Uncle Sugar Rorschach

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 25 15:15:10 UTC 2014

Mike Huckabee has employed the phrase "Uncle Sugar" in a speech lambasting
(wait for it) Democrats for "making [women]  believe that they are helpless
without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each
month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their
reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it...."

Among the buzzing classes, this has created a buzz. No one on CNN's air,
including conservative pundit Will Cain, admitted to having any idea what
"Uncle Sugar" means. Will found out through research.

The point is that people were speculating about 1. what "Uncle Sugar" might
possibly mean, and 2. (wait for it) whether it's racist. or 3. (wait for
it) sexist.

Somebody ventured the opinion that it was a sexist reference to a "sugar
daddy." Anchor Victor Blackwell said he'd thought Mike was comparing the
federal government "to a pimp."

The HDAS Vault shows, of course, that "Uncle Sugar" is a WW2 synonym for
"the United States or the federal government" that has nothing to do with
race or sex. "Uncle Sugar Able" was also in use: because these were the
names of the letters in the old military "phonetic" alphabet adopted in

1943 _Nevada State Journal_  [Reno] (Sept. 4) 4:  It's 4,662 miles, New
York to Moscow, but that's just a short punt for Uncle Sugar Able when he's

1944 _Bakersfield Californian_ (Jan. 27) 6: My greatest wish is that some
day the entire story can be told - only then will our "Uncle Sugar"
(States) full appreciate the task.

1945 Fred Hamann _Air Words_   (Seattle: Superior, 1946) sv: _Uncle Sugar_.
Uncle Sam. Sometimes the expression Uncle Sugar Able is used.

1945 James Warner Bellah _Ward 20_ [rpt. N.Y.: Popular Library, 1953]   56:
You know who pays all right. ...Uncle Sugar Able pays.

1954 J. Bryan _Aircraft Carrier_ (N.Y.: Ballantine) 52 [ref. to 1945]:
Lancaster...has his orders and is shoving off for Uncle Sugar.

1982 W. R. Dunn _Fighter Pilot_ (Louisville: U. P. of Ky.) 190 [ref. to
WW2] : I hope you made it back safely to Uncle Sugar Able.

1953 _Popular Science_ (March) 266:  Uncle Sugar Changes Name STATESIDE, or
the U.S., was Uncle Sugar to World War II GIs - Uncle for the letter U and
Sugar for the letter S.  A new phonetic pronouncing alphabet for air-ground
communications recently adopted by the International Civil Aviation
Organization now makes it Union (U) Sierra (S). ...It is expected that the
military services will soon go along.

Except for four, the letter names given are identical to those of the "NATO
alphabet"  adopted the same year (IIRC) and still in use. The very curious
will Google it for themselves - including the prescribed pronunciations of

 Conservatives since McCarthy days have used "Uncle Sugar" derisively  to
refer to liberal fiscal and welfare policies.

That's because "sugar," in the '40s, was still a familiar synonym for
"money." Get it? "Uncle Sugar." How clever!

Anyway, Cain of CNN lamented Huckabee's use of "an obsolete slang term for
the federal government" as the GOP is trying to "improve its brand."  Such
usage, he said, "reeks of old man."


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list