This is page 1 of 3 pages about the word wog.
Wog is a vile, vulgar, racist slur popularized and first used in England.
The little, frizzy-haired, orange dude in the title of today’s column (above) is an actual illustration from one of the Golliwogg books. He is, so-to-speak, the first wog. But more of that later.
The best known sentence employing this put-down brims with political irony: “The wogs begin at Calais.” George Wigg, a Labour party MP, said it in 1945 to characterize and satirize the attitude of British Tories to foreigners. Calais was and sometimes still is the first port of France that a vacationing Brit encounters when venturing into continental Europe. The sentiment made the British laugh and fitted their racism perfectly, with its implication that all non-British persons in the world constituted “a bunch of bloody wogs.”
Early in the twentieth century, on its first offensive outing, wog was applied to persons of Arab extraction. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first print citation dates from 1929. Later wog expanded its circle of insult to include Indian and Asian people as well.
Wog’s origin is disputed. In this little essay I shall pin the word to the etymological butterfly board, beginning with the probable ancestor of “wog,” proceeding to spurious etymologies, and then looking at some curious new uses of “wog” which have sprung up in Australia.
The most cogent evidence suggests one source. Wog is a shortened form of the word golliwog. In the annals of etymology it is not often that precisely datable visual evidence remains to attest a word’s beginning. With golliwog we possess such proof. Golliwogg was coined by Florence Kate Upton, as the name of a character in her children’s book, The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg first published in 1895 by DeWolfe, Fiske & Company in Boston.
Her mother wrote the verses that accompany her daughter’s Golliwogg drawings and storyline. Florence also assisted in the production of the exquisite but controversial chromolithographed illustrations which have lasted for 110 years.
As a child Miss Upton had lived briefly in New York City and attended theatrical performances both high and low. Among her favorites as a child were minstrel shows. In those blackface vaudevilles little Florence had first seen a “Black Sambo” character. Yes, the Golliwogg is a stereotype of an African-American child. Its immediate ancestor was a character in American minstrel shows.
The blackface minstrel show was popular showbiz in 19th-century America and it featured a poisonously racist depiction of African Americans. Decades before the name became synonymous with racial segregation laws, Jim Crow was also a showbiz act — a performance first made famous in New York City by a young white actor named Thomas D. Rice. Some time around 1830, Rice learned a popular African-American song-and-dance routine, based on the myth of the trickster figure, an escaped slave named Jim Crow. His face blacked out with burnt cork, Rice perfected the act and sparked the tradition of the minstrel act. The audience for these shows was largely working-class whites, and at first the blackface character was actually a smart and sympathetic one. But as time went on, the minstrel show took on overt racist overtones, as the crude and outlandish parodies of supposed African American life grew nastier and meaner.
Florence had purchased a large Black Sambo rag doll at an American fair and taken it back to England. Years later, when she was casting about in 1893 for characters to populate her first children’s book, she found the old raggy doll in a trunk in her mother’s London attic and christened it “Golliwogg.”
The book was an immediate success. She wrote and drew a Golliwogg book for the Christmas book market every year from 1895 through 1912. Initially undertaken to finance her art training in Paris, the series achieved its goal, for Florence Upton became a successful portrait painter of London ’s high society. This long series of Golli-wogg books made both daughter and mother rich and famous. But they neglected to copyright their little figure, and soon innumerable knockoffs thronged the British marketplace. To avoid copyright infringement in a much less strigent age than ours, the postcards and dolls and products usually spelled the name as Golliwog.
Golliwog then is a mere orthographical simplification of Golliwogg, for the basest of purposes, quick money. No sooner were little Golliwog dolls ("Gollies" in British kids' slang) in every London nursery than some bloke in the street hurled the first racist use of the term at a passing Arab. At length the whole country shortened Golliwog to wog and a new arrow was added to the quiver of English racism.
Observe that the printer of this noble volume has misspelled the very name of his (presumed) home town, Ithaca, New York.
This is page 1 of 3 on the word wog.
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