An unexpected occurrence of an ethnic slur

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 24 02:53:55 UTC 2008

True, but not exactly the kind of thing that I had in mind. These
cases form what appear to have been once upon a time, basic lines used
to form rhymes and are no more meant to refer to actual ethnic groups
any more than, e.g.:

T for Texas, T for Tennessee

necessarily has any real reference to the way that the names of these
states are spelled.

But when a black woman specifically refers to her garlic-eating man as
"like a dago," that's not very different from a white woman referring
to her watermelon-eating man as "like a coon."


On Mon, Jun 23, 2008 at 9:44 PM, Benjamin Zimmer
<bgzimmer at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: An unexpected occurrence of an ethnic slur
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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