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Uncle Tom

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noun Disparaging and Offensive.
  1. a black person, especially a man, considered by other black people to be subservient to or to curry favor with white people.
  2. a person who exhibits overly deferential behavior.
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Compare Aunt Jemima.

Origin of Uncle Tom

1920–25, Americanism; so called after the leading character in Uncle Tom's Cabin
Related formsUncle Tomish, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for uncle tom

Uncle Tom

noun
  1. informal, derogatory a Black person whose behaviour towards White people is regarded as obsequious and servile
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Derived FormsUncle Tomism, noun

Word Origin

C20: after the slave who is the main character of H.B. Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for uncle tom

Uncle Tom

n.

"servile black man," 1922, somewhat inaccurately in reference to the humble, pious, but strong-willed main character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852). The image implied in the insult perhaps is more traceable to the late 19c. minstel show versions of the story, which reached a far wider audience than the book.

I don't recall anyone in the 1920s using the term 'Uncle Tom' as an epithet. But what's amazing is how fast it caught on (in the 1930s). Black scholars picked up (the term) and just started throwing it at each other. [Ernest Allen, quoted in Hamilton, Kendra, "The Strange Career of Uncle Tom," Black Issues in Higher Education, June 2002]

As a verb, attested from 1937.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper