Below appears, verbatim, a fascinating letter that appeared in the newspaper (credit to author Jay Hoster). What other phrases of this sort are there? What can we say about the attitudes and though processes that lead to such phrases?
PS: I've phoned Jay and introduced myself and this board. Here's hoping he joins us.
[This message was edited by shufitz on Thu Mar 6th, 2003 at 17:33.]
As a very small child I learned from playmates how to choose from an array of possibilities:
Eenie meenie miney moe
Catch a nigger by the toe
If he hollers make him pay
Fifty dollars every day.
That was also used as a rope-jumping chant.
* ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** *
Group singing in elementary school included a song that said, "Come to a river and couldn't get across, so I jumped on a nigger cuz I thought he was a horse."
When these racist atrocities were uttered, the few Black kids in our class simply smiled enigmatically, looked uncomfortable, and waited for the ordeal to end.
If a price is too high, you might be able to jew them down ...
One who gives you something, then takes it back, is an Indian giver.
An impossibly chaotic situation is a Chinese fire drill.
Never let a Dago buy !!
... memories from the heart of America's heartland.
We had similarly racist sayings in my Berkshire childhood. In the UK there is a sizeable minority who feel it is somehow their birthright to retain them in everyday use: to not do so would be 'political correctness gone mad'. You can generally wind such people up quite well by referring to a certain Agatha Christie book as 'And then there were none'.
We always said,
"Eeny Meeny Miney Moe
Catch a tiger by the toe
if he hollers let him go
Eeny Meeny Miney Moe."
I have NEVER heard it the way you wrote it, thank God. How incredibly offensive.
Jerry, you may be dating yourself. I agree with TrossL--we never used it that way. We used the phrase, but substituted the offensive word with somethink that I cannot remember.
That line could have a double meaning and I won't go there.
Seeking items of interest from the history of my old home town, I found this gem:
Woolridge vs City of Galena
Nobody remembers the subsequent fate of Miss Mildred Grigsby ..........
Dating ??? It's no secret that I was born in 1930.
Jerry's version is the one I remember from my own childhood. In these more enlightened days I understand that "tiger" is the word usually substituted.
Yes....now I remember, it was "tiger" that I've heard. Perhaps it is also a regional matter because, while I most definitely don't plan to divulge my age , I don't think I am younger than arnie.
Born in '51, I can recall hearing both versions but distinctly remember that the more offensive term was always used by the "gutter people" as we called low class individuals of any and all races.
While in our 30's, I was part of a conversation involving some friends, both black and white, regarding how we all enjoyed playing with fireworks when we were young. One white friend mentioned that he particularly enjoyed "Nigger chasers" and then immediately was humiliated at the ignorance of the term that he had been brought up with and, up until that point, had never stopped to seriously consider the racist implications of. The two black friends present took it well enough, laughing at this guy's embarrassment, but the white guy wanted nothing more than to dig a hole in the ground and bury himself.
If anyone's interested, this device (a "tiger chaser"??) is like a bottle rocket but is designed to skip along the ground in a zig-zag fashion horizontally instead of shooting straight up into the air vertically. Point one into a crowd of people and they tend to disburse in a most amusing way! Lotsa laughs until you get caught.
It's very diconcerting to see that word in print. I cannot say that word and I cannot type that word. It must be a regional or cultural thing.
I completely agree with you, TrossL. I feel precisely the same way.
TrossL, I suspect that you're several years younger than I, since I heard, "...catch a nigger by the toe..." as a child. But then, I was born in South Carolina. Brazil nuts were colloquially referred to as "nigger toes." Imagine my sudden cultural awakening when my father, a Navy man, was transferred to a VERY racially mixed Southern California in the 1950s! It only took a couple of bloody noses before I learned that racial references, even when said in innocence, still carry pejoritive influence!
Jerry supplied some good examples, plus one funny, but he left out "gyp." It's analogous to "jew," but the cheater is a gypsy. Few of us even realize the etymology, since it's been around so long, and there are so few gypsies in our midst to call our attention to it.
I grew up with saying the "N" word in that chant, but was always uncomfortable with it. I was relieved when my children learned it from their friends, with "Tiger" instead.
