"Nigga" untrademarkable?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 18 02:36:33 UTC 2006

About thirty years ago, a friend of mine told me that she didn't care to be
referred to as a "Jew" or to hear other people referred to that way. She
preferred "Jewish." On the other hand, another friend - in fact, the person
who introduced to the person referred to above - never had anything to say
on this point and often made "just-between-us-minorities" jokes by referring
The City as "Jew York" or referring to the news weeky as "Jewsweek."

I've done similar things, myself. As readers may or may not know, rubbing a
nigger's head is even luckier than kissing the left hind foot of a rabbit.
So, for a while, I was into making my white colleagues, especially if they
were Southerners, rub my head for luck when they went to take an exam,
planned to call a new person for a date, or were taking a flight somewhere,


On 3/17/06, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "Nigga" untrademarkable?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I'm not surprised by this idea, though I've never heard it enunciated.  In
> general media usage, "Jewish person" and "Jewish people" have become far
> more usual than "Jew" or "Jews," which automatically taints the latter (in
> ways, I suppose, that are almost impossible to enunciate).  More to the
> point, antisemitic rhetoric and remarks are always aimed at "Jews" rather
> than "Jewish people."
>   Someone long, long ago--possibly Gordon Allport--observed that nominal
> ethnic designators are blunter, and therefore likely to be more
> disagreeable, than adj. + n. combinations.  The fact that "Jew" is a
> monosyllable makes it even blunter when any possible degree of prejudice is
> suspected (or expected).
>   There is (or was recently) a Jewish-interest magazine daringly called
> _Hebe_. The title aroused plenty of controversy (as it was no doubt intended
> to), but the publishers insisted that the name was chosen to show how "edgy"
> and "hip" the magazine was. They also hoped that their efforts would help
> remove some of the epithet's negative force. Cf. the mostly academic use of
> "queer," for simlar reasons.
>   One seriously wonders whether they considered, and then rejected, _Jew_
> as potentially even "more offensive."
>   JL
> Alice Faber <faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU> wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Alice Faber
> Organization: Haskins Laboratories
> Subject: Re: "Nigga" untrademarkable?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Charles Doyle wrote:
> > A few years ago, after discoursing with a Shakespeare class
> > about The Merchant of Venice, I was informed by a student
> > that she found offensive my using the noun "Jew." Taken
> > aback, I asked what designation she would prefer; she
> > replied, "Jewish person."
> >
> > How widespread is that sentiment? (Though it isn't quite
> > parallel, the Yid/Yiddish pair reminded me of my student's
> > distinction.)
> >
> > Of course, many derogatory epithets for
> > ethnic/racial/national/religious categories have originated
> > as neutral designations (as was the case with the
> > unutterable n-word, with its untrademarkable cognate), the
> > pejoration of the words resulting from the oppression--dare
> > I say denigration?--of the groups to which they refer.
> I encountered variations of this attitude several times when I lived in
> Texas. When I first went to Austin, in 1974, on my flight down I was
> sitting next to a woman who was most intrigued (and pleased as punch)
> that a New Yorker thought that the University of Texas was the ideal
> place for graduate studies in linguistics. When the conversation turned
> to their offerings in Hebrew--one of the attractions of the school--she
> asked if I spoke Hebrew and then, to my utter befuddlement, she asked if
> I was an "Israelite".
> A few years later, when I was teaching the intro to linguistics for
> non-majors, in a classroom discussion of taboo and politeness, a student
> from Houston raised the issue of "Jew" and "Jewish" as ethnic
> designators. Her childhood best friend, who was Jewish, had been
> instructed by her parents to tell them immediately if anybody described
> her as "a Jew" or "as Jewish". The kids were confused by this (after
> all, the friend *was* Jewish), but the parents obviously found such
> language potentially offensive.
> At this point, it occurred to me that the woman on the plane who had
> asked me if I was an Israelite was struggling for a polite, inoffensive
> way to ask me what was a totally natural question in the context of our
> conversation.
> --
> ==============================================================================
> Alice Faber faber at haskins.yale.edu
> Haskins Laboratories tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
> New Haven, CT 06511 USA fax (203) 865-8963
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