Origin of "red-headed stepchild"

What is the origin of the phrase “red-headed stepchild,” used to mean something that doesn’t really belong, or that is despised or barely tolerated? I mean, what have people got (or what did they used to have got) against redheads?

I believe it originated with the amazingly annoying little red-headed stepchild that was a late addition to the sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes”. I usually hear it in the form, “I’ll beat you like a red-headed stepchild.” If you ever saw the show you would know why.

I am an idiot.

Looks like it has been around for a while, but no one is certain of its origins. Try asking Cecil.

Beatin like a…

I AM a redheaded stepchild…I haven’t been beaten, despised or forgotten! :smiley:

At least I’m not a rented mule.

I would also like to know the origin of this hateful screed… :dubious:

[wild guess] Is it linked to the old idea that Judas was a red-head ? I mean sure he betrayed Christ but he should be forgiven anyway because without him Jesus woiuldn’t have fulfilled his destiny etc. I’d never heard the phrase before but if it does mean what Brainglutton says then there’s the idea of loving out of duty rather than sentiment. [/wild guess]

The phrase contains two elements;

red-headed = a genetic trait that may indicate one of your parents were not within the family = illegitimate. Any other genetic trait could be used here, but red-heads are used due to their obviousness and scarcity.

step-child = a child only related to you by marriage = commonly regarded in folklore as unloved

Combine the two and you have an illegitimate child born during your spouse’s previous marriage. So obviously you’re going to treat them like dirt.

I’m hoping it’s a humourous expression.

How could the child be illegitimate if your spouse was married?
Just kidding, I get your point.

Well BrainGlutton, I just read that phrase on another site. What a coinkidink :wink: :wink:
I however have nothing more to add since Futile Gesture sums it up pretty damn well.

There’s also an old stereotype of redheads being particularly temperamental. I’m sure part of it is the idea that this kid invokes the speaker’s wrath due to their redheadish temper, and since it’s a stepkid one is free to beat it at will - no genetic obligations towards it, you know?

What an awful saying. Well, I’m a redhead and every redhead I know (including myself) has a temper, but the step-child deal I’m not sure about.

Whenever I hear this phrase I think of the recurring comedy sketch on the old Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In show. (I think I just dated myself.)

The sketch centered around the Farkle family, with the parents Fred and Fanny Farkle (Dan Rowan and JoAnne Worley). They had a huge family of children, all with flaming red hair (think of a red clown wig) and freckles. The kids had names like Mark and Sparkle Farkle, Flicker Farkle, and of course the twins, Simon and Gar Farkle.

Then we meet “trusted neighbor Ferd Burfle” (Dick Martin) who has the same red hair and freckles, and the line, “Fine lookin’ family you got there, Fred.”

I truly mean NO offence, but to honest, I have always been quite suspicious of red-heads in general. I don’t mean strawberry blondes…I mean fire red…I honestly do not know why, but they have always made me uneasy, and a bit afraid. I realize this is completely stupid, but there you have it.

Many earlier threads on the question:


Be afraid. Be very afraid…

It’s so silly, I know…It’s just that they strike me as “on the brink”. Like they blend in to society well enough, but all the while they are organizing and plotting…almost as though when no one is looking, they do something dastardly for no apparent reason, like stomp on a flower or kick a puppy. I fully realize this is all in my head…I think I have a red-head phobia…is there such a thing?

But why? We’re harmless!

Just have a seat and lets talk about this…

Oh my goodness…I am sure that you are harmless! I am certain it is me and not you…define harmless.

Heh, heh, heh…

Since the OP has been somewhat answered, and since the posters who joined us late in the day today have nothing worthwhile of a factual nature to add to the thread, let’s just close this one before it spirals out of control.

Exapno added some useful previous threads about this.

samclem GQ moderator

As always, if you have factual new information to add, please email me and I’ll reopen the thread for you.