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Re: I hope I don't cause any offense

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 20, 2005

In Reply to: Re: I hope I don't cause any offense posted by Steve E on July 20, 2005

: : : : hi! I hope I don't cause any offense but what is the origin and meaning of the idiom "Nigger in the wood-pile" - it's found in Agatha Christie

: : : Your question has been asked and answered here before. Please go back one page, click on the Browse the Archive link, and you'll be able to find that previous discussion.

: : The previous discussion to which ESC provided the link seems to point up some questions people have about the origin of the word Negro, so I thought I would mention a few things that may have been confusing. First, the Niger River, the third longest in Africa, is not named for black people, and is thought to have been named that by the Greeks. Second, the word negro, meaning black, is the word used by the Spanish and Portuguese who preceded the English by a long way in the slave trade. Slavery was not confined to black people, of course, the Spanish and Portuguese happily made slaves of the Native Americans when they could. In the islands of the Caribbean they could not--their diseases killed virtually all of the native population. It was the humanitarian priest, Las Casas, who suggested that slaves from Africa be imported to replace the Indians to provide labor (and lived to regret his suggestion). There were, for quite a while, white indentured servants, virtually slaves, in the islands claimed by the British, but eventually slaves from Africa replaced them.

: : Third, does anyone besides me find it ironic that African-Americans, bitter about the American part of the slave trade that brought their ancestors to the U.S., have adopted Islam and Swahili as symbols of their African past? Swahili is heavily influenced by Arabic, and was used by Arab slave traders as their lingua franca in dealing with black Africans. The Arabs also brought Islam to Africa, obviously, although they presumably are not solely responsible for its very strong foothold among sub-Saharan native Africans. SS

: SS--I never knew that and, yes, I do find it ironic. Can you point me to a reference which discusses this?

I'm a very lazy person, and don't read as much as I ought. My most recent source for this subject has been the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, chiefly under "Slavery." I imagine that the printed version is also useful, but as a happy by-product of Mrs. Stover's employment I can consult the EB Online, as well as the OED Online. I must warn you, however, that the EB discussion is very condensed, as it often is. SS