Sunday, January 25, 2015

fun with racial slurs

At my last writer's meeting somebody questioned my use of the racial slur "cracker," so I got curious and did some new digging; new resources crop up all the time. I knew 'cracker' was pre-Civil War but didn't know it was pre-Revolution.

From a/k/a the most wonderful writer's resource ever:
cracker (n.2)
Southern U.S. derogatory term for "poor, white trash" (1766), probably an agent noun from crack (v.) in the sense "to boast" (as in not what it's cracked up to be). Compare Latin crepare "to rattle, crack, creak," with a secondary figurative sense of "boast of, prattle, make ado about."
I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode. [1766, G. Cochrane]
But DARE compares corn-cracker "poor white farmer" (1835, U.S. Midwest colloquial). Especially of Georgians by 1808, though often extended to residents of northern Florida. Another name in mid-19c. use wassand-hiller "poor white in Georgia or South Carolina."

Not very essentially different is the condition of a class of people living in the pine-barrens nearest the coast [of South Carolina], as described to me by a rice-planter. They seldom have any meat, he said, except they steal hogs, which belong to the planters, or their negroes, and their chief diet is rice and milk. "They are small, gaunt, and cadaverous, and their skin is just the color of the sand-hills they live on. They are quite incapable of applying themselves steadily to any labor, and their habits are very much like those of the old Indians." [Frederick Law Olmsted, "A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States," 1856]

Also, the less well-known and southern-specific "buckra"

buckra (n.)
disparaging term among U.S. blacks for "white person," especially a poor one, 1790, apparently from an African language; compare mbakara "master" in Efik, a language of the Ibibio people of southern Nigeria.

Once again, I'm struck by how American slang has about a billion derogatory words for "not-white," and specifically, "black", but not many that specifically disparage whiteness. Another example of how history, and language, are written by the victors.