My dad always referred to Brazil nuts and still refers to the Niger (with a long I) seed he puts in his feeders as the other word with a short I.
There's a bit of fuss being made here in London at the moment. A football (or soccer if you must) club called Tottenham Hotspur has large numbers of supporters who are Jews. They call themselves "the Yids".
The Irish are a race that the English tend to believe are illogical. Hence the phrase "an Irish bull" to describe a saying that seems to make sense at first, but actually contains a ludicrous contradiction.
Sam Goldwyn was a great producer of Irish bulls. Examples are:
"An oral contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on,"
"Our comedies are not to be laughed at,"
"Include me out,"
"We have to get some fresh platitudes," and
"It's a definite maybe."
Yogi Berra was another, with such gems as
"It's deja vu all over again".
Tottenham Hotspur has large numbers of supporters who are
Jews. They call themselves "the Yids".
Certain pejorative words have been adopted by the very ones to whom they refer. Homosexuals now are caled, "gay," (except by me, who still thinks it means, cheerful, damn it!) and black US residents sometimes call themselves "nigger" amongst themselves.
I have just had another look at the title of the thread. Surely the N-word and yid are a little more than Xenophobic. They are racist and there is a massive difference (from 300 to 2000 years' worth) between using them and talking about Dutch Uncles and Welshing on bets.
I would define xenophobia as an extreme dislike or fear of foreigners. As such I don't see any real difference between the use of pejorative words for particular races and 'talking about Dutch Uncles and Welshing on bets'.
The latter type of word may not be intended to hurt, whereas the former almost always are meant to be insulting. In some cases the reasons for insulting references to perceived racial characteristics may be lost in the mists of time, such as in the case of a 'Dutch uncle'. The term goes back to the period when the English and the Dutch were great trade rivals and enemies in the seventeenth century.
However, we are talking about matters of degree. Both are instances of xenophobia.
TrossL says, "It's very diconcerting to see that word [the "N-word"] in print. I cannot say that word and I cannot type that word. It must be a regional or cultural thing." Kalleh echos, "I completely agree with you, TrossL. I feel precisely the same way."
I share the sentiment. And yet ...
Last night, watching the movie Above the Rim, I noticed inner-city black young men repeatedly and affectionately referring to each other with that term. A bonding, perhaps? In any event, the term is clearly not offensive when used within that community by its own members.
Yes, wordnerd, you are right about that. I have heard African-American kids yelling the "n" word at each other here in Chicago. It's funny, too, because it isn't case for all cultures. For example, you would never hear a Jew call another Jew a "Kike".
The word is offensive, but I wonder if it was always so?
It appears twice in Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado, in the songs about the "Little List" (start of second verse) and the "Humane Mikado" (about the "lady who dyes a chemical yellow"). These lines are of course re-worded in all modern performances.
Has any one read Nigger - The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy?
Has any one read Nigger - The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Harvard law
professor Randall Kennedy?
I have not, but I know that the word is just a modification of the Latin word for "black," and there are two African countries that use it in their names, Niger (the Latin word itself) and Nigeria.
Now, on another note, whatever happened to the white semi-pejorative, "honky," which I assume was a modification of "hunky," which was a forshortened "bohunk," or one of slavic ancestry?
There are very many perfectly good words that have changed their meaning to the extent that some are now unacceptable in polite speech.
"Nigger" is just one such and it is suprising since its derivation is an innocent one, from the Latin, via the Spanish and it is simply a modification of the word "negro" or black. And since that is the colour of the race described it should not really be any more offensive than other descriptors such as "whites" or "Red Indians" (although I know that this term, too, is becoming unacceptable).
In the UK until relatively recently the term "nigger brown" was used for a particular colour and one of Agatha Christie's most popular stories was named after the nursery rhyme "Ten Little Nigger Boys". The change in acceptability of the term meant, that when the book was made into a play, it was re-titled "Ten Little Indians". I suspect that this term, too, will soon be unacceptable.
