Nappy-headed Hos (Was: "Nappy-headed who'es" redux)

Reinhold (Rey) Aman aman at SONIC.NET
Sat May 19 02:05:24 UTC 2007

[Note: The ADS-L server is rejecting my reply to the post quoted
below, thus this new thread. Sorry.]

On 15 May 2007, Wilson Gray wrote:

> "Nappy-headed who'es" redux


   (1) Is "who'es" a double-typo or yet another particularly stupid
way of writing "hos"?
   (2) Is the quoted material below copied verbatim from the _Boston
Globe_ or is it paraphrased by the above poster?
   (3) What material is from the _Globe_ and what are Mr. Gray's
comments?  The ADS-L reader can't tell who wrote what.  It looks like
his text quoted below is mostly fancy commentary and extrapolation
based on Jan Freeman's accurate "Brainiac" piece.

> The Boston Globe's language maven has an interesting discussion of
> European attempts to translate the "nappy-" in "nappy-headed."
> Apparently, no European language has a term that corresponds in
> meaning to the American use of "nappy" as a descriptor of human hair.

Says who?  The _Globe_ or Gray?  Apparently only if one disregards
Hungarian, Austro-Bavarian, Croatian, Turkish, Norwegian, Swedish,
Dutch, and other European languages, all of which have adjectives that
distinguish between tightly curled (Negroid) hair and loosely curled
hair; e.g., German _kraushaarig_ and _kräuselhaarig_ vs. _lockig_.

> Briefly, Britspeak has "nappy" as "covered with nap" or as a slang
> term for "napkin" as the equivalent of U.S. "diaper." Hence, British
> journalists have decided that "nappy-headed" means something like
> "wearing a diaper-like cloth, such as a bandanna, as a headdress,"

Says who?  The _Globe_ or Gray?  Which British journalists have
decided that nonsense or have written about it?

> cf., e.g. the old Aunt-Jemima, fact-based stereotype. Continental
> journalists, following their British peers and their own
> native-language-to-British-English dictionaries, have done the same.

Or rather, they checked their British-English-to-native-language
dictionaries, since they had to look up the English word "nappy."

> That is to say, translation of the European terms back to
> U.S.-English yields American-BE "handkerchief-head(ed)."

Says who?  The _Globe_ or Gray?  Sorry, they do *not* yield
"handkerchief-head(ed)."  In my extensive research, I've found only
one each Swedish, French, and Italian translator/journalist who used
"diaper-headed" in their languages (_blöjhövdade, tête de couche,
pannolini in testa_); all others, from China via Europe to Brazil,
referred specifically to the shape, condition or cleanliness of *hair*
or to the level of education and social class of the black athletes,
but *not* to any type of cloth (bandanna/handkerchief/diaper) worn on
their heads.

> This strikes me as close / good enough for government work.

This is not even good enough for government work in Burkina Faso.

Finally, there was a reference to the source on which that _Globe_
piece is based, but why did the poster not mentioned it, so that
interested ADS-Lers could see for themselves what those
mistranslations were about?  (Thanks, Arnold and Tom, for posting the URLs.)

Jan Freeman of the _Boston Globe_ was the first journalist to alert
her word-loving fans to my long post on "Language Log." Her blog and
the printed "Brainiac" piece are accurate; Mr. Gray's comments,
however, are wild assumptions and flawed, unsupported claims.

Reinhold (Rey) Aman

The American Dialect Society -

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