After Discovery, State Quietly Moves to Purge N-word From Official Documents

Dan Goncharoff thegonch at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 22 13:05:39 UTC 2011

JULY 22, 2011
Offensive Environment
After Discovery, State Quietly Moves to Purge N-word From Official Documents


In the remote meadows and forests of upstate New York, state
environmental scientists have made a disturbing discovery: a road, a
stream and a lake all bearing names using the most offensive racial
word in the English language.

A vestige of a long-ago past, the n-word—fully spelled out—still
lingers in environmental conservation laws classifying bodies of

"It was a shock to us. The term is very offensive," said Scott Stoner,
a research scientist for the state Department of Environmental
Conservation. "These are not regulations that get looked at often, but
somebody discovered it."

Mr. Stoner said a regional researcher alerted the agency about the
racial epithet two years ago. Officials, he said, then did a computer
search and found three other examples buried in regulatory indexes and
a map.

This week, the state quietly moved to correct the problem. While it
can't rename local roads and water bodies, the agency is finally
scrubbing the n-word from its regulations.

Since it's technically a rule change, the deletions can't happen
instantaneously but must first be proposed. The result is one of the
more unusual rule changes announced in the official state register,
the latest edition of which carries the headline: "Removing a Racially
Offensive Term That Appears in the Regulations."

The agency proposed it as a "consensus rule," obviating the need for
any public hearings. "DEC has determined that no person is likely to
object to the adoption of the rule as written," the register states.

In the meantime, DEC zapped the word from regulations posted on its
website. One of those instances, a little, narrow lake in the wooded
wilderness of Hamilton County, is now referred to as "unnamed lake."

The required public-comment period still stands, which means the
regulations won't officially be amended for another month and a half.

Since few people outside the agency ever noticed the slur, it never
generated public outrage. That wasn't the case across the coast in
northern California, where a cemetery containing several dozen
headstones labeled with the racial term turned into a major

Despite the effort to purge the n-word from New York's official
documents, the epithet showed up in a recent management plan report by
the agency's division of lands and forests.

An offensively named road in the town of Danby in Tompkins County is
cited in a report posted online in February. The agency was unaware of
that until a reporter brought it to its attention on Thursday.

"The Department will take action to move forward in removing any
offensive term from the Lands and Forests map in terms of how it is
referenced," said Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the agency, in a

"DEC cannot and does not have the authority to rename roads, water
bodies, or any other natural resources in the state," said Ms.
Severino. "These are historical records and sometimes date back
hundreds of years. We can, however, change or remove how they are
referenced under DEC regulations and to strive to be proactive in
those measures whenever possible."

The precise origin of the names is a mystery to even the most rooted locals.

"I'd like to say, 'Talk to one of the old folks around here,' but the
trouble with that is I'm 83." said Tom Bissell, a local historian from
Hamilton County.

The federal government began to strip the n-word from its topographic
maps in the early 1960s. But within the more obscure reaches of
cartographic bureaucracy, the n-word occasionally endures.

"You would expect to find almost all of them in the deep South, but
there were a surprising number of them in places like upstate New York
and Maine," said Mark Monmonier, a professor of geography at the
Maxwell School of Syracuse University and author of the 2006 book,
"From Squaw Tit to Whorehouse Meadow: How Maps Name, Claim and

Write to Jacob Gershman at jacob.gershman at

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