Words and expressions go in and out of use throughout the decades, and sometimes even centuries. Demographics can shape the meaning of expressions, as well as who uses them regularly. However, sometimes they become so widespread and over time, people forget or are never taught what they actually mean.
As a child, we hear and use many expressions, of which we probably never knew the origin. Below are seven expressions that might surprise, and even alarm, you with their history.
1. Eenie Meenie Miney Moe
We all know the children’s rhyme that goes: “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe / Catch a tiger by the toe / If he hollers let him go / Eenie, meenie miney, moe.” Did you know, though, that its origin is less friendly and inoffensive, replacing “tiger” with “n***er”? I would think twice before teaching my future child that rhyme.
Today, we call someone “uppity” if they are acting in a way that we view as arrogant or “self-important.” Originally, the term was used to describe Black Americans who “didn't know their socioeconomic place.” Although the term was first used to describe other black individuals within the community, racist Southerners quickly adopted it.
3. Peanut Gallery
We definitely used the phrase when someone said something that we did not want to hear. The phrase came from what was considered the worst seating in theatres, often where “many black people sat during the era of Vaudeville.”
4. Hip Hip Hooray!
I was surprised by this one, too. According to Business Insider, the “hip hip” part of the phrase may have originated from 19th century antisemitic demonstrations in Germany, known as the Hep Hep Riots. There is no current way to confirm whether that is true, but it is important to keep in mind and consider the next time you get excited.
5. Sold Down The River
The phrase that is now used when someone betrays you was once more literal and more disturbing than many people realize. During the era of slavery, “misbehaving slaves” were sent down the Mississippi river by their masters to experience harsher conditions on Mississippi plantations.
6. I got gypped!
The phrase is closely linked to people of Romani descent, who are still frequently derogatorily referred to as “Gypsies.” A prominent stereotype that Romani encounter is people believing that they are “sly and cunning thieves.” Therefore, using the popular phrase when you feel that you were "robbed" is at the least done in poor taste, and at the most, outrageously offensive.
The word that is still used in an unflattering and often derogatory manner today has its origins with discriminatory behavior toward an Irish family that was known for “overt drunkenness.” It is thought to come from the Irish surname “Houlihan”, and was often used against Irish people as a whole to characterize them as “lawless drunks.”