[Ads-l] Alligator Bait

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 21 01:29:39 UTC 2020

I shared your doubts when I included this unpleasant term in HDAS 1, but in
those pre-databank days, I could find no background other than the supposed

In other words, your conclusions are undoubtedly correct.


On Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 7:51 PM Peter Reitan <pjreitan at hotmail.com> wrote:

> 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
> possible second.
> 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
> Bait."
> 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.
> https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2020/04/live-human-alligator-bait-fact-or.html
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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