The photoon from Satilla Shores

On Facebook on 11/23, Charlie Fulton offered this photoon — a photograph intended as a cartoon — and provided it with a caption, in this case a brief text expressing a personal opinion of his about some event, not depicted in the photoon, without any explicit connection between the event and the photograph. So Charlie’s captioned photoon takes a ton of context and background knowledge to appreciate, but (in my opinion) it’s very cleverly bitter (measured bitterness being a CF specialty).

The photoon, with Charlie’s caption:

(#1) [CF:] Ah, the clever “toenail defense” tactic. I should have seen it coming.

The only really easy part of the comprehension exercise is recognizing the objects in #1 as the edible seeds — known in English as Brazil nuts — of the Bertholletia excelsa tree  (native to South America).

Nuts and toes. From the image in #1 to the image of these seeds in their nutshells:


From #1 and #2 to the image of Black people’s toes — a simple visual metaphor, whose relevance here might not be at all obvious to many readers — which I will have to ask you to imagine, because every image I have found on the net comes with a licensing fee (and I’m not in a position to be able to take my own photos of my Black friends’ toes).

[A digression on vocabulary. The next step in this explication depends on a lexical item that has had a variety of uses at different times and places, but now serves as the vile slur par excellence for a Black person, the bearer of naked hatred. Dictionaries and linguists’ discussions of usage, back into the last century, have cited the item in plain text, and John McWhorter, in his 2021 book Nine Nasty Words cites it in plain text (though as sparingly as possible), but it is now perceived to be an affront to utter or print the item in any respectable context whatsoever; it has become thoroughly contaminated.

With the result that on many sites, automated mechanisms for detecting offensive language will now snag any occurrence (regardless of the context) as grounds for punishing the user, up to banning the user from the site and closing the site down. Since I need to maintain this WordPress site as the medium for my postings, their (only) record, and the (only) repository of a huge collection of ancillary materials, I am registering my deep resentment but will knuckle under to the authority of the site.

Most often, the item is cited via one of the mechanisms of taboo avoidance, mainly as n****r or the N-word. This would be awkward for the uses I’ll be citing; instead, I’ll cite it simply as N, but in square brackets to indicate that it’s a replacement for the actually occurring form.]

Having said that, the next step in the explication of #1 takes us from Black people’s toes as visual metaphors for Brazil nuts to the widespread American coarse slang [Ntoes / [N]toes ‘Brazil nuts’. If you aren’t familiar with that bit of racist slang, you won’t understand #1.

From the current Wikipedia entry:

In North America, as early as 1896, Brazil nuts were sometimes known by the slang term “nigger toes,” a vulgarity that gradually fell out of use as the racial slur became socially unacceptable. [from the 10/2016 Wikipedia entry: They can be seen being sold in a market under this name in a scene from the 1922 Stan Laurel film The Pest.]

Historical notes on [N] toes. Back in the Facebook discussion:

AZ: I wonder how many young people these days know the racist slang for ‘Brazil nut’? (This is a question from actual ignorance; I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but that piece of knowledge is crucial for understanding what the photo has to do with the, omigod, “toenail defense”.)

Dennis Lewis > AZ: It wasn’t just Southern?

AZ > DL: You heard it first (and maybe only) in the South, so you thought it was Southern, but that’s just an accident of your history. GDoS quotes H. L. Mencken in 1944: “a dialect name, in rural New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, for a Brazil nut, and was once used to designate a variety of potato”.

I learned it as a child in rural SE PA in ca. 1948-50. DARE has a 1896 report locating it in NY, N OH, and SE PA; then reports spread throughout the South and Southwest (NW AR in 1906, E AL, W GA in 1909, W TX in 1915), and then quickly in later years in all of these earlier locations, plus NE, NE IN, KS, ID, IA, MN, the southern Appalachians, and the Gulf Region, with some reports from Black speakers as well as white. The toe phrase has a nut variant, but of course that variant doesn’t connect to [“the toenail defense”].

Others provided reports up to the 1970s, and one gave a more recent report:

I first heard the term from co-worker in NYC about 10 years ago. Why he thought it an appropriate thing to share with me at work I’ll never know.

But I know of no usage surveys among younger speakers.

