The N-word at the time of Huck Finn

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Thu Mar 12 18:00:32 UTC 2009

On Mar 12, 2009, at 10:20 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:

> At 3/12/2009 11:25 AM, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>> Given the prevailing attitudes towards black people at the time--even
>> scientists--"nigger," "darky," etc. were just the terms that people
>> used.
>> There WERE no "racist" epithets, because the modern idea of racism
>> had not even
>> been invented yet,
> Not so, I believe.  "Scientific racism", viewing blacks as inherently
> inferior to whites, began in the last quarter of the 18th century, ...

indeed.  the division of humankind into discrete races, in combination
with the view that certain races are inherently inferior to others,
has a very long history.  so the *idea* or *concept* of racism isn't
new at all.

now, the english *words* "racism" and "racist" seem to be relatively
recent.  the OED's first cite for "racism" is from 1933 (and the word
figured prominently in Ruth Benedict's 1940 book Race: Science and
Politics) , and its first cites for the noun and adjective "racist"
are from 1927.

one 1927 cite refers to "the most notorious Racists", so disapproval
of racist ideas is not a new thing either.  *widespread* disapproval
probably is relatively recent, however.

i'd guess that the idea of "racist epithets" -- the idea that certain
words can be intrinsically racist -- is also relatively recent.


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