Nigger in the Woodpile

emckean at ENTERACT.COM emckean at ENTERACT.COM
Wed Sep 20 20:57:47 UTC 2000

My mother, who is olive-skinned in a family of very fair people, uses this
phrase to describe herself. "There must have been a . . ." I can make her
say it in front of a witness if you really need me to. :-)

If you remember from other ADS threads, she also uses the phrases "Bob's
yer uncle" and "treated like a red-headed stepchild."

I blame too much reading, as she spent much of her childhood in places
like Burma, Thailand, and Argentina.

Erin McKean
editor at

On Wed, 20 Sep 2000, Fred Shapiro wrote:

> Another list serv is having a thread about the expression "nigger in the
> woodpile."  One participant is arguing stridently that one of the meanings
> of this phrase, an unacknowledged black forebear of a white child, is used
> only by blacks and is not used by whites.  DARE and the Random House
> Historical Dictionary of American Slang do not indicate such a restriction
> of usage.  Can anyone on this list shed any light on the question?
> Fred Shapiro
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
> Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
>   and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
> Yale Law School                             forthcoming
> e-mail: fred.shapiro at     
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------

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