Where did "That's Mighty White of You" come from, and what does it mean?

The context in which I hear it used (and use it all the time myself) is when someone offers you help that isn’t much use. For example - I’m carrying a heavy load, and someone offers to help by taking one small item from the pile.

From wordorigins.org:

I recall hearing or reading the phrase in any number of 30s and 40s movies and books. It was never used sarcastically, but as a true expression of gratitude for kind services rendered. I’ve always wondered what the occasional black actor in those movies thought about those scripts.

Saw and heard the saying that’s mighty white of you in the movie Texas Cyclone. A 1932
that’s right 1932 movie starring Tim McCoy with John Wayne in a small part. It was said twice. It was on Get TV.

Since we’re reviving a 13-year-old thread, the exact phrase shows up in 1900 in the Century magazine, vol. 61, p. 146, in a story called “Her Mountain Lover” by Hamlin Garland, who was from Wisconsin (b. 1860). It also shows up on p. 301, in the voice of the same character. Published as a novel in 1901. I’ve never heard of the guy, but he seems to have been well-enough known to have perhaps made it up and popularized it.

It seems unlikely that the phrase was current in Victorian Wisconsin, but what do I know?

nm, zoombie…

Nice find. Google Books has totally changed phrase finding, in addition to most other research.

I don’t believe Google Ngram search was available when this thread was started. Seems to originate a little before 1900 and has two peaks around 1910 and 1940.

I’ve always thought it was racist - I assumed it was Southern USA, it almost begs to be said in a southern drawl. I’ve only really heard it used in an ironic sense (since the early to mid 1970’s), either sarcastically or self-deprecating humour as “look at me, I’m acting like a racist buffoon like Archie Bunker”.

Sometimes we say it. Because it is totally the wrong thing to say.

And sometimes we like saying totally wrong things. And we laugh.

“Mighty Whitey” is the new Frank Miller superhero comic…

A scholarly article from Mark Liberman in language log in 2011.

I’d guess that 99% of the time it is used, it is being used sarcastically to mock racism rather than in an actual racist way.

That may be true today. It certainly wasn’t true in the pre-Civil Rights era.

It appears fairly extensively in the writings of P.G. Wodehouse, most notably in the dialog between Bertie Wooster and his various associates, which makes me a little doubtful that it’s an Americanism. If it is, it’s one that made the leap across the pond and was presumed contemporaneous to the early decades of the 20th century in which all the Jeeves stories were set. And it was certainly used in the sense of a sincere compliment.

For example, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit:
“The contingency is a remote one, sir, and I gladly took the risk, knowing the Mrs. Travers’s happiness was at stake”

“Pretty white, Jeeves.”

“Thank you, sir. I endeavour to give satisfaction.”

Or Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves:
“Very creditable.”

“What did you say?”

I said I had said it did him credit. Very white of him, I said I thought it.

Tighty whities doesn’t refer to an all white fraternity?

When I was growing up, I thought it was, “That’s mighty wide of you.” “Wide” as in generous, open arms. It wasn’t until after I graduated from high school that someone looked at me cross-eyed and questioned my use of the phrase that I learned it was “white” and not “wide.” I stopped using it immediately. And it’s been years and years since I’ve heard anyone use it.

I have to believe that it would be found in Kipling somewhere. It’s that era of British colonialism that I have always associated with, possibly through 19th century theatre. Used to do a bunch of that.

Growing up in the 70s I occasionally heard my older brothers and their friends (who were most all white) say it. And back then it was in the context of being a sarcastic/semi-racial comment to counter black guys being able to say, “Help a brotha’ out”. It’s kind of meta-that nowadays, as black guys still calling each other ‘brother’ today seems a bit ridiculous and kinda a reverse-racist cliche. They’re both exclusionary terms.

I live in the South, and I hear the phrase every now and again. The White, free, and 21 thing is interesting too. I haven’t heard that in a long time, but my Mom claims when she worked in a Doctor’s office, the same doctor that delivered me actually, when she turned 21, he gave her some little speech with that phrase thrown in there. That would have been in 1980.

You weren’t the only one. I wouldn’t assume that you personally had invented the phrase in that form.