a pic of my brain The Compleat Iconoclast
...Vote For Your Favorite Wench...


"...pick a seat, we gotta go."

Two years ago, so said one 22 year old Southwest Airlines stewardess flight attendant, as the plane was about to depart, as she tried to chivvy the still unseated passengers into grabbing a seat.

So what, you ask?

Two of the unseated passengers were black females, and they are now suing Southwest for the stew's "racist" remark.

I shit you not.

Read the story here.

Perhaps an explanation is in order.

Back in the old, unenlightened days, there was a nursery rhyme that went like this:

Catch a nigger by his toe,
If he hollers make him pay,
fifty dollars every day."

It was used like the old "hot potato, cold potato" counting out rhyme to attempt to randomly choose something as important as who got to bat first at the local sandlot ballgame.

Later, (about the time my fortysomething self started wearing long pants) the offending second line was changed to:

"Catch a tiger by his toe."

Most kids nowadays have never even heard the original version, which dates back to before the Civil War.

After I read about this, I asked a few of the black people I ran into today for their reaction. None of them had heard the story in the news. I repeated the "Eenie-meenie..." phrase to them, and asked if they found it offensive. To a (wo)man, they looked at me as if I was a brother from another planet.

After I explained why I had asked, they were, hmm, unsupportive, to say the least, of the lawsuit.

One woman, working the counter at a fast-food franchise, (and incidentally, about my age, and so, old enough to be cognizant of the original version of the rhyme) replied, "You are kiddin' me."

I opened the paper and showed her the article.

She shook her head and said:

"Some people will try any kind of way to get some money that don't belong to them."

Couldn't have said it better my own damn self.

UPDATE - 2004-01-23: In a burst of common sense I've come to think of as rare in our increasingly litiginous society, a jury found for the defendants, that is, the airline. The full story is here, but in case it falls off into the you-gotta-pay to read archives of what we residents of the Houston area call The Comical, here's a snippet or two...

"Sawyer and Fuller said the rhyme immediately struck them as a reference to an older, racist version in which the first line is followed by the words "catch a n----r...

(For my overseas readers that might be wondering, the word is "nigger" - you'll hear it all the time on hip-hop and rap records - its Voodoo Magick Power to incite seizures in the black population of AmeiKKKa strangely absent, (see below) as are lawsuits by middle class black Americans against the artists and their record companies for dropping the N-Bomb in public- mld)
...by the toe." They testified at the two-day trial that they were embarrassed, humiliated and frustrated. Fuller said she suffered a small seizure on the flight home, which said was triggered by the remark. Later at home, she said she had a grand mal seizure and was bedridden for three days."

Is that hilarous, or what? Who knew that a nursery rhyme had such deadly power? I cannot help but think of the old TV Show "Sanford & Son," when old Fred would fake heart attacks to try and get his way. Life imitates Art. I wonder if Fuller used to watch the show.

"Scott A. Wissel, appointed to represent the women after they filed a handwritten complaint, declined comment about the verdict. In his closing argument he said Cundiff's use of the rhyme was tantamount to a racial slur."

Does this shyste..., err, ambulance chas, err, lawyer's name strike you as oddly fitting? If there is a god, please tell me Scott pronounces it to rhyme with "easel."

Finally, Fuller protests...

"It's a shame that the jury pool we had to draw from did not have one black and not one minority," she said."

Well, there were seven men on the jury, but wait, oh yes, even though that men are in fact a minority, they don't count as such in Bizarro PC world.

But if what you really meant, Ms. Fuller, was that you shoulda had some more (presumably more sympathetic to your whack-ass attempt to extort money from a big company) blacks on the jury, I have a few points.

First, your attorney had every chance to get some blacks on the jury during the voir dire phase of the trial. But I'm guessing that any lawyer capital S Stoopid enough to take this case on a contingency basis is maybe not the star of the local bar, so to speak.

Second, who the fuck is the racist here? The jury would have had to be composed of morons for you to wins this case. Seems you don't have a very high opinion of your ethnic group.

Finally, the poor, put upon, downtrodden, held down by the White Man, Ms. Fuller, who was, by the way, going to Las Vegas on vacation, (Ain't it great that we live in a country when even the oppressed can afford such a lifestyle?), laments...

"Something has to be done to make sure there is justice in America for blacks."

Hon, you just got a heapin' helpin' :-).

I agree

I'm 34, and until a few years ago, I had never heard any version of the rhyme besides the "tiger" version.

People go through life looking for a way to sue other people. That day on the plane must have been those women's dream come true.

I blame the lawyers.

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Growing up in South Africa in the 60s and 70s this rhyme was used in its original form. In fact this post is the first time I have ever heard the tiger version. But then, as a white, male, South African, I am probably akin to the Antichrist for people like Ms. Fuller.

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I wanted to email my son to tell him how embarrassed I was today but wanted to check on the spelling of this rhyme and came across this site.
I was at the world soccer game between Portugal and Korea in Cape Town today.
I went down to buy a cooldrink and a young black man had all the flavours displayed in a row.
I playfully started to repeat this Rhyme forgetting that the word "nigger" was used in it.
As I said this word I stopped and said"Goodness what have I said" I was so embarrassed.
We have big black sweets that we used to refer to as "Nigger balls" as kids in the 50's and 60's and are not supposed to,in South Africa anyway,use this word and certain other words in our vocublary anymore.
Believe me I feel awful.This was a young respectable
black man and how can I ever apologize.
Even though it was not meant as an insult he could take it away with him and feel degraded.
The version we used as kids was ..."Catch a nigger by his toe
And if he bellows let him go"

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On an interesting sociological note...

Since all three of my oldest children were gathered in the kitchen (Colin trying to quietly hide in a corner and avoid being sent to bed, but failing), I told them I was going to say a phrase and I wanted them to tell me what popped into their minds. They all looked at me like they were wondering if this was a trick question, but agreed. So I said "Eenie, meenie, miney, mo..." and they all said "catch a tiger by its toe." When I told them it used to be "catch a nigger by his toe" their reactions ranged from shock to disgust, which I thought was interesting. I guess they are not used to hearing that word, especially from their mother!

On further reflection, I remembered that we used to say "catch a monkey by his toe." And of course there are several variations on the lines that follow.

The whole lawsuit thing frosts me, because I get tired of people looking for insult where none is intended, as well as people looking to sue for any little old thing they can think of. The Constitution, believe it or not, does not say we have a right not to be offended or insulted.

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The question should be...

what was the intent of the flight attendant. I myself didn't know the history of this schoolyard rhyme, but there are many things I don't know. If someone used the N word and truly didn't know the racial history of the word, does that make its use okay? I don't think it does. I wish I was on that plane, and heard that phrase being said. I really doubt that it was the airline's intent to be racial, but that's for a judge to decide. Just because I'm ignorant of the history of a certain saying, doesn't make its use okay. But if someone took the time to educate me rather than sue me, maybe I'd be able to learn something that can be passed on. That's just my two cents.

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I have not read the article since the link to it is down. However, according to the blog posted with exerpts from the article, it is my understanding that the N word was never spoken by the flight attendant.

"Sawyer and Fuller said the rhyme immediately struck them as a reference to an older, racist version in which the first line is followed by the words "catch a n----r..."

The flight attendant was probably ignorant to the older version, and began to say, "Eenie Meanie Miney Moe.." without finishing the rhyme. I do not think this is grounds for a lawsuit, but I could see why you would try if you were unaware of a newer version.

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For the life of me, I can not remember the rest of the rhyme. I remember some of the later variations, but the ending of the origiinal eludes me. Is there anyone that can put it into an email and send it to me? james_thirteen@yahoo.com

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Eenie Meenie Minie Mo

When we were kids we grew up with our neighbours who happened to be African American.

We would use this rhyme many a time when playing with them not knowing the story or meaning behind it.

To us it was just a word....heaven only knew that it was supposed to be a racial slur. Knowing that now...I wonder why our friends never said anything to us about it? This would have been in the early to late 60's.

Go to 2008. My 11 year old son and I were playing one day when, in trying to determine who would be it, he used this rhyme in it's modern day terms....Catch a tiger by the toe.

I casually mentioned to him that when I was growing up we used to say that rhyme as well, although a little different....I proceeded to sing to him....Eanie Meanie Minie Moe....Catch a nigger by the toe....etc.

My son turned to me with wide eyes and asked....Mom what's a Nigger?

From olden days to now. The world has changed.

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It's hard to tell....

Prolly for the better

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