QUEER, FAG, and the "N" Word

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Fri Jun 13 14:22:00 UTC 2003

I agree almost completely with Larry here, except that there is apparently 
some evidence (reported here some months ago by Jesse Sheidlower and others) 
that even "fag" may be being "reclaimed." My own experience is that it is not so 
much that "fag" is being reclaimed as that the negative valence is 
intrinsically less powerful than that for "nigger" -- hence people tend to use it a 
LITTLE more freely. (As in my subject heading above -- even on ADS-L I balk at 
putting "nigger" in the subject heading.)

In our culture, in fact, "nigger" is a special word with a negative valence 
greater by far than that for any other word--even other ethnic slurs such as 
CHINK and KIKE; likewise, CUNT and TWAT are less unutterable. Even innocent 
words that merely sound like NIGGER are becoming taboo (e.g. "niggardly"). Note 
also that the in-group self-referential uses of NIGGER generally spell it NIGGA, 
as if to differentiate this use from a derogatory use.

In a message dated 6/13/03 10:12:08 AM, laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:

> At 5:46 AM -0400 6/13/03, Frank Abate wrote:
> >...The relevant parts of the NOAD entry follow:
> >
> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
> >nigger  [pron.]  n.  derogatory  a contemptuous term for a black or
> >dark-skinned person.
> >
> >[etym.]
> >
> >USAGE: the word ~nigger~ was used as an adjective denoting a black person 
> as
> >early as the 17th century and has long had strong offensive connotations.
> >Today it remains one of the most racially offensive words in the language.
> >Also, referred to as 'the n-word,' ~nigger~ is sometimes used by black
> >people in reference to other black people in a jocular or disparaging
> >manner, or some variant in between (in somewhat the same way that _queer_
> >has been adopted by some gay and lesbian people as a term of 
> self-reference,
> >acceptable only when used by those within the community).
> ><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
> I am in complete agreement with Frank's comments in his posting, but
> I wonder if the entry above is accurate in comparing "nigger" to
> "queer".  The latter item has been successfully reclaimed, appearing
> in such contexts as departments of Queer Studies, scholarly paper
> titles, conferences on queering various literary and cultural figures
> of the past, and so on.  I can't imagine, on the other hand, a
> department of, or conference on, nigger studies; the idea is absurd
> (or worse).  "Queer" is no longer "acceptable only when used by those
> within the community", although caution is still required,
> controlling for the context of use.  "Nigger", on the other hand,
> really is in-group restricted as noted above.  Perhaps a closer
> equivalent would be "fag".  Arnold, what's your take on this?
> larry

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