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Miscellany :-

These pages are for subjects that I find particularly interesting. Unfortunately, I've neither the time nor resources to research them more fully, but luckily, other people have made fascinating web-sites on these subjects. I hope you find the choice of material here as interesting as I do.

Racial Insults :-

Firstly, I'd better make my position clear. I'm not a racist and this page isn't designed to denigrate or insult any particular group of people. It's not even supposed to poke fun at anyone, it's just my thoughts on the subject. Also, throughout my life I've been lucky and met many interesting, clever, hardworking people. Unfortunately, now and then I've managed to stumble upon some really ignorant, stupid, lazy, violent ones too. Neither group predominately belong to any particular race, creed, or religion.

I don't like discrimination and neither do I like the thought of positive discrimination, positive action, affirmative action or whatever the current politically correct term is. It'd be nice to think that the blind, crippled, single parent, black woman, an extreme example, is there because she's good at her job rather than just to fill some quota. This is the reason I think that positive discrimination is not the way forward, and demeaning to both the giver and recipient of such charity.

Britons have traditionally, where I grew up anyway - a working class council estate in Bristol, called all Americans Yanks, regardless of whether they came from California, Maine or any other state. When Patty first started visiting me in England I think she was a bit taken aback when a friend of my mothers cheerily greeted us with "It's Ray, and he's brought that Yank with him."

In July 2004, a group of us were sat in IHOP (International House of Pancakes) when someone asked me if I knew the etymology of the word Yank or Yankee. I realised that I never and decided to look it up.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary I found Yankee - 1683, probably applied disparagingly by Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) to English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. It may be from Du. Janke, dim. of common personal name Jan, or from Jan Kes familiar form of "John Cornelius," or perhaps an alternative of Jan Kees, dialect variant of Jan Kaas, literally "John Cheese," the generic nickname the Flemings used for Dutchmen. It originally seems to have been applied insultingly to Dutch, especially freebooters, before they turned around and slapped it on the English. In England a term of contempt (1750s) before its use as a general term for "native of New England" (1765). Shortened form Yank in reference to "an American" first recorded 1778.

Wikipedia says that one suggestion is that it derives from Dutch Janke, diminutive of Jan (John), or Jan Kees, for "John Cheese", a nickname for English settlers bestowed by the Dutch in the early days of New York City. The phrase was probably popularized by the English in the song Yankee Doodle Dandee to describe New Yorkers, and perhaps, all (Northern) Americans in the colonies.

The term probably originated in old New Amsterdam, New Holland and New York, in the Mid-Atlantic. It then was adopted by the British to describe (Northern) colonists. In the Civil War, the phrase referred to all residents and soldiers of northern or free states, usually used derisively by rebel troops and secession sympathizers.

The New York Yankees baseball team refocused attention on New York, and the need to describe the rural, New Englander of puritan stock probably caused reporters and authors to bring back the slang shorthand term Yankee. Finally, citizens of other countries, including the British during the World Wars, referred to all Americans as Yanks. This is not to be confused with the British slang wank, which is something else entirely.

The term Yankee is still used in The South as a derisive term for persons from any state north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Wikipedia also has the following :-

To foreigners, a Yankee is an American.
To Americans, a Yankee is an Easterner.
To Easterners, a Yankee is a New Englander.
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a Vermonter.
And in Vermont, a Yankee is somebody who eats pie for breakfast.

One site that I found, and now can't find again, said that the term Yank was applied to the English by the Dutch because of the amount of cheese they made and ate. I wonder why lots of national insults come from food? The British call the French frogs and the Germans krauts. In turn the Australians call us pommies (derived from pomegranate) and the Americans call us limeys. What sort of insult is that? "I'm so mad at you, you lime juice drinking people." It's almost as funny as the line in Monty Python's Holy Grail "Your father was a hamster and your mother smells of elderberries."

There is a list of ethnic slurs on the Fact Index site, many of which I've never heard before and most of which I wouldn't dream of using.

