[Ads-l] Alligator Bait
pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 20 19:51:01 EDT 2020
There is an old racist slur, "alligator bait," used to refer to black
people, especially black children.
There are numerous memes and articles that get circulated around the
internet suggesting that the expression was derived from the actual
practice of using children as bait in hunting alligators; placing them
in shallow water, or sometimes tying them to a post or tree, luring the
alligators in close, and then shooting them in the eye at the last
Most of those articles cite a few, scattered newspaper articles, most
frequently a 1923 article out of Chipley, Florida and a 1908 article
about moving alligators from the indoor winter quarters to the outdoor
summer alligator pools at the Bronx zoon in 1908. The Chipley story
gets a lot of press because it appeared in Time Magazine, which did
report on the existence of the report but did not vouch for its factual
basis. Also frequently cited are several articles about hunting
crocodiles in Ceylon or India, using similar techniques.
Having made a deep dive into the swamp that is alligator/crocodile
hunting literature, I believe that the various crocodile and alligator
hunting stories are all fictional, derived from a single story published
in England in 1888, and that that article was written by a retired
British officer better known for submitting military-humor (or should I
say humour) to Punch magazine, so its veracity is questionable. The
copycat stories reported nearly identical techniques, using nearly
identical language, with increasingly elaborate and less plausible
details over the years, and not always black or Indian babies. Some
stories are about kidnapped Russian Jewish babies shipped off to Egypt
for crocodile hunting, or "nice fat cracker" babies rented for 50 cents
a day in southern Florida.
I also identified the author of the 1923 piece out of Chipley, Florida
as an itinerant newspaper telegraph operator and copy-reader, who later
had more success as a "sex philosopher," giving sex education lectures,
sometimes following sexually explicit movies, with live demonstration
models on stage; so his story is of questionable origin. His story also
requires the reader to believe that mothers would rent their children
out for $2 a day to hunters who "never miss", so there's that too.
The expression, "alligator bait," seems more likely a manifestation of
an old wives' tale about alligators, and earlier crocodiles preferring
babies over adults, and darker skinned babies over light skinned babies.
So, not so much being actively used as bait by hunters, but just
believed to be more likely to become food for alligators. That myth can
be traced to Egypt and Cameroon in the 1700s.
The expression also seems to have quickly become widespread in 1898,
following the publication of a single photographic image of naked babies
published in Knoxville, Tennessee, and sold under the name "Alligator
And in a tie-in with the etymology of "Dude" which has occupied the
minds of some on this list, the earliest joke about "alligator bait,"
using that expression, was about New York Dudes in Florida a few months
after the word was coined.
A lot of weird stuff. You be the judge.
You can read about it in my latest post.
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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