doug: would anybody be able to help explain the coon in "IN A COONS AGE" thanks my sanity depends upon your answers.
Michael Kuter: The more genteel interpretation of the expression 'coon' is that it is an abbreviation of raccoon. The harsher reality is that 'coon' was used, especially in the Southern (slave-owning) states of America, to refer to the African Negroes brought as slaves to America.
The term was used in writing in at least one instance which I found: Du Bois, W. E. B. 1903. The Souls of Black Folk: Chapter XIV.... songs, many of the "gospel" hymns, and some of the contemporary "coon" songs,--a mass of music in which the novice may easily lose himself.
My own experience in Australia in the fifties and sixties is that the word 'coon' was used pejoratively to refer to Aboriginal people, especially in the northern parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory. I did not encounter the term in the Kimberley region of north-west Western Australia when I was there in the early 1970s.
So widespread was this (imported) word usage that Aboriginal groups in the 1990s sought to ban the sale of cheese sold under the brand name of 'Coon'. The campaign evidently failed after the cheese-maker published an extensive series of advertisements recounting the efforts of a Dr Edward Coon who was credited with devising the recipe.
A coon's age, I believe, is a misnomer for longevity. Through a combination of severe hard physical labour, poor nutrition, inadequate housing and the emotional and spiritual deprivations of slavery, many African American negroes in the 18th and 19th Century aged prematurely. Even while relatively young, many negroes gave the appearance of advanced old age and were therefore made a byword for longevity.
UPDATE: The battle over the Australian "Coon" cheese began again late in 1999. The person leading the campaign against it has reportedly claimed that under Dr Coon's original recipe for the cheese it had a hard black wax covering - hence the name.
The campaign follows another against the name of a stand at a Queensland rugby league ground. The stand was named after a long-dead rugby personality named Brown who was prominent decades ago. He was known as "Nigger" Brown, and the plaque on the stand reflects this. Those who want the name retained say there was nothing racist about the nickname at the time. Those who want it changed say there was everything racist about it, even if Mr Brown didn't see it that way.
Return to the Archive Index
|Return to the Word for Word articles|
|Return to the BrisMail Home page|