[Ads-l] Racist origins of "Grandfathering"

Geoffrey Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Fri Dec 18 19:00:49 UTC 2020

There are, on Facebook (and probably elsewhere) lists of such
words with 'racist' origins that we are encouraged to stop using.
Some of them are the usual etymythologies, but, as far as I can
tell, this one is real. However, its actual origins seem to be
contested. Some argue it has to do with state laws in the South
that said only those whose grandfathers could vote were
allowed to vote. However, there is evidence it predates
Reconstruction, and originated in the North:


Now, the question of whether we should not use words
because of what they meant over a century ago is a different
question from whether the etymology is correct…

For instance, the etymology of 'black' is an Indo-European root
meaning 'glow, burn', but no current native speaker of English
knows that, nor are they subconsciously invoking the original

That, however, is probably a question for the sociolinguists
and psycholinguists among us.


Geoffrey S. Nathan
WSU Information Privacy Officer (Retired)
Emeritus Professor, Linguistics Program
geoffnathan at wayne.edu

From: Bill Mullins<mailto:amcombill at HOTMAIL.COM>
Sent: Friday, December 18, 2020 12:09 PM
Subject: Racist origins of "Grandfathering"


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Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       Bill Mullins <amcombill at HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject:      Racist origins of "Grandfathering"


News to me.

OED has 1953 for the relevant sense.

4. transitive. North American. To exempt from new legislation or regulation=
s, usually because of some prior condition of previously existing privilege=
. Frequently with in (also with into, out). Also in extended use.

1953   Kentucky Revised Statutes 2190/2   All certificates or permits grand=
fathered shall be subject to the same limitations and restrictions.

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

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

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