white vs. Caucasian

Discussion in 'English Only' started by twinklestar, Sep 6, 2008.

  1. twinklestar

    twinklestar Senior Member

    Hi! What's the difference between 'white' and 'Caucasian'? If I refer to people's race, which word sounds better? Thanks!
  2. cropje_jnr

    cropje_jnr Senior Member

    Canberra, Australia
    English - Australia
    According to this article the two are often used interchangeably.
  3. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    White is probably more formal, on a government form, it may say caucasian. Caucasian is a more technical term. It's probably slightly more polite, but I certainly don't mind being called white. (It meaning caucasian.)
  4. twinklestar

    twinklestar Senior Member

    cropje_jnr & Au101,

    Thank you for your answers.
  5. Brioche

    Brioche Senior Member

    Australia English
    No-one would call an Asian "Mongoloid" nor an African "Negroid", so I think that the other member of the trio "Caucasoid" [or Caucasian] should go the same dustbin [US trashcan].

    I am white, or of European descent. I am not a Cork-Asian.
  6. kelt

    kelt Senior Member

    Prague, CZ
    Czech Republic, Czech
    So far I've seen Caucasian only on US government forms. Do you know what is the background of the usage? Is it also used in this sense in the UK?

    Thank you
  7. Teafrog

    Teafrog Senior Member

    UK English (& rusty French…)
    :D So am I and… neither am I (a cork from Asia) :D
    This might help. All the UK official docs refer to "white". I haven't seen "caucasian" used for ages.
  8. twinklestar

    twinklestar Senior Member

    Hi guys, thank you for your replies.
  9. Oeco

    Oeco Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    English - US
    From the above Wikipedia link/article:
    That's reason enough for us to quit using that term. That whole 19th century anthropology ought to be placed in the "dustbin."
  10. twinklestar

    twinklestar Senior Member

    Oeco, thank you for your reply!
  11. Au101 Senior Member

    England, English (UK)
    I didn't know that, oh, definately do NOT go with caucasian then. I am now offended by the term and white sounds much better.
  12. BODYholic Senior Member

    Chinese Cantonese
    In Asia, we rarely use the term White (or Black, Green and Blue for that matter) to describe or size up people.
    "Westerners" is used as a general term describing people who are from USA, Canada and those around.
    "Caucasian" is used to generalize people from Europe.
  13. twinklestar

    twinklestar Senior Member

    Thank you, BODYholic.
  14. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    As long as we have to categorize people by skin color (and to some degree hair type), I don't object to being called white. But let's not forget that the only way to be "white" is to spend a whole lot of time indoors. I am "naturally" a deep and I think attractive shade of brown, which is to say if I spend enough time in the sun.

    My point is that the terms are really not very accurate, since a good many so-called black people are in fact brown-- some of them lighter than I am. That's why the old terms like "Caucasian" were developed-- they are based, by the way, on the fossilized skeletal features (chiefly skulls) of people from certain regions. skel.
  15. eurwen New Member

    Padova, IT
    Italian/English (UK) Bilingual
    You are right and is also used in American films, they never translate the word right into Italian. Anyway, in the Uk such term is not used, they rather monitor people especially in Ethnic Forms splitting up ethnicities into White: Scottish-Welsh-Irish-English; Mixed: Black Caribbean-White, White-Black African, White-Asian;
    Pleas look this up
  16. mplsray Senior Member

    One difference is that Caucasian is usually capitalized when referring to race, while white is often left uncapitalized. I was only able to find one dictionary which showed the uncapitalized form, and it was an online dictionary which is not published in book form.

