Greaser (derogatory)

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Greaser was a derogatory term for a Mexican in what is now the U.S. Southwest in the 19th century. The slur likely derived from what was considered one of the lowliest occupations typically held by Mexicans, the greasing of the axles of wagons; they also greased animal hides that were taken to California where Mexicans loaded them onto clipper ships (a greaser). It was in common usage among U.S. troops during the Mexican–American War.[citation needed]

The term was actually incorporated into an early California statute, the Greaser Act (1855), an expression of a virulent form of anti-Mexican sentiment among many Anglo Californians.

Greaser persisted in use through the silent movie era, as evidenced by movies such as Ah Sing and the Greasers (1910), The Greaser's Gauntlet (1908),[1]Tony, the Greaser (1911), The Greaser and the Weakling (1912), The Girl and the Greaser (1913), The Greaser's Revenge (1914), and Bronco Billy and the Greaser (1914). Subsequently, however, Hollywood began to cut its usage of this particular derogatory term to improve its distribution in Mexican and Latin American markets.[citation needed]

The eugenicist Madison Grant made mention of the term with respect to Mexicans of mixed ancestry in his 1916 work of scientific racism The Passing of the Great Race.[2]

Other use[edit]

  • The term is not generally considered derogatory when referring to greaser culture, as prominently featured in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.
  • In British English, the term was used in the 1960s–70s to describe the Rocker subculture.[3]
  • "Greaser" can also be used as a shortened form of greaseball, an insult against Italian people and Greek people, in reference to the greased styles often sported in their hair, supposed lack of hygiene, or supposed naturally greasy hair.[4]


  1. ^ Alonzo, Juan (May 2007). "From Derision to Desire: The "Greaser" in Stephen Crane's Mexican stories and D.W.Griffith's Early Westerns". In Bloom, Harold (ed.). Stephen Crane. Infobase Publishing. pp. 167–189. ISBN 978-0-7910-9429-7. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  2. ^ Grant, Madison (1921). The Passing of the Great Race. Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-1-162-98333-2. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  3. ^ Waters, John Leo (2010). "Mods and Rockers". The Mod Generation. Retrieved 12 April 2015. Rockers, Greasers call them what you will, they were the sworn enemies of all things Mod. Greasy long hair, leather jackets, motorbikes, Rock and Roll – all these things represented the very antithesis of all things Mod.
  4. ^ Roediger, David R. (8 August 2006). Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White. Basic Books. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-465-07073-2. Retrieved 12 April 2015.