[Ads-l] fellow = black man

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon May 8 11:48:22 EDT 2017

Right; I’m not saying “fellow” was a coded slur like “Canadian” (or “kangaroo”, or “Monday”), just speculating that it *was* a coded referential term that will only be understood by those who know the code.  It’s a bit like the way euphemism works—sometimes an unrelated term is used (“Number 2”; “urban” for ‘black’; “cosmopolitan” for ‘Jewish'), sometimes a vague or superordinate one with a specialized meaning intended (“drink”, “sleep/be intimate with”, “go to the bathroom”) but in both cases the speaker’s goal is to avoid referring directly to the target (by appearing to speak in all innocence or generality) and still counting on being understood by the addressee.  Once these replacements or narrowings are conventionalized, no dissembling is possible, but presumably that didn’t happen with “fellow” or (for the most part) with the “Canadian” or “Monday” examples.

> On May 8, 2017, at 11:38 AM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> I wrote about coded slurs in a 2012 Boston Globe column (not sure I would
> classify "fellow" as such):
> https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2012/07/28/how-did-monday-become-racist-slur-how-did-monday-become-racist-slur/Mf4fQEVcXabGKHFaDMZ4NO/story.html
> On Mon, May 8, 2017 at 11:33 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> wrote:
>> Maybe it works a bit like “Canadian” does or recently did in parts of the
>> South, if memory serves (see our threads on that from a decade or so); it
>> might be odd to say “Joe is a Canadian” meaning ‘a black man’ (in the
>> relevant setting, but common to say “That Canadian at the corner table
>> wants his check” in the same context, with maybe some intonational,
>> gestural, or other hint that the specialized meaning is intended.  Of
>> course, in the old case Joe really is a fellow, while in the new one he’s
>> not a Canadian, but they both involve a contextually specific disguised
>> reference that works as an attributive label but not in predications where
>> the property of being a “fellow” or “Canadian” is being directly asserted.
>>  If so, I don’t know what the word is for this kind of thing.
>> LH
>>> On May 8, 2017, at 11:20 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>> wrote:
>>> I don't see "fellow" as a full synonym. Could one say, for example,
>>> ?Joe is a fellow.
>>> and be understood as meaning he's a black man?
>>> Is there a word for this kind of thing (apart from "partial synonymy")?
>>> JL
>>> On Mon, May 8, 2017 at 10:32 AM, Joan Hall <jdhall at wisc.edu> wrote:
>>>> DARE has one additional example:
>>>> 1842 Buckingham Slave States<http://www.daredictionary.com/
>>>> bibliography?letterHeading=B#bibl_9915> 2.29 SC,<
>>>> http://www.daredictionary.com/search?f_0=reglabel&q_0=SC> The men are
>>>> usually called "boys," whatever may be their age; and very often
>> "fellows."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list