Any ole’ regular Google search will tell you amalgamation means, “the action, process, or result of combining or uniting,” but the term also meaning fusion, union, or blend took on a more controversial definition during the 19th century in the southeastern region of the United States.
The dirty history of the word amalgamation revolves around the act of sex, as Florida State University’s Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies, Davis Houck (also a professor of Race, Rhetoric in America) points out, amalgamation was used as a code word in the south to avoid using the phrase interracial sex – specifically between a black man and a white woman. “Usually the term, in the 20th century gets paired with miscegenation,” says Houck, “Amalgamation is a 19th century term, so miscegenation becomes the newer term in the 20th century.”
Similar to miscegenation, Houck says amalgamation was used in public discourse to try and deflate the rough edges that were held around the phrase, “interracial sex.” Similar to “intermingling,” “the way of the South,” and “our tradition,” amalgamation finds itself as a code word for 19th century southerners to condemn the acts interracial intercourse. With this form of coding, white southern politicians and public figures could condemn the act of “amalgamation,” without the severe visuals that pair itself with sex and avoid any direct critiques of the blatant racism behind the word.
Although an outdated definition of the word, the use of coded words is not a dead concept. In fact, marketers use it to this day to try and persuade consumers to try out particular products. From Subway’s, “Eat Fresh,” to President Donald Trump’s, “Make America Great Again” words and phrases are still being used to convey meanings alternative to their literal immediacy.