Green’s Dictionary of Slang

coon n.

[fig. uses of SE racoon, typified as a cunning creature. Used orig. in non-racial senses (emphasizing only cunning), the meaning swiftly became unequivocally racist, and used as such in Aus. too, where it described Aborigines; note American Dialect Society List 17/12/01: ‘The daughter of William Lloyd Garrison (the great American abolitionist), while tending to the needs of emancipated slaves on the Gullah Islands, anthologized Negro spirituals. She also made notes on the Gullah dialect. “Coon” was the name that the ex-slaves called each other, and she indicates that it is the word “cousin” as expressed through the dialect. [...] As with many terms that members of ethnic communities call each other, they descend into the pejorative’]

1. [mid-19C] (US) a Whig.

2. [mid-19C] (US) a Native American.

3. [mid-18C–1900s] (orig. US) a sly person, a cunning fellow.

4. [mid-19C+] (US, also koon) a person, esp. a rustic, a peasant.

5. [mid-19C+] (orig. US, also coonhead) a highly derog. term for a black person.

6. [mid-19C+] a clown, a fool, the image is of a ‘chocolate coloured coon’.

7. [1910s+] (Aus.) an Aborigine.

8. [1910s–30s] (US black) used non-pejoratively of a fellow black person.

9. [1910s] a member of a blackface ‘minstrel’ show .

10. [1980s+] (S.Afr.) a black South African.

In derivatives

coonery (n.)

[1980s+] stupidity, esp. as enacted by black people.

coonish (adj.)

1. [mid-19C; 1990s+] (UK juv.) stupid.

2. [mid-19C] (US) angry, aggressive.

coonmobile (n.)

[1980s+] (US) a flashy automobile, supposedly preferred by African-American owners .

In compounds

coon-assed (adj.)

see separate entry.

coon bottom (n.) (also coon hollow) [var. on black bottom under black adj.]

[mid-19C+] within a larger urban area, that part recognized as home to the black community.

coon chaser (n.)

[late 19C] (US) a white man who pursues/has sex with black women.

coon dick (n.) [dick n.1 (5), i.e. racist stereotyping ]

[1920s–30s] (US) an illicitly distilled spirit, compounded of ‘grapefruit juice, cornmeal mash, beef bones and a few mo’ things’ (Zora Neale Hurston, Mules & Men, 1935).

coonhead (n.)

see sense 5 above.

coon juice (n.)

[mid-19C; 1960s+] (US) illicitly distilled whisky.

coon-lover (n.)

[mid-19C+] (orig. US) a derog. term, as used by racists, for those who are seen as insufficiently hostile to blacks.

coon’s age (n.) (also dinosaur’s age, dog’d age, donkey’s age, hen’s age)

[mid-19C+] (US) a very long time; often as in a coon’s age [the life-span of a SE racoon, although the phr. is inevitably seen as linked to sense 5 above].

coonshine (n.) [i.e. racial stereotyping + moonshine n. (2)/SE moonshine]

[late 19C] (US) an all-night party.

coonskin (n.)

see separate entry.

Coontown (n.) (also Coonsville, Coonville)

[late 19C+] a derog. term for the black section of a town or city.

In phrases

old coon (n.)

[mid–late 19C] (US) a shrewd individual.