Be Careful of These Potentially Racist Words and Phrases

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THINKSTOCK

A recent NPR story revealed the disturbing and shockingly racist origins of the catchy jingle played from ice cream trucks around the country. What else are we hearing—or saying—that we should know more about?

These seemingly innocuous terms have questionable origins or histories related to race, and there’s probably plenty more where they came from.

1. “The peanut gallery”: Just a dismissive term for hecklers or critics, right? Wrong. You’ll probably never use this phrase in reference to a group of black people again once you know its history. It originally referred to the balconies of segregated theaters, where African Americans had to sit. (Why “peanut”? Apparently, peanuts were introduced to America during the slave trade and thus became associated with blacks.)

2. “The jig is up”: Although this expression is used today to describe a joke or scheme that has been revealed or foiled, you’re the one whose fun might end quickly if you say it to the wrong person. This hasn’t been proved beyond a doubt, but many believe the saying was used in its original form by some in the American South to refer to the lynching of a black person. Replace “j” with “n” and you’ll get it.

3. “Call a spade a spade”: For more than 500 years, this expression has meant “to tell it like it is.” But it wasn’t until the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s that “spade” became a disparaging code word for black people. It’s probably best to retire this phrase forever.

4. “Sold down the river”: Today, if people say they’ve been “sold down the river,” they probably mean they’ve been betrayed. But when the phrase originated, that betrayal was a lot more serious. During slavery, being “sold down the river” was literal. Slave owners would sell their slaves and send them via the Mississippi or Ohio River to plantations in the Deep South, where plantation conditions were much worse.

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Source: The Root

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