the n word: on its way out?

Dennis Baron debaron at UIUC.EDU
Wed Mar 7 23:56:52 UTC 2007

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

The n-word: on its way out?

The New York City Council has called for a symbolic moratorium on the  
use of the “N” word, joining a growing movement to ban a word  
inextricably associated with racism and hate.  Angry over Michael  
Richards’ explosive use of the word, and disturbed by its popularity  
among those African Americans who put a positive spin on it as a term  
of solidarity or  endearment, black leaders like Jesse Jackson are  
also calling for a ban; Ebony and Jet magazines will drop the n-word  
from their pages; and at least one African American comedian has  
pulled it from his routines. ... This isn’t the first attempt to ban  
the n-word, which has become for everyone but rap artists or white  
supremacists the most offensive of our linguistic taboos. ...  
Speakers who don’t like such words have a number of options.  They  
can call for bans.  They can cajole and shame others into abandoning  
the taboo terms.  The comedian George Carlin once advocated using bad  
words over and over until their effect is blunted.   After all, the  
more we hear something, the less it means, ...Maybe the best way to  
disappear a word from the language is not to ban it or reverse its  
polarity, but to render it useless.    .... the American social  
profile is also changing in ways that are rendering traditional  
racial and ethnic categories less significant, and the gradual and  
inevitable blurring and mixing of who we are may ultimately have more  
of an impact on negative racial slurs than concerted efforts to ban  
or blunt them.

Read the whole post on the Web of Language.


Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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