Food & Drink

Wait, So Are 'Jimmies' Racist or Not?

If you have to ask if something is racist/sexist/offensive in any way, you should probably just assume it is. 

"Jimmies" -- a New England/Eastern US colloquialism referring to chocolate sprinkles, or sprinkles in general -- has joined the pantheon of cringe-worthy antiquated phrases you might hear your grandma drop in Friendly's while you cower behind a lamented specials board. Frankly, there's a constituency that thinks the term is straight-up racist, a slur directed towards African-Americans.

Obviously, if the intent is there, it doesn't matter if other people think it's offensive or not. But are the origins of the term truly dubious, or has its meaning been warped by time?

The answer is just a little complicated, and it involves everyone's least favorite Easter treat. 

Where did the term come from?

According to the Boston Globe, one potentially viable origin story for the sprinkles term comes from confectionary company Just Born -- the monster best known for Easter's most unappetizing treat, the Peep. The company doesn't give a hard date on the invention, but credits the name to the employee who invented them (his name was Jimmy, obviously).

An archived snapshot of Brigham's Ice Cream's website puts the date around the early '30s, and also credits one "James Bartholomew" with the invention. The site also notes that "The dictionary definition for JIMMIES used to be 'decorative things.' They have also been called toppettes, shots, fancies, trimettes and sprinkles."

Beth Kimmerle, author of Candy: The Sweet History, told the Globe that she believed the term came about as a simple, cute way to brand the new sweet -- similar to Hershey's coining its chocolate drops "Kisses."

So, is it racist or nah?

Even almighty debunker Snopes labels it a "probably false" legend. And debunks such claims that "Jimmies" are named in honor of the Jim Crow laws.

But in the end, people can reappropriate phrases however they wish. It's very possible Jimmies' origins are innocent, but by people adopting the phrase as a racial slur (whether misunderstanding the history or not) it can certainly become loaded.

The bottom line: use at your own risk. And if you do, keep this link bookmarked on your phone.

Or maybe just call them sprinkles. It's more whimsical, anyway. 

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. He actually blames Gwyneth Paltrow for most of the world's problems. Follow him @wilfulton.