One of the strangest insults was based on a character from a long running British TV soap opera. Crossroads was first broadcast in 1964 and ran until 1988. One of the characters in it was of less than average intelligence, who always wore a woollen hat. His name was Benny, played by Paul Henry. During the 1982 Falklands War, British soldiers started calling the islanders "Bennies" after Paul Henry's character. This caused a lot of friction and so the soldiers were ordered to stop the use of the nickname. This they did, instead they started calling the islanders "Still" as in "Still a Bennie."

In 1910, Robertson's, the English jam and preserve manufacturers started to use the Golliwog as an advertising mascot. When I was a boy in the 1960's and 70's I remember collecting the paper Gollys they used to place behind the jar labels and sending off for ceramic football or musician figurines. I had a complete set of both, I wish I'd still had them as they are apparently worth quite a bit of money now. In the 1980's Robertson's came under increasing attack for using Golly as a marketing device - the term wog had long been a racial insult for black people in the UK. Around the same time Enid Blyton books started to be removed from libraries as one of the characters in her children's books was a golliwog. In 2001 Robertson's stopped using Golly.

In the spring of 2004 Patty and I went to a yard sale. There wasn't much of interest to me as they seemed to be mostly selling a bunch of collectible dolls. But in a corner was an original Robertson's padded Golliwog. I called out to Patty to come and see the Golliwog and then some woman said to me I shouldn't say things like that as it was insulting. As I told her, "Golliwog is the name of that type of doll, the insult to black people is wog. If she thought golliwog was insulting then they may as well ban Barbie dolls as an insult to fat people."

Robertson's Golly from around 1970
Images from Ginger's Collectables

When I think of golliwog, I always think of these toys, the term wog is an insult to black people and not a word I can remember using. For a discussion about the word golliwog see Fact Index and for a discussion of the term wog and golliwog as a racial slur then see the Ferris State University's Jim Crow Museum of Racial Memorabilia. Bear in mind when you read this that despite what it says, being British, I can't remember the term golliwog being a common racial slur.

Times change, hopefully for the better. During the days of slavery many very religious people could see nothing wrong with it and some were in fact were very prominant participants in the trade. When Agatha Christie wrote "Ten Little Niggers" (changed to "Ten Little Indians" and when that became non PC "And Then There Were None") in 1939 she was referring to a counting nursery rhyme which went...

Ten little nigger boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.
Nine little nigger boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.
Eight little nigger boys travelling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were Seven.
Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.
Six little nigger boys playing with a hive;
A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.
Five little nigger boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were Four.
Four little nigger boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.
Three little nigger boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was One.
One little nigger boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were None.

Hardly politically correct today, but Christie, like the slavers before her and even us living today, was a product of their times and she probably saw little wrong with the word nigger. This isn't to condone or excuse their actions, but just to remind people that values do change. Neither had Christie singled out this particular rhyme, some of her other books also took their titles from nursery rhymes (One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, 1940; Crooked House, 1949; Three Blind Mice (The Mousetrap), 1950 and A Pocket Full of Rye, 1953).

I don't like the word nigger and can't ever remember using it. When I moved to the United States I was however surprised to hear black people use it to describe each other. Both Ferris State University's Jim Crow Museum of Racial Memorabilia and Fact Index say that black people use the word amongst their own as a "term of endearment", All I can say to that is that some of the times I've heard blacks use it to describe a fellow black person it most certainly wasn't.


Together - A British skinhead and black lady

Peoples March for Jobs, Brockwell Park, Lambeth, London, 30th May 1981

Miscellany | 6 Degrees | Afghanistan | Biological Warfare | DW Canoe Race | The Donner Party | The Eastland | The Edmund Fitzgerald | K Class Submarines (Page 1), (Page 2) | McClellan | Murder | Plagiarism | Product Placement | Racial Insults | Ten Plagues of Egypt | UK & US Flags

HomePage | Optical Illusions | War Stories | QBasic | Dads Navy Days | Bristol | Bristol, USA | Bristol, Canada | Terre Haute | Miscellany | Web Stuff | About Ray | Site Map | Site Search | Messages | Credits | Links | Web Rings

This page created 30th September 2004, last modified 27th April 2005

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