Green’s Dictionary of Slang

piccaninny n.

also picanniny, pick, pickanine, pickaninny, pickaniny, pickerninee, pickinniny, pikkie, picky-ninny
[adopted in W.I. f. Sp./Port. pequeño, small or Port. pequenino, tiny. The term was seen as neutral, as it was used mainly of children, but is now generally seen as patronizing and thus derog.; note vaudeville jargon pick, a black child who danced and sang onstage with a white headliner]

1. (orig. W.I.) a black child, occas. any black person; any child, when spoken by a black person; also attrib.

[WI]R. Ligon Hist. of the Island of Barbadoes (1673) 48: When the child is born, (which she calls her Pickaninny) she helps to make a little fire. [...] In a fortnight, this woman is at work with her Pickaninny at her back, as merry a soul as any is there.
[WI] Will of Jas. Vaughan (of Antigua) in Miscellaneous Gen. and Herald Ser. ii IV 255: To my sister Mrs. Hannah Bell, four negroes and one Pickoniny [printed Pickoning] boy [OED].
[UK]D’Urfey Comical Hist. of Don Quixote Pt 3 IV ii: Dear Pinkaninny, / If half a Guiny / To Love will win ye, / I lay it here down: [...] ’Twill serve to shift ye.
[US]J. Boucher Boucher’s Gloss. xlix: A Pickaninny; a male infant: probably from the Spanish picade nino, pequeno nino [DA].
S. Foote Nonsense Prose n.p.: There were present the Picninnies [sic] [...] and the grand Panjandrum himself.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Pickaniny, a young child, an infant, negroe term.
[WI]J.B. Moreton West India Customs and Manners 155: Him get one pickinniny, white! / Almost as white as missess.
[UK]J. Davis Post Captain (1813) 87: She cry like her mother that loose her pickniny.
[WI]M. Lewis 17 Jan. in Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834) 112: The old women are preparing food on the lawn for the piccaninnies, whom they keep feeding at all hours of the day.
[UK]R.B. Peake Americans Abroad I i: Yes massa – piccaninny boys top to look at turtle.
[Aus]P. Cunningham New South Wales II 20: He shrugged up his shoulders, and merely said, ‘Bel boodgeree (not good) kill it pickaninny’.
[UK] ‘Gallery of 140 Comicalities’ Bell’s Life in London 24 June 3/4: Dis damn dry wedder play de debil wid my business—Pickerninnees go short for dis—but, neber mind, rain hard to-morrow, and den me sweeps in de coppers.
[US]T.D. Rice ‘Jump Jim Crow’ [lyrics] Twas down in ‘Ole Wurginny’ [...] Dat dis han’sum picaninny / ’Gan to jump Jim Crow.
[Aus] ‘Statement of Jacky Jacky’ in G.C. Mundy Our Antipodes (1852) I 251: Two black gins and a good many piccaninnies.
[UK]Sam Sly 12 May 3/2: Sam wishes to know why Miss B——w, of Grove-terrace, cannot get a man; is it because of the piccannini?
[US]T. Haliburton Sam Slick’s Wise Saws I 127: Many a time dis here nigga hab carried her to school in his arms when she was a little pickanine.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor II 490/1: The cheeriest little crowing, smiling ‘piccaninny’ I have ever seen.
[US]J.R. Lowell Biglow Papers 2nd series (1880) 21: Ner ’t ain’t quite hendy to pass off one o’ your six-foot Guineas, / An’ git your halves an’ quarters back in gals and pickaninnies.
[UK]Teasdale Mercury 8 July 4/5: The white picky-ninny was claimed by her father and mother.
[UK]J. Greenwood Wilds of London (1881) 15: Cruel massa stole him wife and lily piccaninny.
[Aus]S. James Vagabond Papers (4th series) 59: Dark women have light picanninnies, and vice versa.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 134: A small mob of blacks [...] and their gins and pickaninnies appeared to take great notice of the whole thing.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Black Joe’ in Roderick (1972) 254: Piccaninnie alonga ’possum rug.
