Kathleen Miller millerk at NYTIMES.COM
Thu Feb 3 19:55:44 UTC 2000

I happen to have From Juba to Jive: A Dictionay of African-American Slang
sitting on my desk because of a prior research question, and here's what
Clarence Major has to say:

"Cracker n. (1860s-1940s) usually a poor white man but sometimes any white
person; any poor, uneducated white person, usually of Georgia or one of the
Carolinas. One theory holds that it's a term from the nineteenth-centruy
backcountry of Georgia, coined by black people - a reference to the
whip-cracking slaveholder. Another theory is that it comes from the white soda
cracker as opposed to, say, ginger cookies."

He found it in:

John S. Farmer, Americanisms - Old and New: A Dictionary of Words, Phrases and
Colloquialisms Peculiar to the United States, British America, the West Indies,
etc. London: Thomas and Poulter and Sons, 1889.

E.C.L. Adams. Nigger to Nigger. New York: Scribner's, 1928.

Edith Folb. Black Vernacular Vocabulary. Los Angeles: The UCLA Center for
Afro-American Studies, 1972.

Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms
Albert Barrere A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant. 1897
Claude McKay Home to Harlem. New York: Pocket Books, 1956

Kathleen E. Miller
Research Assistant to William Safire
The New York Times
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