Typology of ethnic slurs – a sketch

I am interested, as you may’ve noticed, in many things linguistic, but verbal aggression is one of my special interests. Not that I am advocating it, but I find it fascinating how creative a man can be when it comes to denigrating, offending or hurting his fellows.

Interestingly in multicultural societies of much of the modern Western world, it is the race/etnicity slurs which carry the strongest taboo. There seems to be a sort of historical progression in terms of ‘strong language’, starting from proper swears, that is invocation of religious themes and ill-wishes (wishing somebody’s death or disease), then going through matters related to defecation and procreation, and finally arriving at the present state, where it is the ethnicity/race that has the most shock value. You can pepper your sentences with “shit” and “fucking” all you like and still pass for a subtle intellectual, but if you use the n-word, boy, you’ll get some attention.

Below you can find the beginnings of my typology of ethnic slurs with an emphasis on odd, old-fashioned, no longer too malicious ones. I am eager to learn more and wait for similar ‘national nicknames’ from your own language that I could put in here. Note, though that the stuff related to “race” (as if such thing existed), doesn’t interest me that much, nations do.

Food-based

– quite a lot of derogatory, contemptuos or simply jocular ‘national nicknames’ comes from a given nation’s eating habits. Among them the following:

 

  • Kraut – English nickname for ‘German’. From the German word ‘kraut’ meaning ‘cabbage’. Soured cabbage (called ‘sauerkraut’ in German) is one of the typical dishes of German cuisine.
  • Frog – English nickname for ‘Frenchman’. From the French habit of eating frog legs (yuck !). In Polish we call the French ‘Żabojady’ which means literally ‘frog-eaters’
  • Makaroniarz – Polish nickname for ‘Italian’. Derived from ‘makaron’ – Polish generic word for ‘pasta’
  • Beaner – Usonian derogatory nickname for Mexicans. They eat beans, you know.
  • Бульбаш [bulbash]- ‘a potatoer’ Russian nickname for ‘Belorussian’. Derived from бульба [bulba] – Belorussian word for ‘potato’
  • Crucco– Italian nickname for ‘German’. Apparently from Slovene word ‘kruh’, meaning ‘bread’. Italian-German (Austrian?) fighting usually took place amid Slovene speaking lands. Caveat! I am not sure about this one, because in one of my frequent OE catastrophes I have lost both the original message in which the word was submitted and contact data of the person who had send it to me. Help, anyone?

Pars-pro-toto – a very curious case, when name of a sub-ethnic or regional group of a nation becomes a derogatory name for the whole nation in neighbouring language(s). So far I have found only one example of this.

  • Szwab – Polish nickname for ‘German’. Properly it means ‘an inhabitant of Schwaben region in Germany’ but much more often is used as a derogatory name for any German person, no matter their region of origin. A similar usage exists in Croatia and Serbia – and there it harks back to the presence of so-called Danube Swabians who resettled parts of the Pannonian plain depopulated under the Ottoman rule.

Appearance – obvious reason to riducule someone, right ?

  • Kacap – Polish (and Ukrainian and Belorussian, too) nickname for ‘Russian’. The source is a corrupted phrase как цап [kak tsap], meaning ‘[having beard] like he-goat’ in Russian. The Russians, as opposed to their neighbours, wouldn’t usually shave their beards.
  • Xохол [khokhol] – a Russian derogatory term for Ukrainians. The literal meaning is “crest” (a bird’s) and it goes back to the Cossack habit of shaving the heads clean but for a long lock of hair at the top of the head.

Forename – Quite often, a ‘nation nickname’ is derived from a firstname, common to members of that nation. Interestingly, in many cases it is the diminuitive and not the ‘full version’ of the name which is used here.

  • Paddy – English nickname for ‘Irishman’. From diminuitive form of an Irish firstname ‘Padraig’ [Patrick]
  • Taig – another English nickname for Irishmen, especially Republicans. From Irish firstname usually spelled Tadhg
  • Jackeen – following the Irish theme, this is a pejorative word for Dubliners used in Irish English. “Jackeen” means “little Jack” (‘-een’ being an Irish diminuitive suffix) and it refers to the British flag (Union Jack). The idea is that Dubliners are thought to be the most English of all Irish
  • Pepik – Polish nickname for ‘Czech’. ‘Pepik’ is a Czech diminuitive form of a name ‘Jozef’.
  • Fritz – English nickname for ‘German’. Diminuitive form of a German name ‘Friedrich’. The nickname exists in Polish as well. Its Polish form is ‘Fryc’.
  • Janez – Serbian/Croat nickname for ‘Slovene’. Janez is the Slovene version of “John”
  • Balija – Serbian/Croat derogatory nickname for Bosnyaks (Bosnian Muslims) supposedly from a Turkish personal name “Bali”, but this etymology seems a bit iffy, so I’d appreciate a verification.

As they call themselves – sometimes, a form similar to a nation’s own name is used as its derogatory nickname in some other language.

  • Polack – derogatory American English for ‘Pole’. Almost identical to how we call ourselves. ‘Pole’ in Polish is ‘Polak’.
  • Ruski – Polish derogatory for ‘Russian’. Almost identical to ‘русский‘ which means ‘Russian’ in Russian. Polish standard, non-derogatory word is ‘Rosjanin’.
  • Ryssä – yes, you’ve guessed, it’s another derogatory word for ‘Russian’, Finnish this time. The regular Finnish word is ‘venäläinen’
  • Šiptar – derogatory (and very offensive) Serbian term for Albanians. Albanian self-description -and source of this slur- is “Shqiptar”, neutral Serbian term is “Albanac”

As the Russians call them – in case of some Eastern nationalities their Russian names, borrowed into Polish, serve as derogatory words. I list them below in the order: Polish derog – Russian standard – Polish standard

  • Kitajec from Russian Китаец usual Polish form – Chińczyk
  • Wietnamiec from Russian Вьетнамец usual Polish form -Wietnamczyk
  • Japoniec from Russian Японец, usual Polish form – Japończyk

Awaiting its category– some words are odd in both meanings, they are strange and without close matches anywhere.

  • ЦIап [c’ap]- derogatory Lezgi for ‘Azerbaijani’. Its literal meaning is… well, ‘horse-shit’, to put it simply.

 

Verbs – I am also interested in somewhat related cases, when a nation’s name serves as a verb denoting activities of dubious moral value.

  • to welsh – English verb, meaning ‘to cheat, esp. for a bookie at the horse-races’
  • cyganić – Polish verb, meaning ‘to cheat, to deceive’, derived from the word ‘Cygan’ – ‘Gypsy’
  • to jew – English verb, meaning ‘to cheat’
  • żydzić – Polish verb, derived from the word ‘Żyd’ – ‘Jew’, meaning ‘to begrudge; to be stingy’
  • türken – “to Turk” German verb meaning ‘to falsify, to fake’; the word’s roots are probably the same as that of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (read up on that!)