‘Jimmies’ and Racism

by Jack Fowler

Growing up in the Bronx, when I went to Carvel for an ice cream cone, I’d ask for a soft-serve coated with chocolate sprinkles. Like soda and pop, heroes and subs, and numerous food items, there are regional terms for this confection. In New England, where I went to college and now live, the term is “jimmies.” How and why “jimmies”? Who knows?

Well, the PC crowd certainly thinks it does. In a conversation yesterday with a few folks, the term came up, and one of the participants scolded that “jimmies” is a racist term. “Huh?” I replied, typically articulate. The explanation: “Jimmies” is short for “Jim Crow” and plays off the candy’s color (black).

“Huh?” I said again. “That sounds like a bunch of hooey,” and being right next to my laptop, I promptly performed a web search on jimmies and racism. Wow, am I ever late to the contention: There are oodles of postings from people who’ve been billy-clubbed by the Thought Police over these seemingly innocuous candy bits. On what good grounds? None: Every single analysis I looked at — such as this and this and this — shows the “jimmies” race charge is pure fiction. Etymological sleuths find no link to anything racial, never mind Jim Crow, and while the origin of the term “jimmies” is foggy, there is good reason to think “jimmies” were likely named after a guy, Jimmy, who worked the jimmie-making machine at the Just Born candy company (the Jimmies’ inventor/manufacturer is also the happy home to Peeps, Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, and other goodies that for whatever reason conjure up sugar-coated thoughts of childhood innocence).

Confronted with the fact that the term is race-free, the scolder got angry — after all, racial scolding is as much about projecting moral superiority and intimidating through PC than it is about confronting racism — and harrumphed off.

But I surely dodged a bullet. Jimmies don’t just come in chocolate, so if the scolder had thought quickly I could have been grilled for the many times I’ve asked for “colored” sprinkles on my vanilla cone. It is only a matter of time.