Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wondrous Words Wednesday 14 - Slightly Updated

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!

Last week of classes - ARGH! pretty much covers it  ...

From The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows 

"I took my golliwog off the bed and put her in the attic." 

Wow - this one turned out to be a whole can of worms to look up! I am almost sorry I did, in light of the discussion that took place about Anne of Green Gables. But here goes ...

Golliwog - Initially a children's book character created by 22-year-old Florence Kate Upton. The first book,The Adventures Of Two Dutch Dolls And A Golliwogg, was published in 1895.
Then all look round, as well they may To see a horrid sight!
 The blackest gnome Stands there alone, They scatter in their fright.
With kindly smile he nearer draws; Begs them to feel no fear.
"What is your name?" Cries Sarah Jane; "The 'Golliwogg' my dear."
Their fears allayed--each takes an arm, While up and down they walk;
With sidelong glance Each tries her chance, And charms him with "small talk".
The book is available at Project Gutenberg ( The story is basically about two main doll characters (Peggy and Sarah Jane) - who seem rather short-tempered - running rampant with several other dolls and is pretty weird by modern standards. There are also some other terms in the book that are problematic in the modern day - like Sambo - but nothing seems to be presented with ill-intent. I suggest reading it to see what you can make of the story. There were twelve more books, the last published in 1909. Not having seen the rest of them, I don't know how the character evolved (if at all).

After that first meeting shown in the illustration above, the Golliwogg - described is as 'good, loveable and brave' and with a 'kind face' - was apparently imagined from a rag doll that Florence and her mother found in the attic (and that she used to play with as a child?). According to one source, the doll was supposed to be a black minstrel doll. Lots of people keep harping about the fact that the doll/character was referred to as ugly but I not sure what to do with that because a) I don't think the character is ugly b) they become friends and play anyhow. Personal appearance is not a stand-in for character or virtue.

Anyhow, Golliwogg became immensely popular, but Upton had failed to trademark her creation, so things went wildly out of her control. 

Source:How golliwog went
bitter controversy
Toy companies began making golliwog dolls and Golly became the mascot of Robertson's Jam. The toys and resulting merchandise became a staple of childhood in England.

Whatever the original intent, things went bad ...

Children's author Enid Blyton used the characters derogatorily, portraying golliwogs in her Noddy stories as thieves who once stole Noddy's yellow car (now I am wondering about this one too - I just remember Noddy books being, well kind of dumb - now I want to see these too in order to see how the Golliwogs were presented), and there were other versions where the descriptive terminology used was clearly ill-intended. Several sources mentioned Gollywogs being drawn with animal features like paws. If the character didn't start out racist, it sure ended up there.

In addition, the term 'wog' started being used during World War II as a slur against North Africans and other dark foreigners, spreading to include anybody with even slightly swarthy skin. It is unclear where 'wog' came from exactly, but Golliwog is one of the contenders.

Florence Upton - as far as I can tell - was quite upset about what happened with the name, and conceptions of her intent ‘I am frightened when I read the fearsome etymology some deep, dark minds can see in his name.’

Nowadays, the doll is seen at best as deeply ignorant and ill-conceived, while at worst - well you can work that bit out for yourself.

There is still quite a controversy about it in the UK (see the link to the photo below). 

What price a golliwog in Shetland? Link to source
So - deeply problematic, just like the murky waters I got into with Anne. The way I see it is that it is important to have these conversations and understand what these words mean and how they, and we as a society, have changed over time. This word started out being associated with a beloved children's character - so using it in that context is time is very different than the use it was put to later, say in the 1940s or after.

I really disagree with people who think that we can just cross out or disappear the more problematic parts of history - bleeping them out of children's books or nostalgia trips  - and pretend that they didn't happen. They did, we need to face up to that and find ways to have considered conversations about where you go from here.

Ugh - I got in way over my head here!  Just because I didn't know what the author was talking about when the character was cleaning up her flat! One word is all you get from me this week.

One of the things that I have been mulling over though is that these older books with doll or toy characters used to be much more diverse then they are now - there are African dolls, Asian dolls, Spanish dolls, Dutch dolls with wooden shoes - I remember a book from when I was a child (a really old Golden Book) with a girl whose father sent her dolls from all around the world. Now look at the movie Toy Story or the vast majority of the Barbie books. Hummmm.

BTW - my daughter saw the picture with the dolls above and she wants one. She thinks the dolls are cute and would play with Raggedy Anne. She also told me that the human in the picture does not match the dolls, he is the wrong color. Make of that what you will.
If you want a more detailed analysis - go here

Read more: 


  1. Wow, you did your research on that one. Golliwog does sound pretty insensitive. I'm sure you're glad to be through with classes for the semester.

  2. I agree that these issues should be aired and viewed through the lens of the times they originated in.
    I thought golliwogs were an invention of Enid Blyton's - so thanks for researching the back story so completely.

    Next week you could explore the whole Noddy and Big Ears relationship :-)

    1. Just how much trouble do you want me to get into ?!? This meme is supposed to be fun and I keep getting trapped into social commentary :-)

  3. Yeah! Unfortunately, I do remember when that wasn't seen as offensive in terms of the Rowntree's marmalade 'golliwog'. You collected them and guess what? When you had enough you could send off for ...wait for it a 'doll' much like in your picture.

  4. YIKES. This post took a turn. I thought "golliwog" meant something totally different -- some sort of warming thing like a hot water bottle, I thought that was. Glad to know the truth. :/


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