Obscene and abusive language. Laura Lee Kimble, how do you plead?"

Laura Lee was so fascinated by the long-named things that they were accusing her of that she stood there tasting over the words. Lawdy me! she mused inside herself. Look like I done every crime excepting habeas corpus and stealing a mule.

Harold Wentworth, American Dialect Dictionary (1944) offers the following relevant information:

Law!, La!, Lawzy! Also Lawdy!, Law sakes!. Law me!, &c. Cf. land 2 [which reads "As or in exclam.: Land!, Land's sake! Landy! &c. 1834–1918 Land's sake(s), land sake(s)."] ... 1925 s[outh]w[estern] S[outh] C[arolina]–e[astern] G[eorgi]a Svannah R[iver] Negro. Everyday speech. 'Lawdy Jedus, Ah's so fraid.' ... 1938 Fl[orid]a–G[eorgi]a Suwannee R[iver] Lawsy! ...

As Wentworth's examples suggest, "Lawdy me!" is a dialect pronunciation of "Lordy me," which (according to the OED) is itself a contracted form of "Lord help me." As an exclamation, however, it isn't any more specific than "Oh me!" or "Oh my goodness!" or "My, my, my!" or "Good grief!" The expression can be used across a wide range of situations, in forms ranging from a cry of despair uttered in the midst of a dreadful crisis to a sort of quiet, sing-song musing.

A famous U.S. folk song called "Reuben's Train" (memorably performed here by the Holy Modal Rounders) uses the refrain "Oh me, Oh Lordy my!" after each piece of narrative action in the song:

Oh, Reuben had a train, and he put it on the track

And he run it to the Lord knows where

[Chorus] Oh me, oh Lordy my, run it to the Lord knows where

What did the hobo say to the bum? Got some cornbread save me some

I b'lieve, praise God, I'm comin' down

[Chorus] Oh me, oh Lordy my, I b'lieve praise God, I'm comin' down

[and so on...]

Another traditional song—recorded many years ago by Alan Lomax as Georgia penitentiary inmates sang it as a convict-crew work song—is titled simply "Oh Lawdy Me, Oh Lawdy My." Though many of the lines of that song begin with words such as "Lord, I'm goin' where I've never been before," it isn't a gospel song. In fact, it isn't particularly religious at all, except to the extent that formally calling the Lord to witness your troubles retains a theological dimension even when the usage is habitual and not prayerful.

In Hurston's short story, the crucial clue to how the character is using "Lawdy me" is in the description "she mused inside herself." The character isn't using the phase in the as if it were a fervent prayer or as an expression of fear and desperation, but in a thoughtful, unhurried way.

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Contraction of "Lord have mercy (on me).' Also shortened to just Lawdy, as in "Lawdy Miss Claudy"

Here's the sequence: Lord have mercy. Lawd have mercy. Lawdy mercy. Lawdy.

Also, a variant of "Lordy/Lord"

  • Welcome to ELU, please add a source to support your answer. – JJJ Jul 31 '18 at 1:35

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