... and now that the furor has died down about Macacagate, I'll contribute my belated opinion on the origin of the term "macaca."
Or rather, what I'm sure it isn't. When I first heard about this scandal, I was told that it was a Tunisian French slur against native Tunisians. I bought this explanation. But then it turned out
1) Okay, that term is actually "macaque," pronounced basically the same way as the English word. Furthermore,
2) It was used in the Belgian Congo against Congolese natives (and perhaps North African immigrants to Belgium).
A fair amount of smushy thinking is involved to make the Belgian colonial slur into the likely etymon of "macaca." The steps, as I see them, go like this:
1) So "macaque" is a kind of monkey, the latin name of which is Macaca. And
2) French Tunisia, Belgian Congo -- it's all Francophone colonies in Africa, after all.
But these are both stretches, and are only plausible to someone who really wants to how that George Allen used a known epithet. The problems are obvious - Tunisia and the Congo are nowhere near each other, and though they may speak French in Belgium (at least in parts of it), Belgium ain't France. So how, in short, would a francophone Tunisian crypto-Jew learn a Belgian slur against Congolese natives, and then transmit it to her son as the Latin name of the monkey from which the slur may come?
This bothers me not because I like Allen. In fact it bothers me because I do suspect him of being a barely closeted racist, and I think that this specious etymology 1) weakens the case against Allen with its leaps of logic 2) hides the real story, which I think is far worse.
I take Allen at his word when he says that he "just made up" the term on the spot (you can watch him claim this here). This, to me, does not excuse it -- if anything, it suggests that S. R. Siddarth's South Asian ancestry made him so ridiculous to a crowd of rural Virginians that Allen could make up a vaguely "primitive" sounding name for him, one that wouldn't seem out of place coming out of Johnny Weissmuller's mouth. This, to me, is much more plausible. And much more offensive.