Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Jun 13 18:16:17 UTC 2003

larry horn:
 >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?

"queer" certainly has been tremendously reclaimed, though there are
queers (i say, maliciously) who object to the word being used in front
of, or by, outsiders; the latest issue of the Advocate had a letter
from such an objector.  but they're in a small minority now.  and a
fair number of young people *insist* on "queer" as their descriptor,
in all contexts; they're self-consciously "post-gay", and see being
queer as a newer, and better identity, not so closely tied to actual
sexuality.  (i'm not recommending this, just reporting it.)

as for "fag(got)", i'm on record, in the june issue of Out magazine,
as being in favor of reclaiming it too.  actually, i report on its
ongoing reclamation, and also on other semantic changes.  i myself
have no problem with its use in front of, or by, outsiders, so long as
i recognize them as basically friendly.  once again, there are those
who object to any such use; one spokesperson for GLAAD is even on
record as maintaining that the word should be banned, not used by
*anyone*, but, i think, this position strikes most lgb people as

in contrast, i could never imagine myself (as a white person) using
"nigger" about, or to, a black person, even someone who is a very
close friend.  (in fact, i have had more than one african american
maintain hotly to me that *any* utterance of the word by european
americans - even, specifically, its utterance by linguists talking
about how it's used, the way we are here - is absolutely

as with all such terms, there is no consensus, much less "official"
consensus, on what counts as an acceptable use, to whom, for what
purposes.  how could there be?

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu), tickled by the idea of a
  Language Academy representing the Gay Community

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