coon

[ koon ]
/ kun /

noun

Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. a contemptuous term used to refer to a black person.
a rustic or undignified person.

QUIZZES

TAKE THIS QUIZ TO SEE WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT 2ND-3RD GRADE VOCAB FROM BOOKS!

Are you learning new vocabulary? Or do you just have an interest in words? Either way, this quiz is for you.
Question 1 of 10
orchard

Origin of coon

An Americanism dating back to 1735–45; aphetic form
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does coon mean?

Content warning: this article includes content dealing with racism.

Coon is an extremely offensive slur for a Black person. It’s rooted in the racist history of Blackface and comes from a shortening of raccoon.

Where does coon come from?

As a shortened form of raccoon, the word coon is first recorded in the mid-1700s. In the early 1800s, coon was a nickname for a sly person, likened to the clever shiftiness of the animal. Also in the early 1800s, coon was used as a nickname for a member of the Whig political party, who used the animal as their mascot, apparently embracing the animal for its scrappiness.

By the 1800s, coon was also being used as an extremely offensive slur for Black people, apparently due to racist comparisons to the appearance or behavior of raccoons. Coon was popularized by a Blackface minstrel song, “Zip Coon,” published around 1830 and notoriously performed by George Dixon. The song gave rise to Zip Coon as a Blackface character, stereotyping and vilifying the speech, appearance, and behavior of Black people.

Both the song “Zip Coon” and its resulting character gave rise to coon songs, a racist genre of music and parody of Black culture popular between around 1880–1920, often accompanied by Blackface in performance and advertising.

Leading up to the Civil War, through the Jim Crow era and into the 20th century, coon has remained an extremely offensive racial slur against Black people. In its history, coon has also been used to disparage Native American and Aboriginal peoples.

Much less heinous is the Maine Coon or Maine Coon cat, a breed of cat known for its long hair, large size, and striking coloring, which might be said to resemble the markings on a raccoon. Folk tales like to claim the cat is actually part raccoon, but the cats were probably bred from long-haired cats carried over to the American continent on ships from Europe. Coon cat is also a name for the cacomistle, a smaller relative of the raccoon.

How is coon used in real life?

The racial slur coon not only implies many intensely harmful stereotypes about Black people but it also dredges up the painful history of Blackface.

Because of its history as a slur, avoid using coon as a shortened form for raccoon. As a clipping of raccoon, coon does appear, however, in coonskin, a raccoon pelt, mostly as seen in the coonskin cap associated with such American frontiersmen as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.

Please note: occasionally, Black people may use coon as a term for another Black person who betrays the Black community in favor of white people or culture (cf. Uncle Tom).

Maine Coons, however, are beloved—and quite massive. Best to refer to them by the full name Maine Coon cat, though.

More examples of coon:

“The students tried to suggest the racial slurs were not racial at all, just a play on their names. One student whose last name is Kuhn said the word Coon was just a way to have fun with his name, but the school district and basketball league are not buying it.”
—Tribune Media, January 2018

“A review by Kentucky Democratic Party into Sen. Wheeler’s social media accounts revealed these instances are not the first time he has used racially divisive language or messaging. In December, Sen. Wheeler also used the word “coon” to describe the Virginia governor as well as blamed “mass refugee resettlement” for a policy position he did not like.
—Berry Craig, Kentucky State AFL-CIO, January 2020

Example sentences from the Web for coon

British Dictionary definitions for coon

coon
/ (kuːn) /

noun

informal short for raccoon
offensive, slang a Black person or a native Australian
Southern African offensive a person of mixed race
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