Posted by R. Berg on August 08, 2001
In Reply to: Mighty white of you posted by Bruce Kahl on August 08, 2001
: : : Does anyone know the origin?
: : I would guess the Old South. "Mighty white of you" referring to the perceived superiority of the white race over others. Another phrase along that line -- "free, white and 21." Meaning someone with the freedom to do anything he or she wants.
: Late night TV surfing brought me to an old Western movie a while back and I heard the phrase--"Why that's mighty white of you mister"--. Ouch!
The phrase has an entry in Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British," which says it's of 20th-century origin (hmm, that seems late to me). "Orig. Southern US, it soon became gen. US, and has been heard in UK since the 1930s, often with an understood implication of its origin. Of the US usage, Prof. John W. Clark, 1977, has noted that it was, at first, used seriously--'like a white man, not like a Negro. Now used everywhere, by everyone to anyone, but always jestingly (and sometimes sarcastically), and with full consciousness that it is a provincial expression--and NOT racist'. . . . [British usage:] Sometimes, in the Services, parodying the legendary British Empire builders, 'Sir, you're a white man!'"