Nigger in the Woodpile

Jeutonne P. Brewer jpbrewer at UNCG.EDU
Sat Sep 23 02:47:09 UTC 2000

I heard the expression used by relatives, friends, etc. during the
1940s and 1950s, and yes, even into the 1960s and 1970s.
(WASP, Oklahoma and Texas background; later lived in Arkansas, NJ,
and NC). The basic meaning was black ancestor for white child.
Other meanings were clearly rooted in this meaning.

Jeutonne Brewer

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     
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jeutonne P. Brewer, Linguist
email: jpbrewer at

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