    Several of the dictionaries I consulted point out that the term is no longer in scientific use. I rarely hear the term Caucasian used except when a police spokesman is talking about a suspect or person of interest. It is sometimes found on forms.
  17. Fumiko Take

    Fumiko Take Senior Member

    I've been watching The X-Files. The doctors who work on autopsy call the victim "Caucasian" ("Amy Anne Cassandra, Caucasian female"). Most victims on the series are Americans. It appears that "Caucasian" is usually used interchangebly with "White". What I'm asking is, can "Caucasian" be used as a 'formal' term (?) for "White" to avoid any bad racial connotation? Even in such a context as an autopsy report, as shown on the show?
  18. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Caucasian is a more precise term than white. There's nothing wrong or negative about describing someone as "white," any more than there's something wrong or negative about describing someone as "black" or "Asian." But white means different things to different people, whereas Caucasian is more closely defined, at least by those who need to classify people as part of their jobs.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
  19. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    The word "Caucasian" is not used to mean "white" in Britain, at least not in official contexts. It seems an odd term to me, because people who live in the Caucasus mountains are not typically very "white", as the word is understood in Britain.

    P.S. There is already a thread on this subject: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=1086177
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
  20. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    Thank you for finding that, se16teddy. I have merged Fumiko Take's thread with that earlier thread. If you still have questions, Fumiko Take, you're welcome to add them to this thread.

    English Only moderator
  21. Delvo Senior Member

    American English
    Color words are often used to name living things (and maybe minerals too, I don't know) that are not actually those colors, but just closer to them than other comparable things are. For example, among ash trees, they all have green leaves, but one with a slightly bluer-green leaf is "blue ash", one with a more purely green (not bluish or yellowish) leaf is "green ash", and those with slightly lighter or darker ones are "white ash" and "black ash". And the wood of "red oaks" and "yellowwood" trees is not exactly red or yellow, but just a redder or yellower shade of brown than many other woods. There are also species of rhinoceros called white and black, even though they're all different shades of gray. And "red" grapes are purple and "white" grapes are green...

    It works better with an "oid" at the end instead of "ian". "Oid" means "similar to" or "of the same type as", so it makes sense when applied to people who are no actually from the Caucasus mountains but are of the same type as those. Following the same pattern of naming after locations, black people were called "Congoid" ("of the type found in the Congo"), and Khoi-San were called "Capoid" ("of the type found at the Cape").

    It does include darker, medium-brown people who would not usually be called "white": natives of western Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa. ("Black" people are only the predominant population of central & southern, not northern, parts of Africa.) However, those are a small fraction of the population of the USA, so the existence of some caucasoid people who aren't very "white" is seldom an issue that would cause any confusion. It's just enough to cause people to use "caucasoid" when a category that includes caucasoids who aren't white is needed.
  22. panzerfaust0 Senior Member

    I think that to call someone "white" is colloquial. If you are talking about white people in a more official sense you would say "Caucasian".
  23. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    The adjective was introduced in this meaning by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Friedrich_Blumenbach) around 1800[OED].

    Blumenbach divided the world into five races

    • the Caucasian or white race
    • the Mongolian or yellow race, including all East Asians and some Central Asians.
    • the Malayan or brown race, including Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders.
    • the Ethiopian or black race, including sub-Saharan Africans.
    • the American or red race, including American Indians.

    His views, read today, will be seen as simplistic in the extreme, as they were based on sweeping assumptions and stereotypes but, when published, they started research in many fields.

    The word Caucasian still has the meaning he gave it as a general descriptor whilst his other classifications have been greatly refined such that they are no longer useful.
  24. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    No longer "useful," but still quite common!

    It's now considered quite offensive to refer to Asians as "yellow" or indigenous Americans as "red," but "black" and "white" are still in common use even though their meaning has changed quite a bit over time and across different societies, as folks have explained already in this thread.
  25. Basketballer New Member

    Hi! I am considered caucasian, my father is from Lebanon, but he and me have green eyes. When i am in east asia some people call me caucasian or even white, when i am in europe people call me arab. So there is a difference between white and caucasian. This is what i have read:
    1. Caucasian race (also Caucasoid or Europid) has historically been used to describe the physical or biological type of some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia.
  26. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Am I right in thinking that the modern scientific consensus is that none of these broad terms intended to classify large populations, be they colour terms or geographical terms, can be ultimately justified in genetic terms? In other words, that genetically speaking, there are no distinct 'races' at all among humans (though of course there are plenty of individual differences in colour, body shape, etc.)?

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