Spic is a derogatory name for a Latin American or Spaniard. It is a clipping of an older, largely obsolete term, spiggoty, which was applied to immigrants from Central and South America because they did not spiggoty (speak the) English. The earliest known use of spiggoty is in the 14 March 1908 issue of the Saturday Evening Post:
All Americans are alike. They do not bother to learn foreign languages when they go to a foreign country, but they force the natives to learn American. So, when the Panamanians presented themselves, if the could talk English, they prefaced their attempts to cheat the Americans out of something—it really made little difference what—with the statement, accompanied by eloquent gestures: “Spik d’ English.” If they couldn’t they said: “No spik d’ English.” One or the other was the universal opening of conversation, and those early Americans soon classed the whole race of men who could or could not “Spik d’ Eng.” as “Spikities,” and from that grew the harmonious and descriptive Spigotty.
The clipping spic appears in Harry A. Franck’s 1913 Zone Policeman 88 about the Panama Canal and those working on it:
It was my first entrance into the land of the panameños, technically known on the Zone as “Spigoties,” and familiarly, with a tinge of despite, as “Spigs.”
The spelling, and presumably pronunciation, quickly shifted from the G to a C or K. From Ernest Peixotto’s 1916 Our Hispanic Southwest:
The Mexican men they despise and call “spicks.”
Many believe that spic is a clipping of Hispanic. While this appears plausible on its face, it is not correct. The adjective Hispanic, applied to things relating to Spain dates to the 16th century, but its use as a noun meaning someone from Latin America is quite recent, dating only to the early 1970s, well after spic was established as a derogatory term. From the New York Times Magazine of 24 September 1972:
The fictional melting pot has become a pousse-café in which every layer is jealous of, or hostile to, every other layer; in a fever of ethnicism, Italians, Jews, Orientals, Blacks, Hispanics and others have withdrawn into themselves.
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton