1. Arthur: Interestingly, at least from the brief descriptions on that page, several of the uses of “niggardly” on that page do appear to me to be intended to be racist: the Obama one, the B. Curry one, and likely the Broward County one.

  2. Back in the early days of Mutt & Jeff, ethnic humor was the norm and nobody gave it a second thought. Entertainers exaggerated the stereotypes of their own ethnicity, whether they were Black (Bert Williams), Jewish (Max Davidson), Scots (Sir Harry Lauder) or whatever.The very word “racism” was unknown.

  3. WW, I agree with you about the Broward case; I don’t have enough information on the Obama one to form an opinion. Note that the section after the Broward case suggests that racist usage of it might increase.

  4. Arthur; Those predictions are all from the years after the Howard case in 1999, though.

    Incidentally, none of the examples in the Wikipedia article resulted in firings. The only one I see with formal consequences are the Wilmington teacher, and the Broward case.

  5. Winter, I didn’t realize the resignation had been withdrawn: the media isn’t big on follow-ups.

    That said, I don’t recognize a practical difference between being pressured to resign and being fired.

    And I do stand by my feeling that this was a big step toward the post-fact society we live in today. To my mind, anyway.

    Of course, decades earlier we had a politician who was defeated because his opponent said he practiced monogamy and his sister was a thespian, so it’s not as if anything’s new.

  6. “The very word ‘racism’ was unknown.”

    Well technically, the word came into English-language use no later than 1902 (though the French “racisme” appeared decades earlier, and it really didn’t take a genius to “coin” “racism” when “racisme” already existed), and Mutt and Jeff didn’t appear until 1907; but the word didn’t become widespread in the English language until the 1930s.

    Aren’t you sorry you brought it up, Mark?

  7. There are some words with folk etymology that give racist connotation where none exists. One is “picnic”, where supposedly whites would get together, have an outdoor party, then to cap it off “pick a . . . ” well a victim for a lynching. Completely bogus of course, but some believe it.

  8. Winter Wallaby “Dutch treat” clearly has a bigoted origin … I’ve never met, or indirectly heard of, anyone who genuinely thought that Dutch people were cheap.

    I’m not sure if it is bigoted. The earliest use I can find of the phrase, and possibly it’s origin, is in an 1875 book Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles. The author speaks of the practice with respect and suggests that America should adopt it. He doesn’t imply that it’s “cheap”.

    Also, the “Dutch” are Germans.


  9. There seems to be an assumption that if a people or group are mentioned in a phrase, the phrase is therefore a slur. But it might not be.

  10. There are a number of English idioms (most of which have fallen out of use) that use the word “Dutch:”

    Going Dutch / Dutch treat
    Double Dutch (gibberish, also a jump rope game)
    Dutch uncle (a harsh/stern/frank person, pretty much the opposite of “avuncular”)
    Dutch courage (courage obtained by the consumption of hard liquor)
    Dutch wife/widow (a prostitute)
    Dutch gold (a gold-appearing metal that is relatively worthless)
    Dutch comfort (solace taken from the fact things could be worse)
    Dutch oven (A large metal cooking pot with a heavy or tight-fitting lid)

    What most of these terms have in common is that something Dutch is a cheap substitute or an inferior version of the real thing. While it may be true that there are no written references of “Dutch treat” before the 1880s, most of these other terms have earlier written references, and probably entered usage during the Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th century. While it is possible that a couple of these terms might have more innocent origins, it is pretty clear that the majority were intended to be pejorative.

    Incidentally, I’ve heard the “each man pay his own bar tab” story as the source for “Dutch treat” before in reference to the Pennsylvania Dutch. However, it’s hard for me to imagine enough that many Amish, Mennonites, and Moravians were hanging out in 19th century bars.

  11. I don’t think you’ll find much negative about “Dutch doors”.

    Perhaps there is nothing to look askance at either about “Dutch husband” — a cushion you put between your knees while sleeping (on your side), either to allow cooling airflow in hot climates, or perhaps for positioning for those with joint pain.

  12. When my brother moved to California, a couple years after college, his first housing arrangement was apartment-sharing, found thru a network of friends from Chicago. He didn’t really know the people who were to be his flatmates, as he was taking over the slot of his actual friend.

    So, not really knowing them, he was unsure what to make of it when they would refer to the landlords of their privately-held building as “The Jews”. Thus for instance, “The pipes are leaking in the downstairs bath, has anyone reported it to the Jews?” and “Whose turn is it to write the rent check and take it to the Jews?” But we hadn’t been brought up to quickly jump to suspecting anti-semitism, so he didn’t ask pointed questions about their choice of term — but he did notice it and think it a little odd.

    After a couple of months, it was his turn to front the rent check, and deliver it in person. He met the owners, in their home around the corner — a Chinese-American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jew.

  13. As Pete indicated above, the “Dutch” in “Pennsylvania Dutch” is a corrupted form of “Deutsch“, meaning “German”. For what it’s worth, when settling the bill in a German restaurant, it’s extremely common that the server will first ask “Zusammen oder getrennt“, meaning “(pay) together, or separately?” If the latter, each person reports all of the items he or she had, and pays (and tips) just for that portion. It’s cumbersome, but it usually works out OK. This custom may very well be the origin of “Dutch treat”.

  14. Arthur: Pressure from the Mayor, or due to bad feeling from colleagues? In the article I linked to he says that he made the decision purely on his own. But in any event, I would say a story where the bad decision (to accept the resignation) was reversed due to outside pressure is not a good illustration of how facts can’t defend against ignorance – quite the opposite, actually.

    Incidentally, I think the last time I encountered the “Dutch are cheap” stereotype was ~20 years ago, on a postcard showing what the “ideal European” would look like in the new, common currency EU: As hard-working as a Spaniard, as efficient as an Italian, as generous as a Dutch person, the sense of humor of a German, etc. . .

  15. So let me see if I understand this: When in Hungry, you need to to bring two Czechs with you and present them before the Finnish?

  16. Brian in STLj, I didn’t know HO applied to slot cars, too. Does it match up with the gauge for model trains, or is it just a coincidence.

  17. “The very word “racism” was unknown.”

    But “racialism” was.

    My point being nothing more, and nothing less, than racism has always existed whether we referred to it by that term or not.


    But just having a term doesn’t necessarily mean slur. And having the origin of a now ubiquitous term be offensive doesn’t mean it still is (I am never going to call my “dutch oven” or my “scotch tape” anything else). But on the other hand that doesn’t mean all terms are inoffensive (Say “he jewed me” or “Indian giver” in my presence and… I’ll nod politely but secretly wish I had the guts to punch you in the nose). I realize the language of “identity politics” is slap-dash and overly simplistic, but there is something to the idea that slurs against powered are different than slurs against the powerless (yes, that’s way oversimplified and pat) and no-one of scott or dutch descent is significantly harmed by stereotypes (which isn’t to say they aren’t offensive) but bet your *** jews, blacks, american indians are.

    Anyway, nothing is a simply yes,, I’m always right and you are always wrong situation. So I *know* there are cases where what I wrote above is bollocks.

  18. Brian in STLj, I didn’t know HO applied to slot cars, too. Does it match up with the gauge for model trains, or is it just a coincidence.

    It’s similar but not exact as I recall. The HO cars are 1:64 scale and about three inches in length. The tracks had two wires embedded on either side of the slot that carried the current. The cars had spring-loaded pickup shoes that made contact with the wires.

    There were many variations and generations. I had a Aurora Model Motoring set.


  19. Interestingly, when I read that site I linked again, it states that the HO cars weren’t, but were 1:76 scale or British OO gauge.

  20. Woozy, “racialism” is not much older than “racism”. There is a citation from the 19th century, but “racism” does not appear in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary or the early printings (around 1934) of the Second Edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary. It appears in later printings of each of these in the “new words” section.
    Yes, racism has always been with us, but so has nuclear fusion in the form of energy from the sun, and we didn’t have a word for that either until the early 20th century.

    I wonder what other terrible things we are doing right now that we don’t have a word for yet?

  21. Hey a lot of adults run slot cars, and also model trains. 🙂 Funny the H0 slot car article mentions “foreign 00 gauge” trains. While British 00 scale is known today, Lionel offered their own line in that size prior to WWII. Note that Lionel’s track gauge was wider than that of H0, but British practice used H0 track. (When H0 scale was developed, motors were too big to fit the dainty British steam locos so the scale was fudged while keeping the gauge for convenience.) Also note that the terms H0 and 0 gauge the “0” should actually be a zero. 0 was part of a 19th century toy train cataloging system. #1 gauge was a step larger, #2 (rarely seen) larger still along with #3 and #4, while 00 was smaller. As the article states H0 was literally half of 0.

    Not that anybody here asked…


  22. Hey, good to know.
    Now could you please help us understand the A series and B series of paper sheet sizes, of which A4 is the most familiar everyday instance?

