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Old 10-21-2000, 09:54 PM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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I've been listening to Old Time Radio (mostly comedies from the 30s and 40s) and they use the phrase "That's mighty white of you" a lot

Is this racial in orgin?
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Old 10-21-2000, 10:04 PM
Celyn Celyn is offline
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It certainly sounds like it, and I should also like to know the answer to this, because I have heard it and always wondered about it.
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Old 10-21-2000, 10:07 PM
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I'd always assumed so; the only other WAG that comes to mind is that might have come from the good guys wear white hats/bad guys wear black hats caricature.
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Old 10-21-2000, 10:15 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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WAG Even though the phrase is most often associated with America, I'll vote for English origin in last century.
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Old 10-21-2000, 10:35 PM
Celyn Celyn is offline
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samlem's idea seems sensible enough, but I have only ever seen that phrase when reading U.S. books. Plus,"in the last century" leaves rather a lot of time when the U.S. culture and language was differing from the "English" version. We can but hope that a knowledgeable person will come around soon. Soon! Now! Fast!
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Old 10-21-2000, 10:48 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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The only hit on Google is a person who says he got in trouble for innocently using the word, looked in a slang dictionary, and found it was used by both Mark Twain(no relation), and Edith Wharton.

If it indeed goes back to Samuel Clemens, that would be significant.
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Old 10-21-2000, 10:53 PM
nineiron nineiron is offline
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If I recall correctly, in Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Huck uses a line similar to "that's mighty white of you" to refer to Jim, the escaped slave he travels with. I don't recall the exact wording, or which chapter contained it.
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Old 10-21-2000, 10:54 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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I'm pretty sure it originated in the U.S., although samclem could be right.

OTOH, there is no question of its racist nature. The expression, as originally spoken, indicated that the recipient of the compliment was acting in the best traditions of the natural nobility of the white race, as opposed to the underhanded and less than honorable attributes of those "less than" white peoples.

For a good number of years, however, it has been an ironic insult with different connotations:
- the insulted is behaving "as if" he were desirous of being praised for having "white" values
- the insulted is given a compliment known to be racist in order to point out some less than courteous act he has performed.
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Old 10-22-2000, 12:27 AM
stuyguy stuyguy is offline
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You are barking up the wrong tree looking for a racial connotation here. White = good (and black = bad) has a long history in a moral/spiritual sense, not a racial one.

Etymologist John Ciardi, my favorite expert on issues of word origin, does not deal with the phrase "awfully white of you" directly, but does address similar positive phrases using white (and negative ones using black, like "blackguard" and "having a black soul"). He writes:

"... all these idioms evolved at a time when most Europeans were hardly aware of the existance of a black race. Beyond such idioms, early European religions developed an image structure based on night-day/ devil-god/ black-white/ evil-good... No 'racial digs' are implicit in such idioms... There is enough intentionally offensive language to object to without finding evil where none is intended."
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Old 10-22-2000, 12:43 AM
samclem samclem is offline
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Back in the 1960's, someone gave me a subscription to Forbes Magazine. That was when it had literary content, if my poor old memory serves me well. Ciardi was fascinating to read(he was a columnist). Everything he said was so logical.

I have his books A Browser's Dictionary and a Second Browser's Dictionary. I love to read them, but have found that he is quite often wrong. He had the mis-fortune to not have access to some of the wonderful research of the last 20 years. But, boy, could he turn a phrase.

I'm sure the interenet, as well as computers being able to search texts both now and even better in the future, will make the kinds of exercises concerning word searches we do now seem childish.

How wonderful would it be to have all of something as simple as Mark Twain's complete writings searchable by computer. We could in a nanosecond say conslusively that he did or did not use any part of the phrase "mighty white of you".
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Old 10-22-2000, 04:49 AM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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stuyguy, I am well aware that the words white and black have been associated with good and evil far longer than English-speaking people have had a day-to-day consciousness that some people are "white" or "black," (white feather, white- or lily-livered, etc. notwithstanding) but this specific phrase is racially derived and for the reasons I gave.


From the OED (the 1919 version, which can hardly be considered susceptible to PC):

white a.
4.b. slang or colloq. (by extension from WHITE MAN 3; orig. U.S.) Honourable; square-dealing. Also as adv

white man
2.b. orig. U.S. slang. A man of honourable character such as one associates with a European (as distinguished from a negro): see WHITE a. 4 b
  #12  
Old 10-22-2000, 07:48 AM
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Quote:
I'll vote for English origin in last century.
The closest British English equivalent I can think of is "to play the white man", which means to act fairly or honourably, to play fair. Obviously, this phrase is obsolete now, but it ties in with tomndebb's explanation.
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Old 10-22-2000, 09:34 AM
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Random House's Word of the Day site comes down squarely on both sides of the fence:

http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/inde...?date=19960911

I have only heard the phrase used ironically -- from one white person to another, indicating that the latter's recent statements are verging on the "un-P.C."
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  #14  
Old 10-22-2000, 10:21 AM
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In the book and movie The Eiger Sanction a very racist character says this to Clint Eastwood's character, who is seeing a black woman at the time.

