Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP

By Irving Lewis Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
SIX TYPES OF SLURS AND THEIR THEMES

ETHNIC SLURS TRADITIONALLY occur in language and culture in a variety of forms, such as derisive nicknames for groups, several kinds of metaphors, children's rhymes and sayings, and the famous ethnic jokes. The epithet or nickname is the most frequent form, though the other kinds of slurs are plentiful in our cultural history. I will describe each type of slur with a few examples before turning to the most common type and the subject of this book--the derogatory name.

Scholars of American folklore have recorded scores of derisive adjectives taken from the proper names of ethnic groups. This particular device is most often used to slur the Mexicans, the Irish, the Jews, the blacks, the Dutch, the Chinese, and the French. Examples are Mexican breakfast for a cigarette and a glass of water, Irish spoon for a shovel, Jew flag for a dollar bill, Chinese B for an unearned grade in college, Dutch courage for the foolhardiness that comes with drink, French leave for being absent without leave from the military, and African golf for the dice game of craps. Such terms are still used now and then. Columnist William Safire January 17, 1983), for example, referred to organizational

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