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Shotgun House — A Name That May Reflect African Origins

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Connie in Santee, California, is curious about a term she read in Isabel Wilkerson’s acclaimed history of the Great Migration out of the Jim Crow South, The Warmth of Other Suns (Bookshop|Amazon). A shotgun house is a narrow house, the width of one room, with no hallway, just one room leading into the next. The old saw that the name comes from the idea that you could fire a gun in the front door and its blast would go through the back door without hitting anything in between may just be a funny story. Researcher John Vlach has done extensive work connecting this type of structure with architectural traditions in Haiti, and suggests that the term “shotgun” in the name of the building derives from togu-nan, which in a Dogon language of Mali means “large shelter” or “house of talk,” where men gather to discuss local affairs. Another helpful resource: A Creole Lexicon: Architecture, Landscape, People Jay Edwards and Nicolas Kariouk Pecquet du Bellay de Verton (Amazon). This is part of a complete episode.

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