John Kelly // What in the Word?! The racist roots of ‘bulldozer’


What in the Word?! The racist roots of ‘bulldozer’ | OxfordWords blog – While today’s Democrats are known for championing minorities, it was far different picture in the 1870s when many Southern Democrats worked to disenfranchise black people newly freed after the Civil War, just as black men gained the right to vote enshrined in the US Constitution in the 15th Amendment in 1870. To suppress their vote or coerce them away from casting their ballots for Republicans, Democratic supporters would intimidate black voters with threats or acts of violence. This practice especially plagued the 1876 presidential election, and in Louisiana came to be called bull-dozing.

Slang lexicographer Jonathon Green finds an early and notable mention of bulldoze in a 15th November, 1876 edition of Chicago’s Inter-Ocean, which discusses the buzzword just like The Washington Post would break down bigly today. The article, ‘What Is Bulldozing?’, is worth quoting at length:

Our civil war added a large number of words to the American idiom. Every branch of industry, every new way of thinking, every change in politics, is fully represented by a new word or a peculiar phrase. The license of the press and independent freedom of daily speech have also enlarged if they have not enriched the national vocabulary. Bulldozled is the latest invention and acquisition which is puzzling the etymologists just now. It originated in Louisiana, and its meaning has been thus explained by a Southern newspaper:

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