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Ethnic and Place Names as Derisive Adjectives Author(s): Ed Cray Source: Western Folklore, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Jan., 1962), pp.

27-34 Published by: Western States Folklore Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 10/02/2011 17:32
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The origins of these expressions are obscure." "California poppy. Known in some circles as a "Spanish athlete. are bricks and cobblestones thrown 'Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner. "Mexican chrome" is silver paint and an "Indian haircut" is a scalping. or ethnic name modifying either a euphemistic noun-as in the above examples-or a noneuphemistic noun-as in "Mexican athlete"3 (an unsuccessful candidate for an athletic team) or "Jewish side-walls" (appliqued white rubber circles put on black-wall tires to simulate the more expensive white side-walls). One large group of terms. The names of races. 'Wentworth and Flexner." [27] . there is historical evidence that they are the direct outgrowth of some incident. Neither jocular nor deprecating. the material a collector garners on his field trips may well suggest these latent prejudices.1 a "Detroit sled" is any American-built automobile. Paradoxically. States stress equality BECAUSE THE DOMINANT VALUES in the United racial and ethnic prejudices are most often covert. Even an informant who realizes he has prejudices is not likely to speak openly of them to a collector he has known only a short time. op." for example. the adjective indicates the actual or believed place of origin: terms used in this fashion have been excluded from this paper. In some few cases. generally lost in the confusion of long standing antagonisms between two groups. Such terms as "Canadian bacon.2 These phrases follow two definite patterns: the regional. Western Words (Norman. So it is that a "Rocky Mountain canary" is a burro. as well as some not so latent." "Georgia warbler' and "Hungarian goulash" are examples of a third form. the phrases thus formed are used as euphemisms or as descriptive statements. may serve as an example. national. 1960). and localities are often pressed into service as adjectives. 2 Ramon F. Adams. Dictionary of American Slang (New York. "Irish confetti. There are certainly enough vehicles-from jokes to songs-but the richest in indicating an informant's social antagonisms is substantive folk speech. Oklahoma. nationalities. 1946). and one by no means regionally confined.Ethnic Derisive and Place Names as Adjectives ED CRAY for all. cit.

"Mexican side-walls" come out of a can of white paint. it is seemingly a substitution for "Mexican. according to Willard A. calls this irritating malady La Turista ("the tourist"). the Army of the Tennessee during the Civil War called dysentary "the Tennessee quickstep. 119-140. The renaming of dysentary is not a new thing. or substitute without relying upon a euphemism for the modified noun. or regional name. makeshift. Dictionary definitions notwithstanding."6 4See Gustavus Myers. less violent and antagonistic. A "Mexican Maserati" is a Mercury. in turn." the "Curse of Montezuma" and the "Aztec hop." . pp." hence its inclusion here. As a result. 6The Mexican. This group also uses the prefix with a euphemism. "Montezuma's revenge. the present-day usage appears to be less malevolent or malicious than formerly. 1960). 1960). Most of the terms have only a regional distribution and are confined to areas where the specific racial. "Hot-rodders. have created a number of terms to apply to specific situations or materials: a "Mexican valve job" is accomplished by pouring kerosene into the carburetor to flush out some of tile carbon deposited on cylinder walls." (a hose and siphon used for pilfering gasoline at night) is known in the Southwest. national. The Singing Sixties (Norman." At least one occupational group in Southern California uses the adjective "Mexican" to denote anything inferior. it becomes an "Oklahoma credit card. A "Mexican credit card. History of Bigotry in the United States (New York.4 The social and/or political rivalries which gave birth to these terms still exist-though less open. it is difficult to draw a sharp distinction between "derogatory" and "derisive"-yet time and usage have had the effect of changing the implications of these terms precisely from the former to the latter. for a summary of the anti-Catholic agitation. and Porter Heaps." "Mexican fox-trot. Humor or "colorful speech" (for want of a better term) seem now to be major objectives of the use of derisive adjectives. the term seemingly originated with the anti-Catholic rioting promoted by the Know-nothings in 1852. a "Mexican Buick" a Chevrolet. In response to its frequency. ethnic. or regional antagonisms involved operate. a "Mexican jelly bean" is a 1936 Chevrolet which has been fitted with a "Mexican window shade" (Venetian blinds) in the rear window and a "taco wagon" is a car which has had its leaf springs shackled. the prevalence of specific artifacts or conditions directly influence the number of words used to describe or name them.5 As it is with language generally. a "Kentucky credit card." and." in southern Indiana.28 WESTERN FOLKLORE during street fights. the North American in Mexico has coined a number of names for the inevitable dysentary and diarrhea: "Mexican two-step. a "Mexican muffler" is a tin can stuffed with steel wool mounted on an exhaust pipe. less directly if more colorfully. More obscure. Oklahoma. In northern Texas." those who "customize" (to use their term) automobiles." "Mexican toothache. 5 Though "taco" is not a national.

