Thanks in advance for your help.
To be redheaded or red-haired has been considered unlucky since at least
the 1200s, according to the Dictionary of Superstitions (Opie/Tatem).
It's not just the person has bad luck, but they are thought to bring bad
luck to others. Hence they are unwelcome.
I'm happy to say that I have not heard this phrase often. What is the
exact nuance? "To be the redheaded stepchild" of some group is to be the
loser, the worst performer, the bottom of the heap, right?
Best --- Donna Richoux
Not only is the embarrasing stepchild "not one of us, not truly of our stock"
but the matter of his being so is made rather salient by the child's looking
like CarrotTop, whom we in no way resemble.
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A few months ago I witnessed a calm discussion on a programming group
suddenly take a very nasty turn. One of the participants, quite out
of the blue, started to become almost hysterical. It turned out that the
other had used this "red-headed stepchild" phrase, and ... well, you can
guess the rest. That was quite an eye-opener to the danger of such
Is this Paul Harvey?
Well. I'll guess. The person resembled that remark. Or his mother did. Slowly
he turned, step by step, inch by inch...
A web search suggests that the phrase is actually hottest these days in the
tech press (of course the web IS mostly tech press), in reference to those
firms that get taken behind the shed and thoroughly beaten. They are loving the
Also, it is a band in the Seattle area.
"Woman is the Red Headed stepchild of the world"
My understanding is that it implies the child is a product of a
man other than the mother's primary male partner.
Yes, that is what stepchild generally means.
And yet, complete strangers used to come up to my red-headed
(non-step-)daughter in the supermarket and pat her on the head.
Investigation determined that many people around here believe that touching
a red-headed child's hair brings *good* luck.
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> >My understanding is that it implies the child is a product of a
> >man other than the mother's primary male partner.
> Yes, that is what stepchild generally means.
What happened to all the stepmothers?
I'm guessing "red-headed child" or "red-headed baby" might be equivalent to
"red-headed stepchild." Whatever the origin of the last, I've run across the
terms in African-American slang, to refer to a mulato or mixed-race child
with reddish hair. I don't think abuse is always implied, but the child may
be singled out as unusual, or hot-headed, or have some association with the
devil (white devil, more likely), or as not being full-blooded. The stigma
of possibly being a child of prostitution might follow the child, and the
concept of miscegenation, either in the era of slavery or contemporarily,
clouds the subject.
Malcolm X was red-headed, light-skinned and freckled. His knickname was
"Detroit Red" when he was involved in crime and hustling in his younger
days. One biographical source says that "red headed black men to the
superstitious were literally sons of the devil, quick tempered and capable
of cruel violence." White racist literature seems to touch on this as well,
more to the point of slyly emphasizing race-mixing in Malcolm X's background
in an ironic way.
The Langston Hughes short story "Red-Headed Baby" deals with the child of a
black prostitute and a white sailor.
And some of the stories following the recent speculation about Thomas
Jefferson's association with his slaves highlight the fact that he was
But I don't have a broad knowledge of African-American history or the
language of racism, so take this for what you will.
They are things of fairy tales.