The Slants

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri Mar 9 21:41:19 UTC 2012

At 3/9/2012 02:13 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>>They are only fair-sized, and they are the ordinary round eyes of
>>Americans -- not the almond of the Spanish, or the fascinating /slant
>>eyes/ of the Orientals
>There are a couple of clusters in mid 1870s and late 1890s, but not one
>I found so far is meant as a slur. Merely descriptive, for the period.

I take the association of "slant-eyed" with the
"saffron-coloured race" (1865; OED) and with
"slant-eyed Mongols" undercutting "white
merchants" (1880) and with the "Slant-Eyed
Individuals" who "Have a Way of Beating the New
Law" (1894) as the beginnings of a (written)
transition from "Merely descriptive" to racially
derogatory.  And many of the "merely descriptive"
instances between 1865 and 1895 in GBooks are
associated with negative characteristics --
wrinkled, lame; in crooked streets and dark
alleys; ugly wife, a short-statured,
large-mouthed, slant- eyed, bushy-haired
hypochondriac; queer, slant -eyed, yellow-
skinned heathens; measly slant-eyed Chinaman;
slant-eyed pagans.  (More than a couple of
Christian writers in this period refer to
slant-eyed infidels.)  Despite John Greenleaf
Whittier's "slant-eyed *sages* of Cathay" (but he
marched to a different drummer).

1921 June 18 -- Saturday Evening Post -- "Well,
of all the locoed slant-eyed Chinks I ever saw ­" he began, then paused.

1921 -- William Le Roy Stidger, Flash-lights from
the seven seas -- THE Jap is the slant-eyed Hun
of the Orient. He has a slant-eyed ethics, a
slant-eyed morality, a slant-eyed honesty, a
slant-eyed social consciousness ; a slant-eyed
ambition, a slant-eyed military system; and a
slant-eyed mind!" said Peter Clarke Macfarlane
... [Opening quotation mark is missing in text.]

And surely a racial slur by the time of the 1943
"leering slant-eyed Oriental. He was creeping stealthily forward".

P.S.  "Slant-eyed" can be antedated (by Google
Books) to 1791 -- Homer, The Iliad, "Pray'rs are
Jove's daughters, * wrinkled, lame,
slant-eyed'."  Snippet.  WorldCat has several listings dated 1791.


>     VS-)
>On 3/9/2012 12:24 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>I've lost track of this.  Are you-all saying that "slant-eyed" as a
>>slur is recent, at- or post-Vietnam?  Are you-all saying it is rare,
>>or that it was rare at the time of the Vietnam war, or that it was
>>rare before then?  Do you-all make a distinction between a "(racial)
>>slur" and "just" a derogatory usage?
>>I have faint traces of "slant-eyed" as a slur from either World War
>>II or the Korean War (which were not too far apart).  Is that "old as
>>dirt"?  But I assume those who are researching this must have checked
>>those periods.  Perhaps one has to look in comic books rather than
>>newspapers.  (Or the New Yorker, where two Chinese boys are reading
>>about sinister, round-eyed Johnny.)
>>So I've looked a little bit.
>>I would like to see more context for the OED's earliest quotation --
>>        1865    Daily Telegr. 17 Nov. 5/2   A
>> slant-eyed, saffron-coloured race.
>>Might it be derogatory?  On the other hand, I suppose
>>        1870    J. G. Whittier Miriam 126   The slant-eyed sages of Cathay.
>>is complimentary.
>>But 19th Century U.S. Newspapers has:
>>       1880 March 20 St. Louis Globe-Democrat -- THE San Francisco
>>Merchant tells a remarkable story about a Chinese inroad into Montana
>>and Idaho, in which the slant-eyed Mongols sent out pickets to find
>>out what goods were in demand, and what prices were paid.  [The SF
>>Merchant story is that Chinese merchants are sending wagons with
>>merchandise into Idaho and Montana, to support Chinese peddlers
>>selling tea at a lower price than "white merchants".  The
>>Globe-Democrat comments "If the worst offense of the Chinese is
>>furnishing the miners with tea at cheaper rates than they have
>>hitherto paid for it, we hardly expect the miners to join in the cry,
>>'The Chinese must go.'"]
>>        1893 April 24 St. Paul Daily News -- [An article about a troupe
>>of "thirty-four celestial sons of the flowery kingdom", Mongolians
>>members of a "Chinese theatrical troupe which is to give the
>>slant-eyed drama in sections of ten hours each" at the Chicago
>>world's fair.  Somewhere between a condescending attitude from a
>>superior race, and a racial slur.]
>>        1894 May 7 Rocky Mountian News -- A Chinese Trick Slant-Eyed
>>Individuals Have a Way of Beating the New Law, and Allowing Their
>>Friends to Come in with Papers.  [Article datelined Washington about
>>registration of Chinese under the exclusion act.  Some legal
>>immigrants are registering more than once, "and as a photograph of
>>one Chinaman might readily pass for another", the duplicate
>>certificates can be sold to those not entitled to register.  Surely
>>derogatory at least.]
>>And Google Books between 1940 and 1956 has (allegedly), just in the
>>first 20 of about 2,060 --
>>        1941 Sept. Boy's Life -- "A slant-eyed youth in a dirty smock
>>appeared from below."  [Within a story titled "Golden Peril"  Without
>>attempting to read tiny print, from the illustrations I assume the
>>peril comes from evil Chinese, perhaps pirates.  "Golden" seems to
>>refer to the metal, but perhaps also in a double sense to the
>>Chinese.  Before Pearl harbor, but during the
>>period of Japanese expansionism.]
>>        1943 Jan. Boy's Life [date at top of page]  "DIMLY outlined in
>>the murky darkness of the passageway was a leering slant-eyed
>>Oriental. He was creeping stealthily forward with a service .45 in
>>his hand, obviously with the intention of catching the pilot
>>unaware."  [After Pearl harbor.]
>>        1943  Library of Congress, Musical compositions, part 3 [date
>>at top of previous page] -- "You slant -eyed yellow bums.
>>3383"  [Index of song titles?]
>>        1951 Robert William O'Brien, Readings in general sociology --
>>"For example, if all drug addicts were slant-eyed, and if non-
>>addicts were not slant-eyed, then all we would have to do to
>>determine that a person is or is not a drug addict would be to look
>>at his eyes."  [An interesting, to say the least, choice for a
>>logical argument.  GBooks also reveals a similar syllogism using
>>"slant-eyed" in a book on psychology.]
>>        1952 Aug. 11 Life [magazine] "Vigorous, brunet faces, strong
>>black eyebrows and dark eyes, and candid expressions mark the tribe.
>>They do not look Oriental in any slant-eyed or "sinister" sense but
>>most of them are very distinctive people."  [So others, although not
>>Life, must have associated "slant-eyed" with "sinister"in 1952.]
>>       1956  Selected works of Ly Hsun [pseud]  "We need not mention
>>illustrations in novels; even textbook illustrations often have
>>children with caps askew, slant eyes, fleshy jowls and the look of
>>hooligans. Among our new hooligan artists is Yeh Ling-feng^_Mr- Yeh
>>has plagiarized ..."  [Snippet]
>>There is much more in this period.  Some is "slant-eyed" as sinister
>>without *direct* reference to Asians, but I
>>think that is the unstated origin.
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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