The term has a limited currency. 7 . "A Word List from West Texas. Congressman Wilson "likened it to a 'Chinese fire drill' and said orders are being issued and countermanded with such frequency that only 'chaos and confusion' remain. "Pennsylvania salve. (Los Angeles. "Mississippi marbles. the Civil War terms "Confederate beef. weathered pine building. Collectors (other than this writer) are given in parenavailable-are cited. (Los Angeles. according to Mathews. 1951). 1961) Chicago piano-A Thompson submachine gun. 1950) Aztec hop-dysentary or diarrhea. Mathews. etc. 1958) Bronx cheer-the less-than-enthusiastic sound made by blowing air through partially flexed lips.7 Cf." would seem to derive from television. plus many more. (Anonymous. Wentworth and Flexner offer. c. largely as a result of the recent television gangster dramas set in the 1920's. has "Dallas special" as a knife with an extralegal blade. Wentworth and Flexner have it in this form and as "California Bible. 1923). and Stanley Robe has collected fresas Mexicanas ("Mexican strawberries") from Filiberto Sol6rzano." (cow or calf's liver)." (apple butter). a tightening of the belt a notch or two as a substitute for food." (Los Angeles. 8Mitford M. "Mountain oysters" or "Kentucky oysters" are pigs' testicles used as food. like "Chicago coffin. while touring Mexico." Publications of the American Dialect Society." infra. The American Language (New York." and "Cincinnati quail" for fat pork. Mathews has "California toothpick" as a synonym." "Confederate mule. Wentworth and Flexner. (Los Angeles. 1961) Chinese fire drill-Congressman Robert Wilson (Rep. 11 (1949). Mathews lists. flour.8 (Los Angeles. (Jane Quint. 1961) Arkansas toothpick-any knife with a blade exceeding the legal limit. and references-when African dominoes-dice. James N. 1961) H. Mencken. 1961) California prayer book-a deck of cards. Wentworth and Flexner. (Los Angeles. "Baltimore beef steak. The list is long. 1961) Arkansas fire extinguisher-a chamberpot. "Haight Street breakfast" and "Mexican breakfast. 9Any number of foods too-commonly served (to visitors?) in one area have acquired derisive nomenclature.DERISIVE USE OF ETHNIC NAMES 29 The following is a glossary of such prefixed terms currently in oral tradition in California. July 7. Santa Barbara."10 (Los Angeles. (John Greenway.. foods seemingly offer the greatest number of prefixed terms. Cf."9 (Los Angeles. 1956) California breakfast-a cigarette and an orange. 1960) Arizona paint job-used to describe an unpainted. Mathews also lists "Cape Ann turkey. 1961. No. Of depression origin? Adams cites Spanish supper. Cf." (Los Angeles. Adams has "Texas butter" or "immigrant butter" (a gravy made from bacon grease. Also known as galloping dominoes. Zacoalco. for example. Tidwell. Chicago. theses. "Boston strawberries" are beans. Cf. among others. Jalisco. A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles (2 vols. 1960) Cape Cod turkey-codfish. L. Los Angeles. Though the term was current in 1952. Wentworth lists it simply as a coffin. 10Los Angeles Times. and water). Wentworth and Flexner identify it specifically as a Bowie knife or bayonet. 1960) Chicago overcoat-a barrel of cement used to weight a body thrown into the river. its present day usage.-California) used the term to describe the administration of President Kennedy. Mencken cites "African golf" as craps. Mathews.

