Greaser (derogatory)

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For other uses, see Greaser.

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.

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), Bronco Billy and the Greaser (1914), and The Greaser (1915).[2] Subsequently, however, Hollywood began to cut its usage of this particular derogatory term to improve its distribution in Mexican and Latin American markets.

The alleged racist eugenicist Madison Grant made mention of the term with respect to the Mexican of mixed ancestry in his notorious work, The Passing of the Great Race, published in 1916 (pp.76-77, 1921 edition online at Google).

The term has also been used as a shortened form of "greaseball," an ethnic slur for someone of Italian origin.

In British English, the term was used in the 1960s-70s as an insult for Rockers by Mods. The Rockers were not insulted and on occasion used the term themselves.[3]

Other use[edit]

  • A popular subculture known as greaser culture is not derogatory, however, in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, it is used by outsiders of the Greasers to insult greaser culture.
  • "Greaser" can also be an insulting term used against Italian people and Greek people, in reference to the greased styles often sported with their hair.


  1. ^ Juan Alonzo (2007), "From Derision to Desire: The "Greaser" in Stephen Crane's Mexican stories and D.W.Griffith's Early Westerns", Stephen Crane, Infobase Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7910-9429-7 
  2. ^ The Greaser (1915) at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^, retrieved 31 January 2011  Missing or empty |title= (help)