Ameliorated words of offensive origin

Robert S. Wachal robert-wachal at UIOWA.EDU
Fri Mar 2 16:18:32 UTC 2001

"I really got shafted (got the shaft) on that biology exam!"

to brown nose

Bob Wachal

At 04:13 PM 2/27/01 -0500, you wrote:
>I'm working on a short and pressingly-deadlined essay and need to
>come up with examples of words that are viewed as innocuous today
>(or at least not _that_ bad) but whose origins are offensive in some
>way. One example might be "scumbag," which is generally thought to
>be less offensive by people who don't realize it's a word for a
>condom; another might be "schmuck," which is perhaps less offensive
>if you don't know it's Yiddish for 'penis'.
>Some of the examples that were pitched to me are either of
>uncertain etymology ("jazz," perhaps of sexual origin though perhaps
>not; "suck," which some (Hi Ron!) think is not of sexual origin),
>or are definitely not of offensive origin but are sometimes thought
>to be ("squaw," not actually from an Algonquian word for 'female
>genitals'). These might themselves be interesting but are not the
>main point.
>I might also be interested in words of _non_-offensive origin that
>are now sometimes regarded as offensive, e.g. "niggardly".
>Thanks for any ideas.
>Jesse Sheidlower

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