"Negro with two g's"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Mar 10 02:29:51 UTC 2013

On Mar 9, 2013, at 2:13 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
> *PS It doesn't seem quite right to describe phrases like "the N-word" as euphemisms, though that usage seems to be pervasive (see, e.g., the Wikipedia entry for "nigger"). To say that "A" is a euphemism for "B" is to say that A denotes politely what B denotes rudely, but in this case the words are not co-extensive: "A" denotes "B" not B's.  Is there a name for this type of expression?
Well, increasingly it does seem to be used to denote B's, maybe because of the inevitable confusion of use and mention, maybe because of exigency/taboo avoidance:  "X called Y an/the N-word" seems to function exactly like any other god-fearing euphemism, although to be sure in other contexts "the N-word" is used to refer to the word, not its referent.  I guess the real shift from whatever-we-call-it to a true euphemism would be when X can actually hurl "You N-word" at Y as an epithet.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this transition has already been made.


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