Food Fights

by Hugh Rawson

Culinary terms, as noted in my earlier post on Damn Yankees, are commonly employed as insults. The basic idea is to ridicule people from other lands by associating them with what are believed to be their favorite foods.

For example, English speakers have disparaged the French as frogs since at least the seventeenth century, and the Germans as krauts since the nineteenth. The first refers to the French liking for frogs’ legs, the second to the German appetite for sauerkraut. Both insults may be employed  in various ways. Thus, the French also are sometimes said to be  frog-eaters or froggies, to speak Frog, and to come from Frogland or Frogmore. Similarly, the Germans have been called kraut-eaters, kraut-faces, and kraut-heads. And it follows naturally that they talk Kraut and that their national home is Krautland.

The flavor of the epithets is best conveyed by their contexts. Thus, a character in Fanny Burney’s novel, Evelina (1778), exclaims to  French woman: “Hark you, Mrs. Frog . . . you may lie in the mud till some of your Monsieurs come to help you out of it.”  More than two hundred years later, the insult lives on, as reported in Christopher Robbins’ Ravens (1987), about pilots in America’s secret war in Laos: “Francophobes to a man, [they] all agreed that was about what you could expect from the Frogs.”

Kraut is newer. Though dated to 1841 in The Oxford English Dictionary, the term wasn’t used widely until the twentieth century, when it was popularized during World Wars I and II. An early example of the personal kraut-head comes from Ty Cobb, the great Detroit Tigers baseball player, who announced his intention to steal second base during the 1909 World Series, telling the equally great Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner: “Hey, kraut-head, I’m coming down on the next pitch,” which he did, getting the base plus three stitches, where Wagner tagged him in the mouth with the ball. This anecdote has to be taken with a grain of salt, not having been committed to writing until forty years afterwards, but it accurately reflects Cobb’s fierceness as well as the spirit of the times.

Turnabout is fair play, of course. Thus, lime-juicer and limey have long served as contemptuous characterizations of the natives of Limey Land (also known as England). The slur almost certainly was applied first by American sailors to their English counterparts, the reference being to the British requirement that sailors drink lime juice as protection against scurvy, a disease once common on long voyages. R. M. Brown wrapped everything together in Southern Discomfort (1982) when she wrote: “Who cares if a bunch of Limeys, Krauts, and Frogs kill each other off?”

The menu of culinary insults goes on and on. Herewith a sampling:

Residents of Boston, or beantown, are often called bean-eaters. The latter term also has been used to disparage Latin Americans, especially Mexicans, also known as beaners and bean bandits.

A Dutchman or German may be dismissed as a butter box, a Russian as a cabbage head, and a Mexican as a chilichili-bean, chilly-belly, chili-eater, or chili-head. (Not surprisingly, members of the border patrol are sometimes called chili-chasers.)

Roman Catholics are sometimes referred to as fish-eaters (from the practice of not eating meat on Fridays), Scandinavians as herring-chokers and herring-snappers, and Italians as macaronis, meatballs, and spaghetti-benders or spaghetti-eaters.

A synonym for frog is pea soup. (A woman I know from a French family was taunted with pea soup by other children when she was growing up in New Milford, Conn., in the 1930s.)

Jews, like Roman Catholics, may be disparaged either by what they don’t eat (as porkers and pork-eaters) or by what they do eat (as matzoh-eaters).

Irishmen may be dismissed as potato-eaters or spuds, and Latin Americans, especially Chicanos, as taco-eaters or, if female and attractive, taco belles.

And so it goes. Much more could be written, especially about the use of foods as synonyms for stupidity in such expressions as applehead, cabbagehead, fathead, meathead, puddinghead, and pumpkinhead, but that will have to wait for another day.

Note: The editors want to make it clear that they do not encourage readers to use insults and do not in any way approve of these terms. They make this post available so readers can learn more about the history food words as insults.

7 thoughts on “Food Fights

  1. Viola

    I like your post very much . I beleive that it might be an advice or an invitation for cleaning our mouths from real insults . In otherwords,it is better to criticize or “ridicule” others through “culinary” terms rather than saying offensive terms.

    1. Interesting idea. Thanks.

      Foods also are used as endearments, e.g., sweetie, sugar, honey, honeybun, and so on. Of course, these terms of affection also should be used carefully, usually only between people who are married or otherwise quite close to each other.

  2. Harry

    The San Francisco Bay area is sometimes called “the land of fruits and nuts.” But the local residents who told me this considered it a whimsical nickname — a backhanded compliment to its open-minded tolerance — rather than an insult. Similarly, Bostonians often use “Beantown” as an apt nickname for their city; Boston Baked Beans are, after all, a staple of the American diet.

    Self-mockery is a major aspect of American humor. New York City, for instance, is often called “Gotham,” in honor of a medieval English village whose residents were all said to be insane. Another version of the tale claims that they pretended to be mad to avoid paying taxes. As a long-time resident of the city, I can assure you that both descriptions are quite fitting.

  3. Yes — insulting geographic jokes go on and on. Your mention of nuts reminds me of the observation that the United States tilts toward the west, which is why all the nuts have rolled to California. Then there is the question: What is the difference between Los Angeles and yogurt? Answer: Yogurt has culture.

    The nickname of “Gotham” for New York City was popularized by Washington Irving in “Salmagundi” (1807-08). He alluded, as you note, to folktales about the village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire, England. The so-called wise men of Gotham actually were fools (unless they were pretending to be mad). One of the stories has it that a dozen Gothamites, out on a fishing expedition, worried that one of their party had drowned because each man forgot to count himself. The meaning of “gothamite” evolved over the years from “fool” to “wise fool” to “wiseacre” or “know-it-all,” which is the sense in which Irving used it when referring to New Yorkers.

  4. Whether you’re traveling in Europe or just going out to a local French restaurant, food is one of the necessities of life. Now a days, you can buy French food online. You can buy your delicious and favourite food online.

  5. carlosmainero

    About your post of Jazz , though Jazz Music can be interesting,
    I¨d rather prefer all lifelong Blues Music , cause it´s a SUPERB 5 LETTER WORD , and it´s much more easy to appreciate and
    same of exciting too!!

    Frankly…..

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