Racial Slurs

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by mikenostic, Jan 16, 2009.

  1. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    Sometimes when I hear a racial slur of any kind, especially if it's the first time hearing it, I often wonder where the term came from, and why it became offensive.
    So I've started this thread concerning racial slurs and where they came from.
    NOTE: That said, I want this to remain a factual discussion only. Please, no trolling or flame wars. I do not want this thread closed because someone can't keep their opinions and their goading to themselves. Thanks!

    I'll begin with the term 'honkey'. Since I'm white, it's only fair.
    Before I went and looked this up, I didn't know that's where the term came from.
    As for the statement in bold, I'm assuming that blacks took the original term and just ran with it given the racial issues going on at that time?
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  3. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    Another one: Kike.

    Had no idea about this one either. But I figured the term itself may have been of Hebrew origin.
    As for the additional terms in bold, I had never even heard of those before today.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    My mother's family were Bohemian immigrants in Chicago, so I heard the word bandied about routinely. The older generation did not find it offensive and used it among themselves, but people born in the 20th century regarded it with disapproval.

    The acceptance of this word is not so remarkable when we realize that "Bohemian" itself is a misnomer. The people call themselves cech with a caron (inverted circumflex) over the C. Early anglophone fonts had no caron, so to avoid the confusion of two CH digraphs pronounced differently (the original CH is the Slavic KH phoneme), instead of "Chech" English adopted the Polish spelling czech. Good thing, because now the Chechens are in the news.

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    But throughout Europe the Czechs were known as Bohemians because their country (Cechy in their language) was historically called "Bohemia." In Roman times, long before the Slavic migration into central Europe, a Celtic tribe called the Bohumil lived, there and the name stuck. Perhaps because "Bohemia" is a lot easier to spell and pronounce than "Czech."

    There are plenty of precedents for this: We call Deutschland "Germany," Suomi "Finland," Magyarorszag "Hungary," Shqiperia "Albania" and Hellas "Greece." Nonetheless, after Perestroika when the Czechs and Slovaks re-divided their 20th-century creation along historical lines, the Czechs decided to call their half "The Czech Republic," so we don't call it "Bohemia" any more.

    Anyway, my point is that the Czechs had spent more than a thousand years being called "Bohemians" so changing it into a different form wasn't much of an additional insult.
    I question the quality of the scholarship behind this article, since the German Jews are just as much Ashkenazim as the people from Poland and Russia. In fact, by tracing the routes of the Diaspora, we find the original Ashkenazim settling in what is now Germany and their descendants spreading first eastward, and later to northwestern Europe. Askenaz in the Middle Ages was the Hebrew name for what is now Germany and nearby regions (perhaps taken from the name of a Patriarch named in the Torah), so Ashkenazi literally means "German Jew."

    The other main division of the Jewish people were the Sephardim, who had settled in Iberia. After the Moors were driven out and the Inquistion made Iberia a hostile place for Jews, they migrated to southern Europe and Asia Minor and even back into the Middle East. The two peoples developed noticeably different traditions so the names have stuck, even within modern Israel. For example, the Ashkenazim adopted the German language, with their dialect eventually evolving into the separate language of Yiddish, whereas the Sephardim spoke Spanish, which evolved into Ladino. Since the Sephardim had retained liturgical traditions similar to Jewish communities in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire, the name Sephardim came to be applied to all Jews who are not Ashkenazim.
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  7. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    That's some detailed history right there. I didn't know any of that. Now my brain is going to need about an hour to process all of that detail. Haha.

    As for the Deutschland/Germany thing, how does it relate to the French word for it, Allemagne? Is it a more direct translation to Deutschland, than from Deutschland to Germany(which as you mentioned, those two don't seem to have any direct translation between them)?
  8. Athelwulf Rest in peace Kurt... Registered Senior Member

    According to Wiktionary, "spic" is an imitation of how a person with a Spanish accent might say "speak." And here's information on "chink":
    Man, my gut reaction to this is, this is the way I would expect a Southerner to speak. "Hey, yerr one o' them chinky-eyed types, ain't ya?" But I have to remember that this is all a common phenomenon in language.

    There are quite a few names for Germans and Germany across Europe, most probably because for a long time there was no such thing as Germany like there was such a thing as England. From France's perspective, one of the closest Germanic tribes to them territorially, if I'm not mistaken, were the Alamanni. That's where French allemand/Allemagne, Spanish alemán/Alemania, and Portuguese alemão/Alemanha, come from. Apparently the Khmer term for the Germans is āleumong; Cambodia was formerly part of French Indochina.

