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Author Topic: What's wrong with red-headed stepchildren?
Cervus
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I've heard the expression "treating [something] like a red-headed stepchild", presumable meaning the object in question is not important or considered bad. Does anyone know where this expression came from, and why red-headed stepchildren were chosen over anything else? I'm assuming it's because redheads were traditionally considered pariahs (although I love 'em!) and stepchildren are considered less important than one's own children, but I may be wrong.

I also knew an old Florida Cracker who used to say "Let's slap a dress on this pig and call her Sally" but I'm not even going to ask what that meant...

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Atlanta Jake
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I think that the "Red-Headed" part assumes that the step-parent does not have red hair. This means that it is obvious to everyone at a glance that the child is not the parent's natural child. Alien so to speak. And don't forget that in all of the old literature, step-parents (almost by definition) hated their step children (ie: Snow White, Hansel and Gretal, Cinderella etc.). It seems to follow that if the child was markedly different from the other children, that child would catch the brunt of the step-parent' wrath....

Atlanta "Did that make sense? [Confused] " Jake

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Santa Mari-a
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quote:
Originally posted by Cervus:

I also knew an old Florida Cracker who used to say "Let's slap a dress on this pig and call her Sally" but I'm not even going to ask what that meant...

You may remember an ad from a while back showing the boss telling the "Brand X" stockbrokers to unload worthless stock on the unsuspecting. It ends with the boss saying, "Let's put lipstick on this pig." I would guess it means to put a superficially phony good face on something bad.

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Si hoc comprehendere potes, gratias age magistro Latinae.

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Elkhound
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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quote:
Originally posted by Cervus:
I've heard the expression "treating [something] like a red-headed stepchild", presumable meaning the object in question is not important or considered bad. Does anyone know where this expression came from, and why red-headed stepchildren were chosen over anything else? I'm assuming it's because redheads were traditionally considered pariahs (although I love 'em!) and stepchildren are considered less important than one's own children, but I may be wrong.

I also knew an old Florida Cracker who used to say "Let's slap a dress on this pig and call her Sally" but I'm not even going to ask what that meant...

"Red-headed stepchild" means an adulterine bastard. That is, a married woman has a child by someone other than her husband; if nobody in her or her husband's family has red hair, and she produces a child with red hair, then the presumption is that her lover is redheaded or has red hair in his background.

Under common law, her husband is the LEGAL father of the child and is obligated to support him/her. It is not inconcievable that the man might resent the presence of the child for all sorts of reasons--being obligated to support a child not his own; the child being a continuing daily reminder of the wife's infidelity; etc.--and might take it out on the child to a greater or lesser extent.

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Cervus
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quote:
Originally posted by Elkhound:
"Red-headed stepchild" means an adulterine bastard. That is, a married woman has a child by someone other than her husband; if nobody in her or her husband's family has red hair, and she produces a child with red hair, then the presumption is that her lover is redheaded or has red hair in his background.

Under common law, her husband is the LEGAL father of the child and is obligated to support him/her. It is not inconcievable that the man might resent the presence of the child for all sorts of reasons--being obligated to support a child not his own; the child being a continuing daily reminder of the wife's infidelity; etc.--and might take it out on the child to a greater or lesser extent.

OK, I can understand how that would be applied to people. But usually when I hear this expression, it's referring to an inanimate object. Perhaps I should have phrased my question to ask "If a person refers to an object as a "red-headed stepchild", exactly what is that person's attitude toward that object?" I assumed it was derogatory but didn't exactly understand it.

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"There is no constitutional right to sleep with endangered reptiles." -- Carl Hiaasen
Won't somebody please think of the adults!

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guruwan2b
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Being a red-headed step-child myself, I have often wondered where the phrase comes from. [Big Grin]
My Mom once told me jokingly, that I was as welcome as a red-headed step-child. I looked at her, most seriously and said "Mom, do you realize that I am a red-headed step-child?" (my Dad had recently re-married). She started to deny it, but it hit her that I was. [Eek!]

This topic reminds me of the Farkle family on Laugh-In. Anyone else remember the Farkle's?

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Chimera
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Ok I have to chime in on this. I have often been refered to as a red-headed step-child. I think the odd, alien, different than the parent thing is a big part of the meaning. For a very brief period of my life I took up an interest in magic and I am both female and a red-head, neither are common among magicians and widely seen as inferior as well. I felt it was often used in the same way as standing out like a sore thumb (there's another one to discuss). Since there are so few women in magic their style hasn't progressed at the same rate as men. Unless they want to dress and act like a man there are going to have to be advances for them to be equal. Mister so and so can always topit a freaking elephant...... (end of rant)

edit add:
Most of the time it wasn't meant as mean (I think), more like "you really do stand out like some red-headed step-child".