One of the strangest things, to my mind, is that we all accept such euphemisms as "the N-word" rather than spelling it out. But since we all know what the meaning of the term actually is, whose feelings are we really sparing?
quote:I haven't heard that. The Mavens' Word of the Day says
"Red Indians" is indeed coming to be regarded as a pejorative. I believe it was (an is) more commonly used in Europe than in North America. In Canada, the word "Innu" is rapidly being adopted.(Not to be confused with "Inuit"--a completely different word now used to refer to those Canadians formerly known as "Eskimos".) But,"Red Indians" is a term with an honourable etymology. The first native North Americans encountered by the English, in the early 1500s, were the Beothucks of Newfoundland, a tribe now extinct. The Beothucks were in the habit of coating their clothing, skin, tools, and the bones of their ancestors with a mixture of ochre and oil. (Local tradition has it that they would obtain their ochre from a hematite outcrop a few miles from where I now live.) In any event, the English explorers, still labouring under the misapprehension that they had arrived in the Indies, called the natives "Red Indians". The term seems to have been casually transferred to other N.American tribes, whether or not they were in the habit of colouring themselves with ochre.
This hunky, which is first attested around the turn of the century, is
probably from Hung(arian),
As you may know, Hungarians were famous for building excellent boats, hence the now archaic, "hunky-dory."
Richard, while my brain agrees with you, my emotions just won't let me say the "n-word". It is strange, I agree.
Quoted from an article I found in today's newspaper:
"Following complaints from activists, Internet auction giant eBay said Friday it will caution sellers against describing items using a racial slur.
When a seller uses the n-word in an item description, a new box will automatically pop up on the computer screen. It will tell the seller that the listing contains a word which may be "highly offensive to many in the eBay community" and could violate the company's policy against racially offensive items."
I have long believed that this is nothing that anyone can say or do, anywhere that will not annoy somebody, somewhere!
I have long believed that this is nothing that anyone can say or do, anywhere that
will not annoy somebody, somewhere!
Right you are, RE! I'm annoyed right now, and for no particular good reason! (Well, maybe Messrs Bush, Blair, and Hussein have something to do with it) I'm also often annoyed when Americans can't pronounce my very English name. It seems that most US of Americans have never seen the name, "Geoffrey," my real name, spelt other than "Jeffrey." They also often add a "U" to my family name, which is Sanders. To be sure, Sanders and Saunders derive from the same source, but it still annoys me. Thus my board name, which nobody can screw up - I hope!
Another case of xenophobia we've come to take for granted: Vandals. Why a particular group of Germanic barbarians (And there's another word worth investigating!) got singled out as disturbers of peace and order, I know not. Why not Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Huns or some other rowdy bunch?
Say, one could sing that to the tune of "Merzy-dotes and dozey-dotes!" Ostrogoths and Visigoths and Huns are very rowdy/Shouldn't we all be rowdy too?
Well, the Huns got a pretty bad press as well. The use of "Huns" to denote Germans during the World Wars in the last century carried overtones of barbarian hordes attacking civilisation.
My dictionary traces "barbarian" and all its derivatives (barbaric, barbarity, etc.) back to the Greek barbaros, meaning "foreign". How dull! Not half as much fun as the "folk etymology" that I recall hearing: The Roman soldiers guarding that far outpost of empire-Hadrian's Wall- could hear the language of the uncultured brutes on the other side and compared it to the baaaaaing of sheep and developed the word barbaricus from that. Probably not a word of truth to it, but I like it!
I've also seen "barbarian" as meaning, "bearded one," thus separating the clean-shaven Romans from the more wooly wild men. Both etymologies seem plausible, and, I suspect, both might be true.
The way I was (mis?-)informed years ago was that when Roman soldiers encountered "foreign" individuals on the farther outskirts of the Roman Empire, they naturally couldn't understand their languages. To them it all sounded like "Bah-bah-bah-bah" (the 1,500-year-old variation of "yada, yada, yada") and from this came the word "barbarian."
Of course, in the movies everyone speaks English so this problem never comes up.
the 1,500-year-old variation of "yada, yada, yada")
Yada? The hard-to-understand Jedi master?
It was fascinating to check the etymology here.