    The other perspectives are quite interesting. The Germanic tribes saw themselves as just people, of course. Deutsch is a term descended from the proto-Germanic word for "people," which was something like *thiuda. The same word in other languages: In English, "Dutch" (the closest group of Germanic language speakers to England, and I believe it once applied to Germans as well), and "Teutonic"; Dutch, Duits; in Scandinavia, a variation of tysk; and interestingly, Italian tedesco.

    On the Baltic Sea, northeast of Germany, people seemingly came to associate the Saxons, a particular Germanic tribe, with all other Germanic people and the area of Germany. The Finnish word for Germany is Saksa, and Estonian, Saksamaa.

    Variations among many Slavic languages, like Russian немец (nemets), in addition to Hungarian német, derive from a proto-Slavic root meaning "mute."

    As for "German" and the variations you'll see in other languages, I'm a little hazy on the origin. I think the word is from Latin and was an alternative to "Teutonic," also from Latin. I think it meant "spear men."

    Dare I bring this all back full-circle to the original topic? No, I guess I don't.
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The Allemani were one of the major Germanic tribes during the Roman era. It's the Latinized form of their own prosaic name for themselves, Alle mann(er), "all men." (In those days "men" was implicitly equivalent to "people." In Modern German der Mensch is used for "person.")

    The Franks were another of those tribes. (AFAIK the origin of that name is lost and it's widely doubted that the Franks actually used it for themselves.) That's where the name of the country France comes from. The Romans originally called the place Gallia because it was the home of the Gauls, a Celtic tribe. But on their watch they saw the Franks migrate into northern France from what is now Germany. The Franks' Germanic superstratum in French, a Romance language, is striking. Three obvious examples:
    • The uvular R. To this day you can still hear the original Celtic and Latin flapped R in the south of France, where the Gauls were not overrun.
    • The umlauted vowels, e.g. tu, coeur.
    • The preference for the present perfect tense over the preterit: Tu m'as aimé, "You have loved me," not Tu m'aimas, "You loved me."
    Indeed. We still call the Amish-Mennonite spectrum of ethnically German communities in the Northeastern USA "Pennsylvania Dutch." They speak a rather archaic form of German, which is a very common phenomenon in small expatriate populations isolated from the homeland. When talking films were invented, my mother's generation of Bohemian immigrants (we call them Czechs today because it's easier to spell) made a few movies in Bohemian. Naturally they proudly shipped a few reels back to the old country. They had to be dubbed in 20th-century Czech because the people of Prague couldn't understand the dialog.
    Since there was no more-or-less united "German people" until rather recently, everyone called their local German hordes

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    by that particular tribe's name. The Saxons were an extremely prominent tribe, since they lived on the seacoast and had easy access to many other people's territories. Even the Britons (the original Celtic tribe of central Britannia) tended to refer to all of the German invaders as Saxons, even though many of them were Angles and Jutes. Ironically though, the descendants of those invaders ultimately renamed the country "Angle Land." Nonetheless, in addition go the region "East Anglia," modern "England" also has "West Saxony" (Wessex), "East Saxony" (Essex) and "South Saxony" (Sussex).
    Germanes is the Latin word for "brethren," as in Spanish hermano and English "germaine." But the reason the Romans named north-central Europe Germania is unclear. Until the second century BCE, the Greeks and Romans didn't really understand the ethnicities of the people north of them, a mixture of the early Celtic tribes with the West Germanic and East Germanic (Gothic) tribes who had recently migrated south out of Scandinavia and were taking over. It could be that they were simply alluding to their (mistaken) assumption that they were all related tribes, but that's speculation. (The Celts were the first Indo-European tribes to migrate to the continent and they once had virtually all of sub-Scandinavian Europe to themselves, leaving the Basques, the Etruscans--who are now extinct--and perhaps the also-extinct Picts as the only unassimilated survivors of its previous population.)
    I think so. Calling any people by a name other than what they call themselves is ultimately what this thread is about. Some of those names are of course coined deliberately to insult, but many are not and simply end up that way by accident.

    Take guk. It's the Korean word for "nation," from the ancient Chinese word gwok. Han-guk simply means "Korea" or "Korean." During the Korean civil war in the early 1950s, guk was a short and easy slang word to mean my countryman, as opposed to the various foreign soldiers who had chosen to involve themselves in the war. Naturally the foreign soldiers adopted the word, which quickly acquired a derogatory connotation. During the next decade when the US government decided to participate in the Vietnamese civil war, U.S. veterans of Korea once again found themselves among rival factions of East Asian people who looked similar to each other but much different from the Americans, so it was a no-brainer to dredge up the word guk to refer dismissively to all of them regardless of their politics. When it finally hit print it was transcribed "Gook," even though the original word has a shorter U, more like "put."