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guruwan2b
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Too much of this navel gazing and we'll disappear up our own arses.
Danvers Carew

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The Spider in the Ointment
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
Originally posted by Cervus:
I've heard the expression "treating [something] like a red-headed stepchild",

I've an idea that this may be far older than you think... I've an idea that the phrase can be found in Gaelic but it is a foster child not a stepchild.

Now red had curious significance in older folklore... fairy hounds had red tipped ears etc... so I think that there was a sense in which red might be supernatural and that red stepchild might be originally some kind of changeling...

Oh well, that is getting obscure, but some of these phrases go back a long way.

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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quote:
Originally posted by arachnidwan2b:
This topic reminds me of the Farkle family on Laugh-In. Anyone else remember the Farkle's?

I'm Simon! I'm Garr! We're Simon and Garr Farkle!

(Have you seen the recent round of ads with Lily Tomlin reprising her role as Ernestine the Operator?)

Ah, Laugh-In! Those were good times!

Silas (say goodnight, Dick) Sparkhammer

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Then both vanish earth's dominion, man is native to the skies.

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tagurit
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I've never heard the expression used about an object, and usually the person using it is expressing how they've been treated by someone. "She treated me like a red-headed stepchild." Meaning, of course, treated poorly, disrespectfully.

Where it came from, I don't know, but Elkhound's explanation sounds about right.

tag

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Frozen Chosen
The Red and the Green Stamps


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All I know is, the phrase I always heard was "watch it or I'll beat you like a red-headed stepchild".
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Double Latte
Happy Holly Days


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"The Farkles" . . . Oh, that reminds me: A former SO had an album of all the really bad photos of his family. You know, the ones most of us look at and throw away, usually cutting them up into little bits so no one can see them? Yes, he actually kept them in an album he called The Farkle Family album. It was great for laughs!

As for "red-headed step child" that is someone who is treated badly but has done nothing to deserve it. In the movie 9-to-5, Dolly Parton complained that her office mates treated her "like the red-headed step child at a family reunion" and she couldn't figure out why until she discovered that the boss was telling everyone he was sleeping with her.

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God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked
The good fortune to run into the ones that I do
And the eyesight to tell the difference.

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arnie
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A similar expression refers to "the cuckoo in the nest", meaning someone (or, I suppose, something) that stands out as "wrong". I'm not sure if you US members have cuckoos over there, so I'd better explain the reference. The cuckoo is a bird here in Europe that lays its eggs in other birds' nests. Mother sparrow (or whatever species the involuntary foster mother is) then hatches out the egg and treats the cuckoo chick as one of her own offspring.

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Sparverius, pink goldenrod spider
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Yes, we have cuckoos, although oddly enough, ours don't often practice nest parasitism. On the other hand, we have Brown-headed Cowbirds, which parasitize many smaller birds, with the added nasty touch that the cowbird chick, as soon as it hatches, kicks all other eggs and nestlings out to die.
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Mosherette
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Sparverius, 'our' cuckoos (edit: the British cuckoo is the common cuckoo - see this page for details) do that too - sounds like a similar kind of creaure.

I have never in my life heard this saying (the red-headed thing).

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Silence should never under any circumstances be construed as agreement. A lot of the time, it's simply a reflection that someone just said something so stupid that no response could possibly do it justice. - Ramblin' Dave

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MamaBird
We Three Blings


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^ Looks kind of like Flicker Farkle

Ah, the Farkle Family! And their good friend and trusted neighbor Ferd Berfle!

"Overwhelmed, my dear Fanny! Imagine my dear fanny overwhelmed!"

-- Mama "Hiiiiiiiiiii!" Boid

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Cokomon
The Red and the Green Stamps


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I think I have heard Mr. Garrison on South Park mention "Slapping someone around like a red-headed stepchild."
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Drummk
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There's a few theories about the origin of the phrase here.

The explanation I'm familiar with is that a red-headed child would be beaten by his or her father because they were the result of an affair between the (married) mother and her red-headed love (for some reason I believe this person is usually thought to be an Irish tradesman). The father outwardly believes that the child is his own, but inwardly resents the child due to the above, hence the beatings. The red-hair is what proves to the father that he is not the blood father of the child.

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Lainie
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quote:
Originally posted by Double Latte Spinner:
As for "red-headed step child" that is someone who is treated badly but has done nothing to deserve it. In the movie 9-to-5, Dolly Parton complained that her office mates treated her "like the red-headed step child at a family reunion" and she couldn't figure out why until she discovered that the boss was telling everyone he was sleeping with her.

Not quite. She says they treat her like "a bastard at a family reunion." Just watched it with DD over the weekend. [Big Grin]

Whatever the origin, it's definitely a derogatory phrase.

DD is a red-headed stepchild. I thought that was funny until she started repeating some of the things her stepmother has said to her. [Mad]

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NeeCD
Happy Holly Days


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I found a fairly well researched answer here at this message board. Not much different from what we've said here, but there are several more sources referenced.

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What does "Bookachow", "YOMANK!" and other lingo mean?

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