"A Word List from South Carolina. to scold or bawl out. 1961) Detroit sled-disparaging sports car drivers use this to describe any Americanbuilt automobile. Mathews. says.. (Los Angeles.1 (Diane Marks. Wentworth and Flexner." "Without defining the term. Wide currency among children. ( Los Angeles. cit. New York. No. (Los Angeles. has "Gypsy's leave" also. without informing anyone. 1960) Dutch treat-an affair at which each person pays his own check. most often shortened to "French. this term is listed in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary."12 (Los Angeles. p. Wentworth and Flexner both have it. Proverbial Comparisons and Similies from California (Berkeley and Los Angeles. Bradley. 14 The term "gook" is ambiguous and the phrase "gook wagon" may not belong on this list. Mathews. 11. Cf. "Detroit sled. Lynch. Mathews has it as "Dutch leave". Ambassador. but the use is unclear. 1946) French leave-to leave secretly. Wentworth and Flexner. and has not heard it since. Often shortened to "going Dutch. 1945) Dutch uncle-an affectionate." (Los Angeles. 1960) French inhale-exhaling a mouthful of smoke. a "Methodist measure" is a short measure. French kiss-also known among Los Angeles teenagers as the "deep kiss" or "soul kiss". one of the few on this list so honored." Publications of the American Dialect Society. Merrill. a Gook was any Oriental. 1945) Irish banjo-a shovel." i. The author first heard the term in this high school days in Los Angeles. 1960) Haight Street breakfast-muscatel and Wheaties. (Los Angeles. W. Los Angeles. . Wentworth and Flexner list this. and Smith (nee Bean) take a judiciously middle-of-the-road approach in an advertisement in Time Magazine (Aug. Brooklyn. Cf. "presumably mixed together. as when a soldier goes absent without leave or a debtor skips town." infra. Commonly known and used. "In France don't talk about 'French leave'-it's known as 'English leave' (le conge anglais).14 (Jean Fouch. ca. cites "to talk to him like a Dutch uncle. op. Mathews. 1954) Detroit iron-any American-built automobile. 1946. 1960) Gook wagon-an automobile which has been overly ornamented with chrome and accessories or altered in some manner not currently in vogue among hot rod enthusiasts. (Daniel Crowley. has "Flemish account" for a small amount. 12Archer Taylor.30 WESTERN FOLKLORE Connecticut mile-the distance traveled in one minute. op. then inhaling through the nose." The fact that Miss Vanderbilt felt no need to define the term may be an indication of its wide currency. (Los Angeles. 1940. 1961) Indian giver-a person who gives a gift and then asks for it to be returned.." Cf. though he does not stipulate if it is distance or quantity which is to be measured. Arlene Purchin. 1954).e. 1961): "Someone told us the other day that Merrill Lynch reminded him of a Dutch uncle-kindly but stern. 1960. F. The term probably dates from the days of the Irish immidistance traveled in one minute usually is something less than 5. to the military in the Far East during the earlv 1950's. writing in the Trans World Airlines house organ. XWentworth and Flexner.13 (Los Angeles. Amy Vanderbilt. "Gook" is synonymous with gawdy decoration. This seemingly is the antithesis of the entry in Webster's citing "one who reprimands with great severity and directness. "Detroit iron. Winter." supra." Haight Street is in San Francisco's Skid Row. Fenner. usually Chianti. 1 The Tidwell. older friend.. cit. Los Angeles. or remotely related person. Similarly. Cf. Wentworth and Flexner suggest that this is considered "ultrasophisticated" by teenagers. reports that in West Texas. Davis. 14 (1950).280 feet. Pierce. 37. 1957) Dago red-cheap red wine.