  23. @ Grawlix – In English, I have never heard anyone refer to the “H0” scale as anything other than “aitsch oh“, but that didn’t help me in German, in which the scale is universally known as “ha null” (meaning “H zero”).
    P.S. @ Mitch4 – I have zero knowledge about the intricacies of model trains, but metric paper sizes are logical, and easy to use, once you understand the system. The basis (which is only rarely if ever used) is “A0” format (note the zero, just like the one in “H0”).
    An A0 sheet measures one square meter in size, but it is not square: instead, it has an aspect ratio equal to the “golden ratio“. The trick is that if you cut that sheet in half, each of the halves has exactly the same aspect ratio, thus producing “A1” format(*). Cutting A1 in half produces A2, and two more cuts results in the (most) popular A4 format (21 cm wide, 29,7 cm tall). A5 is a popular notebook page size, and some business cards are printed in A8 format, although “credit card” format is more popular.
    P.P.S. You could lay out sixteen A4 sheets of paper to form the shape of an A0 sheet (see the diagram). If you weigh those 16 pages of A4 paper, the result (in grams) is the “grade” of the paper (80 gram paper is the usual standard).

  24. P.S. The trick with the golden ratio is different: removing a square the size of the short dimension leaves a smaller strip that is still in the same aspect ratio.

  25. I had sort of figured that the use of Dutch meant fake – a Dutch treat is not a treat, a Dutch uncle is not an uncle, a Dutch door is two parts of a door – not a “real” door – but that was just something I guessed at and am probably wrong based on what was said here.

    The house our reenactment unit interprets for the Christmas candlelight event was owned by a family which had come from Holland when same owned the colony. The doors to the outside (all 3 of them, but one should no longer be there and should be a window base on info a member of the unit found about the history of the house) are Dutch doors. One of the reason that none of us portray the family who the house belongs to is that it would make no sense to say “see our Dutch doors” if one was one was Dutch and considered it normal – or see our cabinet/box bed if one thought it normal. So when discussing (never gossiping which would get one into trouble) about my friends whose home it is, when talking about the differences between the house and that of an English family (of the same economic level) I will point out the various differences including the doors and say “We call them Dutch doors, the Dutch of course just call them doors. They are a most wonderful idea – on a nice day one opens the top and it lets in the light and air and (pause) it keeps out the small children and animals.” Also said about the family – but not necessarily because they are Dutch, just logical “The family is of the gentry class and very wealthy. They have been here since it were (accent for was) a Dutch colony. Each generation accumulated wealth and left it to the next, which accumulated more wealth and left it to the next, and so on.” This is not intended as Dutch thing, but rather to point out the logic that since they were in the colony longer than “we” British they have had more time to accumulate wealth for the family and more time for that wealth to increase.

    The Pennsylvania Dutch is definitely from the German work for German – Deutsch. It includes a much larger assortment of groups than the traditionally dressed and commonly known Amish and Mennonites. The Goshenhoppen event we go to in the summer includes the other groups and those volunteering at the event are in German 18th century or 19th century (depending on the area they are working in) clothing, which in general is the same as English ditto, with small variations. The other religious groups included – Dunkards, Moravians, Lutherans, Reformed, and some others that I cannot remember right now.

    (The house we interpret is one of three houses that belonged to the extended family that still exist in museums. The owner of the house was one of the men who decided to separate the north part of the township of Hempstead before the American Revolution from the main part of Hempstead – resulting in the current two separate townships of Hempstead and North Hempstead. This was out of political diffrences as the Hempstead part leaned towards loyalty to the British crown, while North Hempstead leaned towards breaking away – the north part was more heavily Dutch (and the Dutch remained in same remained Theodore Roosevelt living in North Hempstead) and the south part more heavily English. The son, who is a year old in 1775 for our event, becomes more important than his father when grown and serves as a judge when is grown.)

  26. My uncle – a Spanish teacher in his earlier years and having worked in export in his later years thought Gitano a strange name for jeans – it meant gypsy in Spanish. (If incorrect – his error not mine.)

    At some point between when I first learned about them as a child and more recently “a Jew harp” became “a jaw harp”.

    Lastly, even rudder than using racist terms in English is using them also in Yiddish. I will not list them. I have mentioned before and been corrected by (I think Bill) that the phrase does not mean what I thought it did –

    There is a phrase in Yiddish “hocking a chine ick” (not sure of the spelling – chine rhymes with spine). I had grown up with my dad saying that it meant “sounding like a chinaman” – meaning how the Chinese language sounds to the English ear. I was at an embroidery meeting and was speaking to a friend who would know the phrase and said it about someone not at the meeting and totally unrelated to same. I then realized a good friend who is Chinese was standing to side of me. I think I literally turned red when I thought about it and have not used the phrase or it’s short version “hocking” since. When I posted here before though I was told it meant sounding like a tea kettle. I guess both could be right. My point being that words and phrases we grew up hearing are ingrained in us and can be said with no intent to insult anyone or insinuate anything, but might offend someone today.

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