"Feets don't fail me now" origin

On a Web site about Gamer Jargon, I came across the phrase, “Feats don’t fail me now!” It’s something gamers say when a special power of their D&D character is put to the test in a life-or-death situation.

The site says the phrase harkens back “a famous little bit of racist paleo-ebonics, the original source of which I have been unable to determine.” I figured maybe y’all would be able to help pinpoint the origin of this phrase.

Any ideas?

Translation: minstrel, or blackface vaudeville. It probably goes back to the turn of ther last centiry or so, and was pretty well-established by the 1920s. When a black (or blackface) character wanted to get away from something—a ghost, a cop, a gambling debt, whatever—he would look all bug-eyed and go, “feets, don’ fail me now!” Or, alternately, “feets, do yo’ stuff!”

Racist, yeah. But “paleo-ebonics?” Pul-lease.

Yeah, I figured it was from minstrel-shows. And I thought “paleo-ebonics” was a nice turn of phrase. Although the term “ebonics” originally was intended to describe the speech of urban African Americans as a separate dialect (maybe not the right term – “creole”?), in popular usage, “ebonics” seems to refer to fakey, stereotypical blackspeak.

Anyway, is the phrase from any specific source, or is it part of the oral tradition and can’t be traced back to an individual performer?


They stole each other’s material with alacrity—were proud of that, in fact. So I don’t think you could trace that phrase back to its source anymore than you could find the origins of “Slowly I Turned” or “Meet You 'Round the Corner,” or any other vaudeville routine.

Of course, the old comics made fun of everyone: blacks, Jews, Swedes, Germans (“Dutch”), Irish, Chinese . . . Equal-opportunity offenders, and if anyone objected they were razzed for being poor sports.

I don’t know if they phrase existed before, but it (and its varaitions) was a trademark of Mantan Moreland, who played Charlie Chan’s chauffeur Birmingham Brown in the 1940s, as well as many other 'fraid-of-ghosts roles.

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Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded a song with “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now” in it - so it wasn’t strictly a minstrel thing. It was just dialect.