" q. the thing to do to achieve a polar orbit is to apply the principle of "Kentucky windage" and aim the bird west of south. "Colored Peoples' Time" and "West Indian Time.16 (Daniel Crowley. The reference is to the widely recognized predilection of some Negroes of a lower socio-economic class to use ostentatious automobiles as status symbols. 209." (Alice O'Brien. 1960) Irish confetti-bricks or cobblestones (formerly. Cf." Archie Green's "John Neuhaus: Wobbly Folklorist. Sometimes shortened to "hero sandwich. Harvard Dictionary of Music. would play a poor duet with the "Irish banjo.'" Western Folklore. Green had other occupationally-derived terms including "Portugee lift" and "German planer. Marsha Seid (Santa 5 Mathews has the synonym "Irish spoon. See "Mexican side-walls. ca.19 (Los Angeles. San Francisco. ca. (Los Angeles. Cf.DERISIVE USE OF ETHNIC NAMES 31 gration to the United States when the men were commonly employed as laborers. U." Wentworth and Flexner's "Swedish fiddle." See Wentworth and Flexner. 1952)17 .l5 (Los Angeles." 7 Daniel Crowley reports two close parallels from the British West Indies. (Robert Leventhal."18 (Los Angeles." 6 John Lancaster Riordan. (Cambridge. Cf. the term has graduated from the rifle range to the missile range. (ean Fouch." Journal of American Folklore. (Ken Potter. 1960) Irish switch-synonymous with "Irish shift. "mountain chicken" for wild frog on the island of Dominique. Los Angeles. V (1946). though it is limited to use in the Southwest. Los Angeles. Wentworth and Flexner have this also. Los Angeles. p. (Los Angeles. 1960) Italian hero sandwich-an overly large sandwich most often constructed upon a foundation of Italian bread and salami. Wentworth and Flexner. 1948. under "Jew's Harp. 1950) Jewish side-walls-white rubber circles glued on black-wall tires. 1951). A plucked metal idiophone. ca. 208. "American Naval 'Slanguage. Green." (Edward Kahn. General consensus would have the now-common "Jew's harp" a perversion of "Jaw's harp. 1958: "Inasmuch as the earth spins eastward and imparts this eastward velocity to the launching vehicle while it is on the ground. 1959) Kentucky windage-the act of compensating for poorly set rifle sights by deliberately aiming off target. defines "Irish pennants" as "untidy loose ends of blankets or sheets. Navy." a crosscut saw." infra. cites "Mexican dragline" from oral tradition in San Francisco. time?" (Los Angeles." infra." infra. Wentworth and Flexner. Usually used as a taunt: "Do you mean regular or Jewish Jew('s) harp-probably not derogatory. among them "Debe goat" for pumpkin.v. 1945) Mexican-Wentworth and Flexner enter this as an adjective meaning cheap and inferior. See "Irish switch. 1950) Jigaboo joy shop-a store which sells chrome accessories for automobiles. LXXIII (1960). from a trade union organizer) Irish pennants-rags or laundry hung up to dry on board ship. smiling all the while at a third. now less definite) thrown in a street fight.S. 1945) Irish shift-used to describe a politician at the Democratic National Convention talking to one person with his arm around another. (Bob Klein." Crowley reeled off a number of these hyphenated terms current in the British West Indies in the late 1950's. "Willi Apel. from Royal Navy usage. 1957. 1958) Jewish overdrive-synonymous with the more common "Mexican overdrive. Los Angeles. 1950) Kentucky credit card-synonymous with "Mexican credit card." "9An Air Force public information officer sent the following release to Time magazine. Los Angeles. 388." Evidently. Dec. 5. "Nigger bait. 1960) Jewish time-refers to the supposed habit of Jews of being compulsively late for appointments.