'Barbarian' does seem to have been born as an imitation of yammering speech, but it the greeks or the romans who coined that imitation. Both OED-etymology and etymology on-line each note its kinship to Sanskrit barbara "stammering". (Question: Is Sanskrit the parent language of Greek, or a "brother" language derived from a common forebear?) The latter source takes it back farther, to a Proto-Indo-European base of "*barbar- echoic of unintelligible speech of foreigners".
Shufitz, I looked in Eric Partridge's ORIGINS and found that a common Indo-European root seemed likely. Also, the "barbarians" of Alexander the Great's Greek holdings in Africa became "Berbers," a term now associated only with tribesmen of North Africa.
As for my assertion above about the bearded people etymology, "barb" came to mean "beard" because of a beard's resemblance to the rearward facing point of a spear. So, anybody seen and bearded barbarian Berber barbers lately?
To resurrect an old thread discussing words and attitudes about racism, I realize that much of this is cultural. My daughter is working in a stodgy law firm this summer with an upbeat and vocal young woman (law student) from Romania. This is a large firm, with many people, and the young woman had trouble remembering faces. She said to one African-American woman, "I have trouble telling 'you' apart", the "you" referring to African-Americans. You can imagine the upshot of that! To her, this remark was merely an observation. To the firm partners...it may mean no job offer next year!
Some people think it's remarkable that our President's Residence is the WHITE House.
By the way, when Mr. Reagan was President, he, too, had a problem in telling "them" apart. There was a meeting of "black" mayors in Washington, D. C. The President cordially greeted one gentleman with "Good morning, Mr. Mayor," but .... the man was not a Mayor; he was a member of Reagan's own staff.
Duh! What were we talking about ???
By the way, when Mr. Reagan was President, he, too, had a problem in telling "them"
Don't worry, old man, soon all will be right with the world. Arnold Swartzenegger will soon follow in Reagan's foot-in-mouthsteps, become governor of Californica, then on to the White House, where he will not just tell them apart, but tear them apart as well. Oh, that pesky bit in the US Constitution about having to be born here? They'll change it. LIke, who's gonna stand in Ahnold's way?
Have any of you heard of this? Apparently in the South they used to have a comb, attached to a string, in the front pew at church. In order to sit in the front, and thus "closer to God", you had to take the "comb test." That is, if the comb passed through your hair more easily, you could sit in the front, near God. Otherwise, you were relegated to the back. Interestingly, this was meant for "lighter" blacks, versus "darker" blacks.
Now, being a mom, one of my reactions was--what about lice?!
Sounds very like one of those urban myths to me again. It seems extremely implausible. Did black and white people even share churches in the SOuth ?
I'd guess that it's another story someone has released onto the internet where all such stories eventually come to have their cadre of believers. I'd want a definite and reputable cite before I'd give it any kind of credence at all.
Non curo ! Si metrum no habet, non est poema.
Read all about my travels around the world here.
Read even more of my travel writing and poems on my weblog.
Fair enough, Bob. [It is sooo good to have you back! ] I can appreciate your skepticism. However, it wasn't a church with black and white congregants. They were all black. According to this columnist's colleague, they differentiated between light-skinned and dark-skinned black. The column was about the prejudice that's seen against dark-skinned blacks by light-skinned blacks. If the columist has an e-mail, I will ask her if she knows of a source to verify this.
Andrés Eloy Blanco, Venezuelan poet,1896 - 1955, wrote:
Píntame Angelitos Negros
(In the poem, the widow, Juana, who is black, is mourning the recent death of her black lover. She worries about finding him in Heaven, since she's noticed that in the paintings there are no black angels. The poem's final stanza is quoted here)
Translation ==> Oh Painter, you paint your Earth, but if you want to paint your Heaven, when you paint angels, remember your own people and beside the blond angel, and alongside the brown-haired angel, even though the Virgin is white, paint me some black angels.
quote:The columnist did not include her e-mail address; she is Dawn Turner Trice. I will say, I am currently reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin" again, and I am shocked at what happened in the U.S. in those days. It wouldn't surprise me at all.
