[PW] The sable race

Laura.Henry at wakegov.com Laura.Henry at wakegov.com
Thu Apr 23 06:43:50 PDT 2015

I wouldn't be surprised if the word was in more common use in the 18th and 
19th centuries. These references were a bit later than late 1700s, but 
I'll throw them out there.

According to Etymonline, "sable" was used as '"black" with reference to 
Africans and their descendants, often with mock dignity.' (

It was also used in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850):  "On a field, 
sable, the letter 'A' gules."

Cat Henry 
Digital Librarian 
Wake County Public Libraries
laura.henry at wakegov.com 

From:   Carolyn Haley <dcma at vermontel.net>
To:     list at project-wombat.org
Date:   04/23/2015 06:47 AM
Subject:        Re: [PW] The sable race
Sent by:        "Project-Wombat" 
<project-wombat-bounces at lists.project-wombat.org>

At 04:44 AM 4/23/2015, Andy wrote:
> > In this phrase, "sable" probably refers to the heraldic term for 
> the color black. By analogy, white folks would be "the argent 
> race". (OK, argent literally is silver, but in heraldry it's used 
> to mean the color white).


I took the remark to be a reference to animal color (sables coming in 
a full range of browns to black), not only because I'm not well 
versed in heraldry, but didn't expect the original speaker to be, 
either. Then again, that was late 1700s. Was heraldry a more commonly 
understood thing during that period, in America?


P.S.: Hi, Andy, from a fellow Vermonter!

Carolyn Haley
Production support for writers, editors, and designers
Member Editorial Freelancers Association
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