1959) Mexican toothache-dysentary. Los Angeles. Cf. San Fernando. (Ken Potter. 1959) Mexican muffler-a tin can stuffed with steel wool attached to an automobile exhaust. (Los Angeles. 1959) Mexican car wash-leaving an automobile out in the rain." "Kentucky credit card. 209. 1958) Cf. Van Nuys. 1958) Mexican Buick-a Chevrolet." supra. Los Angeles. Cf. California. (Sharon Delozier. (Los Angeles. The Maserati is a widely praised European racing car. Los Angeles.32 WESTERN FOLKLORE Monica. 1960) Mexican promotion-an increase in rank or title without an accompanying pay raise. (Gordon Wilson. (Michael Higer. 1960) Mexican breakfast-a cigarette and a glass of water. Redondo Beach. Very common usage. p. "Jewish overdrive. California. 1957) Mexican chrome-aluminum paint used to decorate an automobile." "Oklahoma credit card. (Max McCormick. Maywood. (Los Angeles. 1950) Mexican cashmere-a sweatshirt. 1953) Mexican nose guard-athletic supporter." (Marsha Seid. 1955) Mexican standoff-a poker hand when no one can open the betting or when no one wins the pot. (Los Angeles. ca. Cf. Los Angeles. ( Michael Higer. 1958) Mexican straight-in poker. California. 1959. San Marino. San Fernando. San Fernando." supra. "Mexican filling station." Mexican dragline-a shovel. 1958) reported a conversation overheard in which a man referred to a poorly fashioned model of an airplane as a "Mexican job. 1950) Mexican threads-a bolt stripped of its threads but twisted into a hole to cut new threads is said to have "Mexican threads. Bogner's is a favorite brand of ski clothing. Defined as any silver paint also. Wentworth and Flexner. 1960). 1959) Mexican fox-trot-dysentary. (Ken Potter. 1960) . (Laramee Haynes. 1960) Mexican motor mount-inner tubing used as shock absorbing material instead of special mounting parts. 1959) Mexican overdrive-going downhill in neutral while driving. Max McCormick. 1955) Mexican credit card-a hose and siphon used at night to steal gasoline from parked automobiles. Adams defines this as "getting away alive from any serious difficulty. North Hollywood. California. (Max McCormick. Oxnard. 1960) Mexican jelly bean-1936 Chevrolet. California. 1955. (Dean Burson. from a hod carrier) Mexican filling station-also known as a "Mexican credit card. 1955) Mexican Maserati-a Mercury. Wentworth and Flexner. California. Los Angeles. Los Angeles. Mono County. Cf. (Los Angeles." (Laramee Haynes. 1961) Mexican side-walls-white. (Max McCormick." Mexican Bogner's-blue denim pants (usually Levi's) worn as ski pants. Green. any five cards and a sharp knife. (Ruth Mark." (Max McCormick. (Stanley Davidson. lowered by shackling the leaf springs and fitted with a "Mexican window blind" (Venetian blind) in the rear window. North Hollywood. California. rubberized paint used to simulate white side-walls on black-wall tires. (Ken Potter. San Marino. California. Cf. "Jewish side-walls. (Los Angeles.

