Sambo, Sambo and Sambo – beware of this word in English

Controversial and now banned cover

Sambo in Swedish means

  • person with whom one lives;
  • common-law spouse;
  • cohabitant spouse;
  • life companion;
  • partner;
  • cohabitant
  • live-in partner/boyfriend/girlfriend

But but but but but…………

Sambo in English can be

  • abbreviation for ‘sandwich’ (mainly in Ireland)
  • A racial slur from the Little Black Sambo books and/or words used to refer to slaves (very derogatory)
  • The epithet, “Sambo” was a racist term for East Indians. “Sambo” is a corruption of the word “Swami,” which was pronounced as “Sammy” then “Sambo” by Victorian soldiers during the British occupation of India. (very derogatory)

The Story of Little Black Sambo is a children’s book written and illustrated by Helen Bannerman, and first published by Grant Richards in October 1899 as one in a series of small-format books. The story was a children’s favorite for half a century until the word sambo was deemed a racial slur in some countries. Both text and illustrations have undergone considerable revision since.

The book has a controversial history. The original illustrations by Bannerman showed a caricatured Southern Indian or Tamil child. The story may have contributed to the use of the word “sambo” as a racial slur. The father’s name was Black Jumbo and the mother was Black Mumbo – also offensive.  The book’s success led to many pirated, inexpensive, widely available versions that incorporated popular stereotypes of “black” peoples. The actual original story was about an Indian boy, (there are no tigers in Africa and the author had lived in India).

Now banned and controversial cover

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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