Everyday Phrases Rooted in Racism 

It can be jarring to learn that language you’ve used—never with the intent of offending—has a repugnant history. It’s time to let go of certain phrases and expressions in an effort to be more inclusive and empathetic.

Learn the origins of the common phrases, “Chop-Chop,” “Gypped/jipped,” “Moron,” “Peanut Gallery, “Spirit Animal” and “uppity” in the September issue of School Nutrition, then continue your education with the expressions below.

Chop-chop. A quick way to say, “hurry up,” this phrase comes from the Cantonese word, kap, which means “make haste.” It’s become associated with class, as it was nearly always said condescendingly by someone powerful to someone “below.”

Indian giver. A term used when someone gives a gift but then wants it back, denoting that their intentions were false or fraudulent. It was first used in a 1765 book, saying “An Indian gift is a proverbial expression, signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.” The phrase, “Indian summer,” also implies something that is false or fake.

Grand fathered in. When people are allowed to continue following an existing set of rules after a new set is put in place, they are “grandfathered in,” a phrase that appeared around the time of the 15th Amendment, giving Black American men the right to vote, in 1870. Several states instituted poll taxes or literacy tests to suppress the Black vote, then passed laws known as “grandfather clauses” that said if you could vote before 1970, you didn’t have to pass a test or pay a tax.

Off the reservation. This phrase means to deviate from what is expected. It was first used in the 1800s when the federal government forced Native Americans to live on designated reservations and correspondence would indicate if they were complying with orders to stay in those assigned locations.

Peanut gallery. This term now is commonly used to refer to hecklers, but it originated during the 19th-century Vaudeville era. The cheapest seats in the back were referred to as “the peanut gallery” because sometimes people—who were very often Black but always low-income—would throw peanuts at unpopular performers.

Sold down the river. Often used as a longer way to say “betrayed,” this phrase is a reference to slaves being sold down the Mississippi or Ohio rivers.

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