ETHNIC SLURS IN HISTORICAL AMERICAN SLANG
ETHNIC SLURS IN historical American speech compete in number with terms for sex and related matters. Perhaps as many as twelve hundred ethnic slur-names or epithets appear in those scholarly annals and other sources that record the historical words of popular speech in our language. Most of these slurs are obsolete today, but a surprising number of the old words are still to be heard, and a few new ones seem to appear each year. Whether obsolete or current, they are of equal interest for social history.
Ethnic slurs began appearing in American English when the first British settlers came into contact with Native American Indians. Redskin, whose earliest known written instance is 1699, was one of the first slur-names given by white settlers to the Native Americans they encountered. The whites soon began their infamous three-hundred-year relationship with the African slaves they imported and another, larger torrent of verbal abuse was unleashed. As other groups arrived and the country became more ethnically diverse, the number of slurs grew in direct proportion. Ethnic slurs appear in response to social and economic conflict during historical periods of rapid social change. The coinage of most slurs can be associated with great events in our social his-