The candy connection. A side FB discussion instigated by Chuk Craig:

Chuk Craig: I have also heard it used for certain kinds of chocolate candies

Charlie Fulton >CC: It was evidently an actual brand name for chocolate covered Brazil nuts in the ’20s.

CC>CF: the candy I remember was buckeye candy

AZ>CC: In my 28 years at Ohio State I don’t recall having heard the candies called anything but “buckeyes”. But then the trees were very common and of course everything at OSU was buckeye-this and buckeye-that, and why would anyone even think of another way of referring to the candies?

From my 2/5/15 posting “Signs of spring”, about Buckeye trees and their nuts, quoting Wikipedia:

“buckeye” came to be used as the nickname and colloquial name for people from the state of Ohio and The Ohio State University’s sports teams. The Ohio State University adopted “Buckeyes” officially as its nickname in 1950, and it came to be applied to any student or graduate of the university.

(#3) Buckeye candies, which could imaginably be seen as Black toes, with lighter toenails

… Buckeye candy, made to resemble the tree’s nut, is made by dipping a ball of peanut butter fudge in milk chocolate, leaving a circle of the peanut butter exposed. These are a popular treat in Ohio, especially during the Christmas and college football seasons.

Then back on Facebook:

CC>AZ: Upon further reflection (and google image searches), I think I was mistaken. It was probably this candy, called vanilla creme drops:

(#4) Zachary Creme Drops

In my childhood it was a very old fashioned candy you’d find at Christmas. I believe the first customer review of this is obliquely referencing the alternate name.

CC: Here’s a corroborating printed reference I googled: On the hearth under each stocking sat a sack of chocolate drops, which we innocently referred to as ‘[N] toes.’

2nd corroboration, about Zachary Creme Drops: Does any other part of the world call these things [N] toes, or is this a term unique to Dixie?

The “toenail defense”. The other crucial piece of the photoon in #1. From a report on the trial of the three men accused (and since convicted) of killing a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery, on the streets of the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick GA, on the CNN site, “Defense lawyer prompts outrage for bringing up Ahmaud Arbery’s toenails in closing arguments” by Theresa Waldrop on 11/22/21:

A sentence uttered by a defense attorney in the trial of those accused in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery brought an audible gasp from people in the courtroom Monday — and elicited outrage from his family and legal experts.

The defense attorneys for Gregory and Travis McMichael, who are charged with Arbery’s murder, repeatedly have tried to present Arbery as a criminal. On Monday, Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael’s lawyers, went further.

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails,” Hogue told jurors.

Breath-takingly appalling, but at least that was widely recognized, and the tactic apparently didn’t move the jurors.

The photoon files. In attaching a photo of Brazil nuts to his sardonic “toenail defense” comment, Charlie Fulton probably had no idea that he was creating a species of cartoon, but so he was. Relevant postings on this blog:

— in my 12/5/10 posting “But is it art?”, about Ryan North’s webcomic Dinosaur Comics:

North doesn’t actually draw (or paint or engrave or whatever) anything, since, he maintains, he can’t draw. So what he does is caption stuff

— in my 11/16/11 posting “X is the real Y”, the cartoon A Softer World, by Emily Horne and Joey Comeau: captioned photographs

— in my 8/25/18 posting “But is it a cartoon?”, about this (uncaptioned) photograph:


A photograph (composed and posed for humorous effect), but if you drew this scene, it would straightforwardly be a (captionless) cartoon, so why shouldn’t  this count as a cartoon too? Not your prototypical cartoon, but a cartoon nevertheless.

An analogy would be to the art work of Pierre et Gilles: photographs elaborately composed and posed for artistic effect (often humorous effect as well), and meant as a photographic equivalent of a fantasy painting or drawing.

… First the genre. It’s a photograph intended as a cartoon, and I say we take it at face value. Maybe call such things — some others have come by on this blog — photoons.

This one was posted without a caption, as a wordless cartoon, but you could propose captions — for example:

Where can I get my breakfast cereal?

One Response to “The photoon from Satilla Shores”

  1. Jens B Fiederer Says:

    Ok, learned some new slang, but I’m unlikely to use it (good to have a chance at RECOGNIZING it, though)

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