A commenter at some shittehole blogge keeps referring to President Obama as a “jackanapes”, and I am trying to determine whether this is a racist slur. Based on my understanding of the history of this word, I am coming down on the side of concluding that absolutely yes, it is a grossly racist slur. Any other thoughts?


  1. Cuttlefish says

    No question. Its archaic meaning is “monkey”; its present meaning is derogatory (if only mildly so). It is hardly a common word, so unlikely to be just a word the commenter uses for any and every person (that is an empirical question, though), so my money is on racist slur.

    Reminds me of my uncle’s use of a particular term when someone went back on their word. He would call that person a renegger, literally one who reneges on a deal, pronounced “re-nigger”, just so he could play all innocent when called on it. Like the present case, it’s a legitimate word, and the fact that it can be repurposed as racist slur simply means that the listener is projecting their own racism, and the commenter has a plausible out.

  2. Elf Eye says

    Judging from the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s racist. First, it is pejorative. Second, the ‘ape’ element referred to ‘ape’ or ‘monkey’. Third, given the history of applying the words ‘ape’ and ‘monkey’ to African-Americans, and given the documented racist insults that have been hurled at the president, it seems unlikely that ‘jackanapes’ is being used minus racial connotations

  3. grumpyoldfart says

    I’ve used “jackanapes” all my life. It means “mischievous person” (like a scamp or a scallywag). Dick Solomon uses it too:

  4. Martin says


    Aaargh! “Renege” should be pronounced /rɪˈneɪg/ (as in bait) or /rɪˈniːɡ/ (as in ease), not /rɪˈnɪg/ (as in bit). I hear it at the bridge table and force myself to keep silent or say: “Oh, a revoke”!

    You’re almost certainly right that your uncle is smugly smiling as he (mentally) calls someone “nigger”.

  5. ged says

    It originates from Jack Napes the nickname of William de la Pole who I assume was white being Lord Chamberlain of England in the 15th Century


    So the origin of the word doesn’t appear to be racist but its use appears to have changed to include meaning (archaichly) “monkey or ape”.

    This doesn’t necessarily entail that it changed to the racist meaning of ‘monkey’, rather to the mischievous version

    (I’m not sure of the US, but ‘cheeky monkey’ is a common term in English English with no racist connotations)

  6. Nice Ogress says

    Helpful tip: before using ‘clever’ words to define someone you dislike, check the etymology for hidden meaning and/or dogwhistles. it will save you valuable news-cycles of backpedaling.

    I suppose it’s vaguely possible that there is a region of the americas where ‘jackanapes’ is used to mean someone who is playful and childish with no overt or covert negative implications. such a meaning would be *incorrect*.

    ‘Jackanapes’ was a nickname earned by a dead old white dude who, among other things, raped a nun. When his peers and confederates called him a monkey, they weren’t calling him a playful scamp, they were calling him a filthy animal in human form. That’s 100% cognate with the monkey’ slurs against black men today.

    sorry, no get-outta-jail-free card today.

  7. jamessweet says

    I’m thinking probably the dog-whistle is intentional, though I’m far from certain of that. Of course, when it comes to racism and other matters of privilege, intention often is less important than effect. Dude shouldn’t be using that word, either way. If he intended it to be a dog-whistle then he’s a total dick. If he didn’t mean it to be a dog-whistle, but will double-down if it is pointed out to him, he’s still being a dick. :shrug:

  8. says


    Doesn’t that depend a great deal on the phonetics of the speaker’s particular dialect? Don’t forget there are quite a few American dialects (including AAVE and much of the south) where the two sounds merge.

  9. Ava, Oporornis maledetta says

    I’ve seen the term in British and American literary contexts, and heard nonracist people use it, mainly to mean prankster or troublemaker, usually in refererence to a young (and white) person.

    That does not mean that someone else couldn’t use it with intentional racism, though. Used to describe Obama, that looks intentional.

    The sixteenth-century phrase Jack a Napes refers to Naples, Italy. “Ape” is not a root element of “jackanapes,” as far as I can tell from various etymological sites. Thus, for me the theory that the word directly refers to monkeys (pace the archaic def.) doesn’t hold.

    Perhaps the type of dicke to throw that word around with reference to Obama is not of the wattage to pursue etymology and peruse the OED.

  10. Ava, Oporornis maledetta says

    Martin, I’m from the Northeast and have always both heard and said ree-negg, rhymes with egg. FWIW.

  11. says

    I’m from .. well, all over, and I’ve used this quite often myself to mean the common (if dated) usage of an upstart/mischief-maker. Simply because there is an obsolete reference to the term monkey (and due to something unrelated with race) does not make the slur racial.

    Now, the commentator may be thinking that they are particularly witty and using it in that fashion and I won’t argue otherwise. The level of intellect on many of those blogs is extremely low, and someone may have dedicated their week to finding a word that had ‘monkey’ as an old meaning — sure, it could happen.

    I must say, though, that it is still dangerous to assume racism by trying to derive racial intent from an unused etymological root of a word. For example.. I hope that later on the word ‘Goat’ doesn’t turn into a well used racial slur, else we might be rethinking use of the word ‘Tragedy’ (literal: goat song) when describing music. ;)

    Best advise, avoid those blogs!

  12. conwaythe contaminationist says


    I’m the guy who calls that arrogant, inept, puerile narcissist, Barack Obama, a jackanapes, due to the fact that he IS a jackanapes, using the original definition of the word.

    I also call him a dilettante, and a bellicose, mendacious, meretricious scoundrel – who makes Boss Tweed or Al Capone appear as rank amateurs in comparison. I personally have more respect for wood lice or cockroaches than I do for Barack Obama; the man seems to view gross stupidity as a virtue.

    Further, I absolutely despised his predecessor, the empty-eyed dolt, George W. Bush, too, so don’t think I’m singling out the current dimwitted goon occupying the White House – a smooth talking charlatan that makes idiotic Jimmy Carter appear as the epitome of genius.

    Now don’t think for one minute that I have any use for his fellow arrogant, elitist, soft-palmed criminal, Mitt Romney. He’s the two-faced, glad-handing, backstabbing fence rider who is challenging Obama for the exalted position of “head gangster”.

    You see, I utterly loathe them, and wish a virulent, consumptive pox upon them both.

    Too bad there isn’t an honorable candidate running for President; choosing between this unseemly pair of cap-toothed, aloof megalomaniacs is like being asked to choose one’s own executioner.

    The real question is, which of these Machiavellian miscreants will destroy what is left of the United States faster?

    I for one, do not care, as America is finally electing the leaders they DESERVE.

    Do have a nice day.

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