In the Wikipedia entry listing the characters from Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, there is a line that states the following:

Calpurnia is the Finch family’s housekeeper, whom the children love and Atticus deeply respects (he remarks in her defense that she “never indulged [the children] like most colored nurses”).

What does the line “never indulged [the children] like most colored nurses” mean?

  • I think this is Off Topic because it's General Reference. coloured (often offensive) - of or belonging to a racial group not categorized as white. Jul 13, 2013 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


Colored was, two generations ago, an acceptable synonym in US English for what we now call Afro-American. In fact, the most prominent civil rights organization of the 20th century still retains its old name, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But otherwise the term is no longer used.

So Atticus' remark means that Calpurnia never indulged the children she took care of, as it was believed that most African-American nurses—that is, she never allowed them to do or have things they should not do or have.

In other Englishes "colored" may have the somewhat different sense of "mixed-race".

  • I keep thinking of the Muppets’ Rainbow Connection when I see “colored nurses” now: red nurses and orange nurses and yellow nurses and green nurses and blue nurses and violet nurses and ultraviolet nurses. :)
    – tchrist
    Jul 13, 2013 at 19:56
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    Afro-American? Perhaps in 1975. The accepted term is African-American, as you use later.
    – choster
    Jul 13, 2013 at 20:23
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    @choster No, there is no “accepted” term. Thanks to the euphemism treadmill, the acceptable-vs-unacceptable gets swapped around few years, and you can’t expect people to keep up with the currentmost trends in political correctness. They’re still called blacks a lot of places, you know.
    – tchrist
    Jul 13, 2013 at 22:16
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    @choser Yes, and?
    – tchrist
    Jul 14, 2013 at 1:14
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    @tchrist: a rare opportunity to use the term epiphenomenon. Jul 14, 2013 at 23:40

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