Along these lines (and tying this back to the English language) two posers:
1.) Are you familiar with the term "paper bag test"? I don't know for sure but it wouldn't surprise me if this was a strictly U.S. term.
2.) Why is Agatha Christie's play "And Then There Were None" never performed anymore under its original title?
Answers next Wednesday (I think). No googling - grey matter only!
1. I have never heard of the "paper bag test".
2. If my memory serves me correctly the original title of the play (when it was running in London) was "Ten little Indians". Presumably that is not acceptable in the USA (and ten little Native Americans does not trip off the tongue) hence its new title which is taken from the last line of the original nursery rhyme. For indeed, "Ten little Indians was not the title of the book from which the play was adapted.
The book was entitled "Ten little Nigger Boys" and the title came from that of a nursery rhyme, popular when I was young. That it could be thought, even for a moment, to be offensive did not occur to us half a century ago. We lived in a more innocent, and probably more forgiving, age. The expression "nigger" was quite acceptable and "nigger brown" was even used as a colour name back then.
It is actually something of a mystery to me to understand why such an innocent word (from the Spanish, negro, meaning black) has become such an insult.
I suspect that the term was far less acceptable from the viewpoint of any non-whites within hearing distance than you may have realized at the time.
Without plunging deeply into a semantic cesspit just to clarify the repugnance which the term "nigger" has come to carry with it, suffice to say that any word can become loathsome itself if it is repeatedly linked to loathsome acts. If every time someone used the word "intellectual" an educated person was beaten and hanged from a tree, the term itself would make me more than a bit jittery whenever I heard it used by some slack-jawed rope-bearing moron looking in my direction.
You are correct, though, regarding the original title though I don't think the Indian/American Indian disparity entered into it. I have seen very old copies of the play titled "Ten Little Niggers" with the term referring to that racial group associated with the Indian sub-continent and, as you say, it seemed to be devoid of any derogatory content.
Regarding the "paper bag test," first off, this may reveal a degree of prejudice on my part but, having only seen photos of just a few of you but having read quite a bit of the writing of all, it seems to me that we are a pretty fair-skinned lot. No value judgement, there. We just seem to be a pretty Caucasian crowd. I think you know me well enough to believe me when I say that absolutely no offense is intended here.
The term "paper bag test" relates to a form of prejudice that most (if not all) of us on this board never experience in that it is a value judgement regarding the attractiveness of those of African descent made by those people amongst themselves. The test is simple. Is the color of your skin as light or lighter than a common paper bag used to hold groceries? If so, this is considered (by those holding stock in the validity of the test) as a plus.
By way of example, Halle Berry is considered by many to be just about the most beautiful woman in the world. If, however, she had a twin sister who was identical in every aspect except for the fact that her skin tone was closer to that of, say, Sidney Poitier, this sister, to say the least, would never be in a position to win an Oscar.
This may be a stateside phenomenon, I don't know. I do know, however, that it can make an effective arguement when a non-white makes the ridiculous statement that racial prejudice is a uniquely Caucasian evil.
A sidenote: I was once very much in love with a woman who, had the test been around at that time, would have failed it in a big way. Her skin tone was what Richard Pryor called "Blue black" meaning it was so dark that it seemed to glow with a blue tint. She had no qualms about walking arm-in-arm with me down the streets of Washington D.C. (a very racially charged area, sad to say) at night even though, proud liberal that I was and still am, this occasionally gave me a slight case of the heebie-jeebies.
One night, however, we encountered an unlocked parked car with its lights on and, good Samaritan that I am, I went to turn them off. She absolutely freaked! After a brief scene involving her physically restraining me from doing this good deed, she informed me in no uncertain terms that a white person in D.C. does not open the door of a strange car under any circumstances! Playing smoochy-face games on the street corner was one thing but you do not mess with someone's ride!
[This message was edited by C J Strolin on Thu Aug 28th, 2003 at 14:02.]
Spurs colours are also blue and white, and the Star of David is commonly seen at their games.
Which is why it has struck me, a longtime Arsenal fan, as richly ironic that Britain's Chief Rabbi is an Arsenal fan. Spurs can't hang on to anybody, it seems