Clint decks him.
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Old 10-22-2000, 11:46 AM
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I'll vote for the ironic/racist opinion (after all, everything is hate speech/ racist anyway).
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Old 10-22-2000, 12:29 PM
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I have only heard the phrase used by white people in reference to another white person. It's basically "thanks for nothing".

These days, everything said by "white" people about white, black, nigger, etc. is considered racist.

No such restrictions apply to "black" people.

This is just being PC; don't say anything that might offend those poor, downtrodden [insert favorate minority] people's feelings. This PC attitude is more condescending than racist.
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Old 10-22-2000, 12:43 PM
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Here is the e-text book of Huckleberry Finn

shortened link

[I edited the link to prevent sidescrolling --Chronos]








[Edited by Chronos on 10-23-2000 at 12:50 AM]
  #18  
Old 10-22-2000, 01:07 PM
alansmithee alansmithee is offline
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Not an answer, just an anecdote

I recall my oldest sister using this phrase quite often for a while when we were young, until my mother heard her and put a stop to it. Seems my sister, in her rural Indiana naivete, thought the word was "wide". Thankfully she learned the truth before she unintentionally said it to someone who would understandably not appreciate it.
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Old 10-22-2000, 04:01 PM
tomndebb tomndebb is offline
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Quote:
These days, everything said by "white" people about white, black, nigger, etc. is considered racist.

No such restrictions apply to "black" people.
Whatever your feeling about the current state of the language, the OP's question was "Where did it come from?" (particularly in the context of 60-70 year old radio shows). The definitions recorded in the OED at the beginning of the 20th century indicate pretty well that that usage was, indeed, racist. The citations for this use of "white" date back to 1877, and include these two quotes from Edith Wharton's 1913 novel, The Custom of the Country:
Quote:
Well--this is white of you.
Quote:
I meant to act white by you.
  #20  
Old 10-22-2000, 04:22 PM
Markxxx Markxxx is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by starfish
I have only heard the phrase used by white people in reference to another white person. It's basically "thanks for nothing".

Interesting note cause on those old time radio shows this is exactly how it is always used. You can substitute "thanks for nothing"
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Old 10-22-2000, 05:00 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Oh, well. A day at the library, and I withdraw my suggestion that is might be English in origin.

tom, as usual, nails it. It is racist in origin, but it does mean what starfish said-"thanks for nothing."

And, to clear up the Mark Twain usage, he(Twain) uses a phrase in Sketches New and Old, published in 1865. Supposedly, a correspondent from California sent him a poem in which he refers to a preacher thusly-"The parson was among the whitest men I ever see". If you read the poem, the context is that he was a straight-up, square-dealing type of guy. Not like those of a different color.
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Old 10-22-2000, 11:46 PM
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Bravo to you, Sam, for your dedication and effort. I raise my glass to your good name.
  #23  
Old 10-23-2000, 09:15 AM
writefetus writefetus is offline
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I grew up listening to thousands of hours of old radio shows( e.g. Allens Alley, Suspense, Lights Out , Jack Benny, Edger Bergen and Charlie McCarthy,Amos and Andy,The Shadow, Little Orphan Annie, Fibber Magee and Molly,The Lone Ranger,The Goldbergs,Gangbusters and so on) and I cannot recall having heard a comment like this. On what show(s) did you hear it? I know that broadly drawn racial (or racist) caricature were the norm, but I would be intrested to know the specific show.
thanks
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Old 07-07-2012, 12:16 PM
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It's never too late to contribute.

http://thecompass.com/wgbhalumni-ori...n/archiv17.htm

Quote:
* "Mighty noble of you, White..." goes with "...Mighty white of you, Noble." For a while, Paul Noble and Stew White exchanged congratulations several times daily with this two-part salutation.
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Old 07-07-2012, 01:03 PM
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Zombie_(band)
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Old 07-07-2012, 01:05 PM
BDBoop BDBoop is offline
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No more posting for you. Your post count is presently sheer perfection.
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Old 07-07-2012, 01:31 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alansmithee View Post
I recall my oldest sister using this phrase quite often for a while when we were young, until my mother heard her and put a stop to it. Seems my sister, in her rural Indiana naivete, thought the word was "wide". Thankfully she learned the truth before she unintentionally said it to someone who would understandably not appreciate it.
'Scuse me while I kiss this guy...
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Old 07-07-2012, 08:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ;829515
In the book and movie The Eiger Sanction a very racist character says this to Clint Eastwood's character, who is seeing a black woman at the time.

Clint decks him.
And interestingly enough, Clint uses it (or rather Dirty Harry does) in The Enforcer.
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Old 07-07-2012, 09:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post
'Scuse me while I kiss this guy...
You can't take this guy from me!
Quote:
Originally Posted by BDBoop View Post
No more posting for you. Your post count is presently sheer perfection.
Yeah, that's not going to be confusing when this gets zombified the 2nd time. (Maserschmidt hit 1,776.)
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Old 07-07-2012, 10:11 PM
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Originally Posted by foolsguinea View Post
You can't take this guy from me!Yeah, that's not going to be confusing when this gets zombified the 2nd time. (Maserschmidt hit 1,776.)
True.
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