    When massive immigration from East Asian countries began in the late 1970s, Americans--to whom "all Orientals look alike"--called them all "Gooks."

    "Wop" is also a word which was originally complimentary. It's Italian guapo, which means "handsome"--Spanish has the same word. I suspect we got it from the Sicilians. Sicilian is regarded by many linguists as a separate language, and many of the phonemes of Italian are elided from the words. Guapo would be shortened to uap. Check out the dialog in any movie about the Mafia and you'll hear a lot of words that sound like truncated Italian.
  10. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    Gook was going to be the next term I researched. Thanks for filling us in on that one.

    Then where did they come up with the 'with out papers' term? Have you heard anything about that?

    What about the 'N' word? I have to say N word because it's the only racial slur that I can't bring myself to say or type. IMO, it carries more weight and insult than any other slur: even moreso than 'darkie', 'porch monkey' etc.
    Did the N word orignate as a nickname slang term for the word Negro (which more less means 'black' in Spanish)?
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Any etymology from an acronym before WWII is highly suspicious. It just wasn't common practice, especially in slang. That's when we began hearing words like radar and snafu.

    The phenomenon you're talking about is called a "backronym," making up a reasonable-sounding etymology for a word whose actual etymology is elusive, and having it accepted without challenge.

    Another is "Port Out, Starboard Home" for posh. The explanation is that the tickets of upper-class passengers on British ships were stamped with that acronym so they'd be able to see land going both ways on a trip to the continent. However, no people keep more meticulous records, and resist throwing them away for a longer time, than the British. There are no records of this acronym in any steamship company.
    Negro, pronounced NEH-groh (more or less; the Spanish hard G in this position is actually more of a voiced fricative than a voiced stop), is the Spanish word for "black." In Spanish an adjective can be used as a noun, as if it modifies the understood noun "person," so el negro is simply "the black man." Americans have always been godawful at pronouncing foreign words, so when they saw the word negro in slave manifests they pronounced it as if it were English, i.e, NEE-grow.

    American Southerners have always been godawful at pronouncing English words, so that incredibly difficult series of phonemes

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    was transformed into NIH-g'r. I do not believe it was originally meant as an insult, or slang, or anything like that. It was just the way they pronounced the word. After all, keeping them as slaves was enough of an insult.

    I haven't researched this thoroughly (it's not easy to Google this word and home in on the scholarly papers), but remember that during Reconstruction (the first couple of decades after the Civil War) many Northerners came to the South to "reconstruct" it. They brought their own dialect and pronounced "negro" correctly. I'd bet that this was the moment when the Southerners insisted on using their own pronunciation to make it clear that they did not agree with the Northern opinion of African-Americans.

    They also have another word, whose origin I understand even less well, which has fallen out of vogue and will probably disappear as the Southerners who were born before WWII and the civil rights era die off. It's usually spelled "nigra" and is pronounced NIH-gruh. It's the plural, except I've always heard it used to mean the entire African-American population, rather than just a group.

    I've never lived in the South so I have no personal observations of how the people there speak on their own turf.

    Words for dark skin and the people who have it don't have an easy life. The Yiddish word for black is shvartz (from German schwarz), and, as in Spanish, an adjective can be used as a noun. So der shvartze, declined with the appropriate grammatical suffix, is short for der shvartze man, "the black man." It's simply the grammatically correct way of identifying a man by his skin color. But somewhere along the way, I think in the 1960s, it started to be regarded as offensive. Yiddish is dying out in America, so I have no idea what word, if any, was pressed into service to replace it.

    Perhaps soon we won't need words like that, when, as Heile Selassie (aka Ras Tafari Makonen) hoped, "The color of a man's skin is no more important than the color of his eyes." I'm sitting here in the Washington DC metropolitan area on the night before the 2008 presidential inauguration, and this city is having the biggest party that the human race has ever thrown. The roads are closed for two miles in every direction and people are walking in from Virginia (the old Confederacy, bless their hearts) to stand jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with the descendants of slaves and immigrants from India, China, Africa and Mexico, and the entire cosmopolitan population of this place. We can all hope that this man, because of his achievement, will be the last one whose skin color is thought of as important.
  12. shorty_37 Go! Canada Go! Registered Senior Member

    You want to hear a lot of racial slurs, go to see the new movie GRAN TORINO with Clint Eastwood.

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