origin of "dago"

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joetucciarone
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origin of "dago"

Post by joetucciarone »

Does anybody know the origin of the word "dago"? Here are transcripts of three old newspaper articles, each offering its own unique explanation:

From the August 12, 1887 edition of Chicago’s Hyde Park Herald:

"The Origin of 'Dago.' "

"There is a word which may be called newspaper or reporter’s Italian in vogue in Chicago. That is 'Dago.' When or how it originated no Italian knows. It is not an Italian word, cannot be found in the dictionary, and is not even a vulgar word. It is commonly applied to all Italians, but sometimes more particularly to saloon keepers or restaurateurs. Italians of cultivation, on this ground perhaps, consider it an insulting epithet, but have no idea what it means or whence it was derived. As the word had its origin in Chicago, and seems to come trippingly from the tongue, it will undoubtedly maintain its hold, but any person wishing to gain favor with an intelligent Italian will refrain from using it."

***

From the December 5, 1891 edition of the San Diego Mercury:

"Origin of the Term 'Dago.' "

"Appleton Morgan, says the word Dago is 'a corruption of hidalgo, which, though a Spanish and not an Italian word, once came to be sneeringly applied to a foreigner of Latin Europe out of his element.' "

***

From the July 3, 1911 edition of the Daily East Oregonian:

"Don’t Call Them Dagoes."

"Americans should never call Italians 'Dagoes.' That word as it is understood by Italians is an insult and it is always resented. The word is derived from the fact that a notorious bandit of Sicily was named Dago. So the word, as understood by Italians, means the worst and most lawless element among the Italian people."

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I wonder if the word has ever been researched by an etymologist?
darkerhorse
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Re: origin of "dago"

Post by darkerhorse »

Spanish word origin sounds the most plausible to me.
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MarcuccioV
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Re: origin of "dago"

Post by MarcuccioV »

The explanation I know of is it was first used as "Diego" by English sailors as an insult to refer to Spanish and Portuguese sailors. It became tacked on to Italians due to the mass migrations of Latin-based immigrants around the turn of the century.

I believe that's how the story went, anyway...
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darkerhorse
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Re: origin of "dago"

Post by darkerhorse »

Diego means supplanter (replace, supersede) and is equivalent to James. San Diego is St. James.

Could immigrants be seen as replacements?
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joetucciarone
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Re: origin of "dago"

Post by joetucciarone »

I think you've both nailed it: it's probably Spanish but was applied to the masses of Italian immigrants who were replacing U.S. workers in the last quarter of the 19th century. I just did a quick search on the GenealogyBank newspaper archive and found these occurrences of the word "dago" in each of these decades:

1860s . . . 2,699
1870s . . . 3,234
1880s . . . 6,443

9,853 Italians immigrated in the 1860s. That number quadrupled in the 1870s and quadrupled again in the 1880s. I makes sense that as more Italian immigrants took "American" jobs, appearances of the word "dago" in newspaper articles would mushroom just as fast.
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