1961) Philadelphia lawyer-the ultimate in crooked lawyers (much to the dismay of the Pennsylvania Bar Association)."20 Oregon beef-deer killed out of season. in which one cartridge is placed in a revolver and the chamber spun. 1956) Nigger bait-(excess) chrome on an automobile. White usage only. (Jean Fouch. Wentworth and Flexner cite the more polite euphemism. Arkansas." (Los Angeles. (Camp Chaffee. Before being taken to the line-up. . 118. Nothing is said..21 (Los Angeles. if that is the word. p. 1961. 2 See John Greenway. 1953). Oklahoma credit card-known elsewhere as a "Kentucky credit card" or "Mexican credit card. St. "Chessman Case Cracks Wide Open. "Ethiopian paradise. 22. ca. ca. lowering the body. (Philadelphia. Wentworth and Flexner also list the analogous "German goiter. Pendleton shirts are noted for their ornate embroidery and cost. 1960. Neither story bothered to explain the circumstances. 1961) Taco wagon-among hot rodders. 282-284. 1960) or "rich one day. 1960) Mississippi marbles-dice. seemingly with two meanings. pp. but when the time comes to pick a suspect out of the line-up a short time later. Los Angeles. (Ken Potter. 2Both the St. California. Cf. (Santa Barbara. (Marsha Seid. Los Angeles." (Sharon Delozier. 1956) Nigger rich-an adjectival expression. any car which has had its leaf springs shackled. 1952. Amnerican Folksongs of Protest. Louis Post-Dispatch (Sept. probably on the theory that the term was widely enough known to make this unnecessary. 1959) Oklahoma showup-"A technique known in many police departments as 'The Oklahoma Showup' was then invoked." (Los Angeles. (Gordon Wilson." and for this reason is included here. 1959). 1960) Puerto Rico Pendleton-an old work shirt. African dominoes. either "ostentatiously rich" (Alice O'Brien. the "players" take turns holding the revolver to their foreheads and pulling the trigger. 1958) Mexican window shade-a Venetian blind mounted in the rear window of an automobile." Argosy. Cf. Palos Verde. Mo. 1950) Russian roulette-a game. Wentworth and Flexner enter this.. Los Angeles.DERISIVE USE OF ETHNIC NAMES 33 Mexican two-step-dysentary. Los Angeles. Dec. "Taco" may be a substitute for "Mexican. 1961) use the term "Russian Roulette" in the headline over a story describing the premature death of two citizens. 1. poor the next" (Sara Shaffer." The term is in use among used car dealers. 1960) Mexican valve job-flushing carbon from an automobile motor by pouring kerosene into the carburetor of a running car. one face stands out like a beacon-that of the man the victims know is criminal because they have seen him in cuffs only minutes before. even though lowering an automobile is approved 0 Milt Machlin and William Read Woodfield. (Los Angeles. 1961) and the Los Angeles Examiner (Oct. "Jigaboo joy shop. 1960) Nigger heaven-the cheaper balcony seats in a theater. 1955) Milwaukee goiter-a large midsection as the result of drinking too much beer over a period of time. Woody Guthrie wrote a song with this title in the mid-1940's. supra. Los Angeles. the victims are lead past the open door of a room in which they are allowed to glimpse a prisoner in handcuffs. for a text. blindfolded. Louis.22 (Los Angeles. Oxnard. 1950. Van Nuys.

1960) Tijuana Bible-pornographic comic books. Similarily. the derisive adjective. not only in California. In itself. California. Palos Verde Estates. but in the rest of the country as well.-there as derisive adjectives. parodying well known comic strips. 1959) This list is a limited one. These are most often purchased over the California-Baja California border. there are undoubtably many more terms in oral tradition. Los Angeles . (Los Angeles. (Los Angeles. long-held prejudices and cultural antagonisms. if not quantitatively. (Gordon Wilson. in a three-inch by five-inch format. however. Placed within a cultural context.34 WESTERN FOLKLORE practice and not normally the subject of derision. either as a term or a pattern is not important. there may be more elsewhere. "Mexican" as the modifier probably drops out of currency in those regions where Mexicans are not found in large numbers. are few names of religions used in Southern California Surprisingly. the term being replaced by some other regional or ethnic name. 1947) Vatican roulette-the rhythm system of birth control. it may indicate qualitatively.

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