back to top

Can You Tell Which Everyday Expression Has A Racist Past?

Which of these idioms and words have racially uncomfortable histories? Some of them may surprise you.

Posted on

Most of these sound innocuous. Some of them sound way worse than they actually are. While you're not automatically a contemptible racialist if you don't know their origins, it never hurts to know, does it?

Can you guess which of these common sayings have racially awkward beginnings?

  1. 1. "Shanghaied"

    "To be frauded into doing something." Was this term originally racist?
    Via blogs.citypages.com

    "To be frauded into doing something." Was this term originally racist?

    Yes
    No
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    In the 19th Century, British ships were so dismal that captains often dragged drunk men from bars and forced them to labor on ships bound for far-flung trade posts like Shanghai. Nowadays the term can be bandied to insinuate against Shanghainese virtue, but it was originally mean as slam against shady captains, not the city.

  2. 2. "Bugger"

    "A sodomite; a contemptible person." Does this slang have racist origins?

    "A sodomite; a contemptible person." Does this slang have racist origins?

    Yep
    Nope
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    "Bugger" came from a 16th Century term for Bulgarians. Specifically, their clergy, who were slandered in French, Italian, German, and Spanish and other European tongues. It's unclear how the term came to mean sodomite, but people tended to lump together everyone they disliked.

  3. 3. "Indian Giver"

    "One who gives something to another and then takes or demands the gift back."

Does this saying have racist origins?
    Via franklarosa.com

    "One who gives something to another and then takes or demands the gift back." Does this saying have racist origins?

    Sure does
    Nope
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    First recorded as 18th Century Masshole slang for "a present for which an equivalent return is expected." E.g. genocide's is probably not an equivalent repayment for land or natural resources. By 1860, the Dictionary of Americanisms noted it as a popular insult among New York children. Either way, it's meant as judgment against Native Americans.

  4. 4. "Call a spade a spade"

    "to speak honestly, especially on embarrassing topics."
Does this saying have racist origins?
    Via shirtsays.com

    "to speak honestly, especially on embarrassing topics." Does this saying have racist origins?

    Yes
    No
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    A spade's a shovel, and the saying predates the slur against African Americans. It's been around since a 1542 English translation of Erasmus. Still, if folks around you find this saying awkward, it probably isn't too bothersome to phase out the phrase.

  5. 5. "Mongoloid"

    "Of or relating to Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Aboriginals, and people with Down's Syndrom."
Does this term have racist origins?
    Via myspace.com

    "Of or relating to Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Aboriginals, and people with Down's Syndrom." Does this term have racist origins?

    Yes
    No.
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    18th Century European anthropologists believed all East Asians and Native Americans originated from Mongolia. In 1866, Longdon Down (a British physician) diagnosed Down's Syndrom as a symptom of people "reverting" to the "Mongoloid race".

  6. 6. "Gypped"

    "To cheat, swindle."
    Via youtube.com

    "To cheat, swindle."

    Racially awkward
    Totally cool
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Derived from a shortening of Gypsy, an old term for the Romani minority on the British Isles.

  7. 7. "Hooligan"

    "Lawless young broheim."
    Via nintendo-gamers.blogspot.com

    "Lawless young broheim."

    Racially awkward
    Nah, brah
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    According to the O.E.D, Hooligan was the surname of fictional Irishmen who were subjects of popular hall songs and cartoons about Irish unruliness. So instead of calling someone a soccer hooligan, consider calling him a soccer rapscallion, or a football blackguard, or a sports corsair.

  8. 8. "Peanut gallery"

    "A group of hecklers who shout insignificant and annoying criticism." Does this saying have racist origins?
    Via chromeexperiments.com

    "A group of hecklers who shout insignificant and annoying criticism." Does this saying have racist origins?

    Yes
    No
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The term comes from a gross history of segregated theaters seating black audiences in the upper balcony. Peanuts were introduced to America by the slave trade. It was catch-all dismissal and demonization of black audiences, which is why some found this headline about Tiger Woods unfortunate.

  9. 9. "Uppity"

    "Taking liberties or assuming airs beyond one's station." Does this word have a racially uncomfortable history?
    Via someecards.com

    "Taking liberties or assuming airs beyond one's station." Does this word have a racially uncomfortable history?

    Yes
    No
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    According to Dictionary.com, the term "uppity" was originally used by black slaves to demean other black slaves who seemed too self-assertive (first recorded use is in "Uncle Remus" in 1880). Awkward word choice, Limbaugh.

  10. 10. "Yellow fever"

    Via illustrationartgallery.com
    Totes racially awk
    Nah
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Literally a disease that kills 30,000 a year. Not originally meant to describe the motivating ethos of sleazy expats at Gas Panic Club, Tokyo.

  11. 11. "Nanban" (style of cooking)

    "A style of pickling and/or frying in Japanese Cuisine."

    "A style of pickling and/or frying in Japanese Cuisine."

    Hella racist
    Not racist
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The literal translation of this Japanese food name is pickle a la Southern Barbarian. The barbarians here refer to Portugese traders who introduced vinegar, red chili peppers, and certain frying techniques to Japan. Really, though, Southern Barbarian was a catch-all term the Japanesed used for Europeans.

  12. 12. "Tomfoolery"

    "Silly or foolish behavior; a pet phrase of everyone in 'Leave It To Beaver'."

    "Silly or foolish behavior; a pet phrase of everyone in 'Leave It To Beaver'."

    Racially awk
    Nope
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    You may hear "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in this saying, but in 14th century England, Tom was considered a laughably generic name. "Tom Pepper" meant a liar and "Tom Long" meant a windbag soothsayer. By the mid-17th century, "Tom Fool" had become a common name for a buffoonish character in a stage show, and by 1721 it simply meant a fool. Tomfoolery is what Tom Fools do.

Can You Tell Which Everyday Expression Has A Racist Past?

Promoted

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss