porch monkey

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 21 14:01:53 UTC 2011

Servicemen may have used it in Mississippi in WWII, but HDAS has no records
before the '70s and no additional references to the past.  My experience
parallels yours and that of Google Books. I did not encounter the term (in
any sense) till the '80s.

The point is simply that if the term was really in use much before the MFR
article, it must have been extremely uncommon, and less common the farther
back you went. One could have lived a lifetime without hearing it.
On Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 3:30 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at gmail.com>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      porch monkey
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> Not in OED in /any/ sense--ethnic slur, the (original?) functional term,
> or "statuette" house accessory derived from it. Wiki has an odd
> suggestion under Ethnic slurs:
> > Porch monkey
> >     a black person referring to perceived common behavior of groups
> > hanging out on front porches or steps of urban apartment complexes in
> > U.S. cities.
> This is the sentiment shared by most posts under "porch monkey" in UD,
> but it sounds like backwards derivation, suggesting a rational
> explanation to an older term. Besides, front steps or stoops are /not/
> porches.
> GB is horrific on the subject--there is nothing before 1970, when
> Mississippi Folklore Register picks up the term as one used by white
> troops in reference to black troops in WWII.
> http://goo.gl/wM9qz
> The snippet shows irrelevant text, but the preview is more forthcoming:
> > A more mundane reliance on the monkey-image to express racist
> > attitudes can be seen in terms such as "porch monkey," much in use by
> > white American servicemen during World War II to describe Negro
> > comrades-in-arms.
> There are 11 other GB hits that may have some relevance through 1990,
> none between 1970 and 1982, with only a handful with snippet view of the
> relevant text. There are no hits in AHN at all--not one! There are no
> GNA hits either prior to 1983 (and the earliest one is
> here--http://goo.gl/LyheO ). This is highly puzzling to me, as I heard
> the term /explained/ to me in 1983 by a college classmate (from Long
> Island). At that point, I was already aware of the term referring to the
> half-size lamp-posts carved (or molded--wooden, metal, ceramic or
> plastic) in the shape of a human (white or black) or an actual monkey
> (also sometimes pitch-black, dressed in lackey uniform)--this is
> actually why I asked for an explanation in the first place. The
> explanation I got, at that point, was that it originally referred to
> actual people (often children--hence half-size post) who held the lamps
> or other accoutrements at Southern mansions (and, occasionally, in
> Northern ones too, although the subjects would not have been slaves).
> Finally, the term was also a general racial slur derived from those two
> uses.
> But if this is the case, I find no evidence of this anywhere. Slang
> dictionaries appear to ignore the phrase. Contemporary "common wisdom"
> (such as Wiki and UD--the only links offered by OneLook) ascribes it to
> the "perceived habit" of African-Americans (Wiki adds "urban") to sit on
> the porch (and, as one UD posts suggests, to "throw back 40s", which is
> a reference to 40-oz malt liquor). Nowhere do I find the explanation in
> any shape or form similar to the one I got by word of mouth back in
> 1983. I've seen the lamps (and just posts that were meant to resemble
> them--without the actual lamps) in stores, sometimes labeled as "porch
> monkeys". I did not imagine these--they really were there, and not in
> the Deep South, but in an Allston/Brighton, MA, "Antiques" store (among
> several). There is also no doubt that there is a corresponding ethnic slur.
> So what gives? This is the kind of stuff that, for the first time, makes
> /me/ feel old (with apologies to Jon, Wilson and others). I also recall
> someone suggesting, at one point--without evidence--that the same
> terminology was used in Colonial India to refer to boys with fans who
> accompanied rich locals or Brits. In this case, the claim seems more
> doubtful, in light of complete absence from recorded literature--and I
> would have expected fewer reservation in using such terminology in
> British and Indian texts. In US, on the other hand, it is quite obvious
> that there was significant /awareness/ of "porch monkey" as an ethnic
> slur between 1970-1983, yet there is no record of that either, except
> for singular publications at either end. And this awareness might have
> contributed to keeping the term /out/ of printed sources. Still, if the
> term is older, why the mystery?
> The 1983 piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette places it in a sentence
> right next to "jungle bunny"--which, to my mind, is more modern (OED has
> quotations from 1966 to 1974 from US, Australia and South Africa--GNA
> has the earliest appearance in NYT on May 11, 1969). But, although
> printed accounts portray "porch monkey" going back at least to WWII,
> there are no printed accounts that I found that actually use it! Still,
> "jungle bunny" appearing in print in the late 60s and "porch monkey" in
> 1970 is suggestive.
> So, there you have it. It's a ghost racial epithet that may or may not
> have origin in slavery, but one that has existed nearly invisible for at
> least 30 years--or, possibly, 130 years or even longer. And the non-slur
> usage is also invisible, even today.
>     VS-)
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