Here are some commonly used terms that actually have racist origins

The terms include "peanut gallery," "plantation shutters" and "open the kimono."

In ​the midst of a cultural awakening on race, commonly used words and phrases and their origins are being reexamined and, in some cases, redefined entirely.

Still others, such as "peanut gallery" and "fuzzy wuzzy," remain in wide use despite their racially questionable origins.

That's because the definition of these words and phrases have often been lost over time, experts said.

"There is racism embedded throughout our language system just like every other system," said Jeffrey Barg, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist known as The Angry Grammarian, told ABC News. "We need to dig deeper and understand where the phrases and words we use come from because if we don't we are being complicit in perpetuating the racist systems that are embedded in our language."

To say these phrases and words are "just expressions" or to say the intent of using the word is "not meant to be racist" is not good enough, Barg explained.

"You have to consider how someone else feels when you use these terms," he said.

Although not a comprehensive list, here is a list of some commonly used phrases and their origins as identified by experts who spoke to ABC News.

Open the kimono

"What's striking about 'open the kimono' is how clearly rude it is," Alan Conor, author of "The Crossword Century" and "The Joy of Quiz," told ABC News.

A kimono is associated with formal attire in Japanese culture, over time this 1970s-era slang has been misinterpreted from myths that certain Japanese warriors would open their robes to show someone that they were not hiding their weapons. Kimonos were also worn by geishas -- highly trained hostesses who throughout history have been inaccurately depicted as concubines in various films and books.

Both amplify a stereotypical view of Japanese culture.

"This shows how in our language the simplified notions of other cultures get wrapped up in expressions we use," John Kelly, senior research editor at, explained. Today, the phrase is a way of talking about revealing corporate information.

"It's used without a lot of thought about its literal meaning, and I'm sure that there are people who, if reminded how predatory it sounds, would tee-hee rather than blush," Conor continued.

Fuzzy wuzzy

This is a late 1800's term used by British colonial soldiers to refer to the members of an East African tribe. It became a derogatory way to refer to natural hair texture of non-white people throughout Africa, Cedric Burrows, author of "Rhetorical Crossover: The Black Rhetorical Presence in White Culture," told ABC News.

English author and poet Rudyard Kipling's 1892 poem "Fuzzy Wuzzy" opined on the brave actions of the Hadendoa warriors in colonial Sudan -- the phrase in the work of literature was a reference to their hairstyle and texture.

Plantation (shutter, blinds, style weddings, etc.)

The word plantation appeared in English in the 1400s originally meaning "plant," according to Kelly. It was not until the 1600's that the word was defined as estates where the enslaved labored in bondage and were forced to grow such crops as cotton and tobacco.

"Using the word 'plantation' romanticizes the old South, a slave economy," Kelly explained "When white people hear the word 'plantation' they may think of a big white house with pillars and southern oak trees. But when a Black person hears that word, it evokes a past of slavery."

Off the reservation

Experts say this phrase, frequently used during the 19th and 20th centuries in American politics, refers to Native Americans who were forced into treaties that limited their mobility by placing them on reservations, so off the reservation would suggest they were placing themselves outside their allowed their legal, or social, parameters.

In its earliest evidence, experts explain that this phrase dealt with policing, killing and colonizing Native Americans and removing them from their native land.

"The phrase has very offensive roots as the Native American's who were found 'off the reservation' were killed," Kelly explained.

However, in modern politics there has been recognition that term is racially offensive.

For example, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton netted backlash in 2016 for using the phrase in an interview with CNN when she said, "I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak." Shortly after, Clinton's campaign political director Amanda Renteria took to Twitter to walk back Clinton's statement, tweeting, "Divisive language has no place in our politics."


This was a term that Europeans used for a huge group of indigenous people living in the Arctic regions. Linguists believe the word came from the French word "esquimaux," referring to one who nets snowshoes.

European colonizers used the term broadly, lumping all Native Americans in that region into one ethnic group.

Along these lines, after launching an extensive research and engagement process on the name three years ago, with an emphasis on listening to Inuit communities, The Edmonton Eskimo Football Club Board of Directors made the decision to discontinue the use of the word "Eskimo" in the team's name to continue the tradition of being responsive to community perspective.

"We feel it is important to make this change in response to the findings of our recent engagement and research. Going forward, we want the focus to be on the work we do in the community and our team's excellence on the field as the CFL's most successful franchise." said Janice Agrios, chairwoman of the board of directors.

Last month, Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream announced it was changing the name and branding of its Eskimo Pie dessert because they "recognize the term is derogatory."

Paddy wagon

This 19th-century slang was used historically to reference Irish immigrants who upon being arrested were put in a police van, called a paddy wagon.

"The idea of 'paddy' is a police car that comes around to grab up Irish people who are no good drunk criminals, so it deals with a historical stereotype of Irish people as low lives, Kelly told ABC News.

Peanut gallery

According to linguistics experts, the origin of this phrase derives from the late 1800s Vaudeville era, a popular style of entertainment that included jugglers, comedians, singers and more. The "peanut gallery" was the cheapest section of seats, usually occupied by people with limited means.

The 1940s and 1950s-era children's program "Howdy Doody" used the term to refer to the groups of kids who participated in its audience.

However, in the segregated South, seats in the back or upper balcony levels were mostly reserved for Black people, according to author Stuart Berg Flexner, an expert on the origins of American phrases. In his book, "Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases From Our Lively and Splendid Past," he writes, "Peanut gallery was in use in the 1880s, as a synonym for n----- gallery (1840s) or n----- heaven (1870s), the upper balcony where blacks sat, as in segregated theaters."

Indian style

While the phrase sitting "Indian style" is often associated with stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans, some experts believe the phrase means "lotus position," a cross-legged meditation pose with roots in India. It was first used in the early 1900s in the U.S. and means sitting cross-legged, but is rarely used in schools anymore, experts said.

The phrase "criss-cross apple sauce" is used in place of the phrase.

"It's usually because of a lack of cultural knowledge. The words or phrases have become so institutionalized in society that people often do not know the origins of the words," said Cedric Burrows, an assistant professor of English at Marquette University and an expert in African American and cultural rhetorics.

In the same vein, after decades of debate and court cases over its name and logo, the Washington Redskins have decided to change their name, which was an offensive term in reference to Native Americans.

Mumbo jumbo

Mumbo jumbo was first used in the 1700s in West Africa by travel writer Francis Moore in his book "Travels In The Interior Districts of Africa," who described Mumbo Jumbo as a masked dancer who was involved in certain religious ceremonies.

Though the origin of this word is uncertain, experts believe the word derives from the word "Maamajomboo" from the Mandinka people of West Africa.

Language can have a positive or negative influence on who we are, and how we see other people. When the origin of an expression doesn't seem so tightly connected to its use anymore and the expression has taken on a new meaning, using this expression might seem innocuous, according to Kristen Syrett, an associate professor in linguistics at Rutgers University.

"But if there's something about that expression that is reminiscent of a practice or culture that marginalized or oppressed people, then we're presented with an opportunity to revisit that expression and its utility in our language," she said. "Is its use doing more harm than good? That's the question we're faced with now."

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

Top Stories

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events