An unexpected occurrence of an ethnic slur

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue Jun 24 01:44:57 UTC 2008

On Mon, Jun 23, 2008 at 3:33 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> In the song, "Garlic Blues," Helen Humes sings that her garlic-loving
> boyfriend is
> "... just like a _dago_ ..."
> AFAIK, this is unique in black music. Well, there is the use of
> "monkey-man" for a West Indian. But this is the only case that I know
> of in which a slur against a white ethnic group occurs.

>From Michael Taft's pre-war blues lyrics concordance:

"Let me tell you mama, like the Dago told the Jew
If you don't want me, it's cinch I don't want you.
There's two kind of nations I sure can't understand
That's Chinese women and a doggone Dago man."
Blind Percy, "Fourteenth Street Blues", Chicago, c. Nov. 1927

"I'm going to tell my woman, like the Dago told the Jew
You don't want me, now honey I don't want you."
Huddie Ledbetter, "Honey, I'm All Out and Down", New York, 23 Jan. 1935

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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