Mr. Bill George Presents

‘Jimmies’ Isn’t Racist. You’re Wrong.

In Comedy on June 8, 2009 at 1:43 AM

I grew up in the Northeast. So for years I’ve had people call me out when I ordered ‘jimmies’ as a topping for my ice cream. (For those unfamiliar, I’m referring to what others may call chocolate sprinkles.)

‘It’s a derogatory term from the Jim Crow law era,’ they tell me.

Listen: Where I’m from, we call them ‘jimmies.’ I’ve never met anyone in my entire life who was offended by the phrase and I refuse to give up on a part of my culture just because of a group of pushy, ignorant fools who want to feel superior.

And now, I am here to declare that I am proud of myself for sticking to my guns. After rigorous research, it is official: Jimmies is not a racist term. It is a trademarked name coined by the company that invented them (Just Born Inc.) and was named after the man who produced them. And his name was… wait for it… JIIMMY!

What should have given it away is the fact that no one can actually tell you where the racist theory stems from. Everyone just seems to hear it from someone else and then cling to it. It is a nasty myth that somehow still has legs and I am asking you to take a stand with me! If someone criticizes you when you order jimmies, ask the person how they know that. Call them out and bring their ignorance to light!

Forward this article to everyone you know so we can quash this despicable rumor once and for all. Then enjoy a nice twist with jimmies (guilt free) this summer!

Below are links to my supporting evidence with the apporiate section excerpted in italics for your reading pleasure.

Exhibit ABoston.com Article

There are some who believe jimmies to be a racial slur – a play on the Jim Crow segregation laws – but McCarthy (linguistics professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst) says it originated as a trademark name from a local company that made the chocolate topping, a contention that is supported by the Dictionary of American Regional English.

Exhibit B: Brighams.com Fun Facts

In 1930 James Bartholomew was lucky enough to acquire a job at Just Born, Inc. Bartholomew operated a machine that produced Born’s latest invention, tiny hot-dog shaped chocolate sprinkly things. But what to call them? Born briefly pondered that question before deciding to accredit the name to the producer, Jimmy Bartholomew. The new product was named JIMMIES.

Exhibit C: Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Michael Vitez’s article: “The beloved jimmy could be lost: A sprinkling of history for a name that’s melting away.”

The Boston Globe investigated the origin of jimmies last winter after a reader inquired about a rumor that the term originally was racist – the idea being that some people refer only to chocolate ones as jimmies, and rainbow ones as sprinkles. Perhaps, the reader surmised, the word descended from Jim Crow.

The Globe found no evidence of this, but did cite a commentary in 1986 on National Public Radio by the late Boston poet John Ciardi, who claimed: “From the time I was able to run to the local ice cream store clutching my first nickel, which must have been around 1922, no ice cream cone was worth having unless it was liberally sprinkled with jimmies.”

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  1. How interesting that you wrote this!!! I used to argue with people about that word all the time. AND, I live minutes away from Just Born.

  2. THANK YOU! I hate when people make this mistake too.

  3. Like most slang that came about prior to the electronic age, no one knows where the term “jimmies” comes from. There’s no more proof of the Jimmy Bartholomew story than the Jim Crow one, and it’s likely just as apocryphal.

    Plus, Just Born is in PA company. I’ve lived and traveled extensively throughout the Northeast & Mid-Atlantic, and I’ve never heard ONE person call sprinkles “jimmies” anywhere you’re expected to be a Red Sox fan. It’s another one of those bizarre Boston slang words like “grinder” whose origin is lost in the mists of time.

  4. Well I hate to burst your bubble but just born was not around Til 1930s….jimmies was already a common slang term for ‘sprinkles’ originating back to decades before.

    History lesson…sprinkles were originally brown in color … The people called them jimmies for the Jim Crow laws imposed at the time on ‘blacks’. This was very popular in Boston. And pretty much everywhere within a 100 mile radius. I can even further prove this because my grandfather who’s family grew up in …wait for it…BOSTON used this.

    Just born candy came around over 50 years after the Jim Crowe laws came into existence and took a slang word and turned it into a multicolored candy. Do your research.
    And while I’m glad it no longer has a racist connotation associated with it… Don’t try and rewrite history.

    • I love ice cream! Well, unlike you, I love all kinds of seewts, which means I have to exercise more to make sure my waistline doesn’t go completely crazy! As far as ice cream flavors, I’m very simple. I prefer vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. I’ll try all kinds of different flavors but I usually go back to my basics

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    • Thanks for being on point and on target!

    • You’re on top of the game. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. […] I wanted to pull a quote from Bill George’s piece on the whole ‘debacle’, because if I go through the Vice piece, which is essentially a […]

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