[UK]C. Chesnutt ‘Sis’ Becky’s Pickaninny’ in Conjure Woman 125: Is I eber tol’ you de tale er Sis’ Becky en her pickaninny?
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘“Water Them Geraniums”’ in Roderick (1972) 579: I don’t know how many children she had [...] for they were nearly all small and shy as piccaninnies.
[Aus]F.J. Gillen Diary (1968) 193: There is something very attractive about black piccaninnies.
[US]H. Green Actors’ Boarding House (1906) 154: Miss Marshall remembered them as a couple of rollicking pickaninnies tumbling about in every one’s way.
[Aus]J. Furphy Buln-Buln and the Brolga (1948) [Internet] Ain’t every day a man gits a slant o’ goin’ mates with white piccaninnies.
Lone Hand (Sydney) Feb. 385/2: ‘They never cry.’ ‘Maori piccaninnies never do’.
[US]F.P. Dunne Mr Dooley Says 49: Watchin’ ye’er little pickahinnissies rollickin’ on th’ ground.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Kids’ in Roderick (1972) 809: Charley Poharama called me a (gasp-gasp) — a Half-Cask Pickaninny!!!
[US]Ade ‘The New Fable of the Speedy Sprite’ in Ade’s Fables 26: As a member of the Board of Visitation she hurried out to the Colored Orphan Asylum to check up the Picks.
[US]F.S. Fitzgerald ‘The Ice Palace’ in Bodley Head Scott Fitzgerald V (1963) 117: Half a dozen scantily clothed pickaninnies parading tattered dolls.
[US]L. Hughes Mulatto in Three Negro Plays (1969) Act I: Cotton teaches these pickaninnies enough round here. Some of ’em’s too smart as it is.
[Aus]X. Herbert Capricornia (1939) 25: Marowallua bin droppin piccanin, Boss.
[US]B. Cerf Anything For a Laugh 83: A little pickaninny came running.
[US]C. Cooper Jr Weed (1998) 159: Pickaninny house-maid, right off the block.
[SA]A. La Guma Threefold Cord 7: Sleep some more, pikkie.
D. Dekker ‘I put my money in a condense can’ [lyrics] I put my money in a condense can / You steal it away [...] I said to come here girl, pickney gal come here.
J.H. Beaumont The Great Karoo (1983) 23: Soon Caroline was no longer a piccaninny growing up.
[US]L. Rosten Dear ‘Herm’ 203: The little Indian was adopted while still a pickaninny.
[SA]A. Brink Rumours of Rain 88: When he dived in he struck the bottom and the piccanins who were with him pulled him out.
[US](con. 1940s) C. Bram Hold Tight (1990) 146: The sailor lay on the picanninny and kissed him.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 116: Now, before we get your pickaninnies out here, you gonna tell me who you lent your automobile to last night?
[UK]A. Close Official and Doubtful 166: You only think he’s cute because he’s a piccaninny.
[US] T. Udo Vatican Bloodbath 45: Your bints won’t go dropping picanninies all over the shop.
[US]N. Tosches Where Dead Voices Gather (ms.) 55: The word ‘pickaninny,’ from the Portuguese pequeño, meaning ‘little one’, was more theatrical term than a popular one. Like ‘darky,’ it was not often encountered in the real of reality.
[SA]IOL News 9 Nov. [Internet] His favourite memory of being a piccaninny in Kaapstad.
[US]P. Beatty Sellout (2016) 238: It wasn’t hard to see why back then all the trades thought he’d be the next big pickaninny.

2. (Aus.) any child.

[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 6 Nov. 1/1: Perth infant schools are shamefully under-teachered and shock- ingly overcrowded [...] the way the picaninnies are packed together is reminiscent of cows in a cattle yard.