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Alternative forms[edit]


Probably from a Portuguese pidgin, from Portuguese pequenino (boy, child), noun use of pequenino (tiny), from pequeno (small). In South African uses probably partly after Afrikaans pikenien.



pickaninny (plural pickaninnies)

  1. (colloquial, now offensive, ethnic slur) A black child. [from 17th c.]
    • 1952, Doris Lessing, Martha Quest, Panther 1974, p. 134:
      A small white donkey glimmered into sight, and behind it a milk cart, rattling its cans, and behind that ran a small and ragged piccaninny, a child of perhaps seven years, whose teeth were rattling so loudly they sounded like falling pebbles even across the width of the garden.
    • 1978, André Brink, Rumours of Rain, Vintage 2000, p. 57:
      And then one boy came back into the water to help me, a Black piccanin, I believe his name was Mpilo [] .
    • 2011, Robin Bernstein, Racial Innocence, NYU Press (→ISBN), page 34:
      The pickaninny was an imagined, subhuman black juvenile who was typically depicted outdoors, merrily accepting (or even inviting) violence. The word (alternatively spelled “picaninny” or “piccaninny”) dates to the seventeenth century, []

Derived terms[edit]




pickaninny (not comparable)

  1. (now rare) Little, small. [from 18th c.]

Further reading[edit]


  • Ernest Giles, Australia Twice Traversed (1889) (confirms that the adjective meaning "little" is used in Australia)