the n word: on its way out?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Mar 8 15:07:59 UTC 2007

"Nigger" has been a term of endearmeent within the black community as
long as I've been alive. As for "nigra," this was (is?) the standard
pronunciatioon of "Negro" used in polite company by your better class
of white person since God knows when. It was especially popullar in
print at the beginning of the so-called "civil-rights era."

But don't worry about it, Jimbo. You still my nigger, if you *don't*
get no bigger. (Hip rhyme frrom 'Fiftiies Saint Louis. In real life,
I'd have draped my arm around your shoulders as I said it to you.)


On 3/8/07, Landau, James <James.Landau at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Landau, James" <James.Landau at NGC.COM>
> Subject:      Re: the n word: on its way out?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I dispute the word "inextricably".  Linguistic drift does strange things
> over time.  Note in the very next sentence "its popularity among those
> African Americans who put a positive spin on it as a term of solidarity
> or  endearment." If it does become the standard term of endearment among
> African Americans (unlikely but possible), it will inevitably lose its
> connotations of "racism and hate".
> Or consider the following scenario, which I concede is VERY unlikely:
> In some state there is a schism in the Democratic Party, a schism
> serious enough that in the next primary the ballot has to have two
> separate columns for what previously were simply "Democratic"
> candidates.  One faction will claim to be the "Regular Democrats", of
> course.  One of the main reasons for the schism is that a number of
> African American candidates got fed up with the policies of the Party
> leadership in that state, so these schismatics (which include a good
> number of whites and other non-blacks, of course) choose to call
> themselves the "N****r Democrats".  Just imagine the bumper stickers and
> billboards and newspaper headlines in that state going into the general
> election.  Now to makes things tighter, let's suppose a significant
> number of the "N****r" candidates win in the general election, but the
> Regular Democrats win a court order banning the other faction from using
> the name "Democrat".  Stories from Washington DC will have to refer to
> "Senator Smith (Nr, [state abbreviation])", which will be doubly
> interesting because Senator Smith is white.  Worse, in this one state
> "N****r" will no longer be an offensive term for an African American but
> rather a purely descriptive term for a member, any race, of a particular
> political party.
> More likely: I imagine a Republican (race unspecified) running in a
> district with a high percentage of African American voters who plasters
> the district with bumper stickers reading "ALL N****RS VOTE THE STRAIGHT
> Now for two non-hypothetical questions.
> 1) Why is the term "n****r" so offensive while the similar-sounding but
> now-long-forgotten term "Negro" was the proper choice for those who
> wished to be polite?  My guess is that since "Negro" was the original
> term, "n****r" originated as an illiteracy among white trash, and became
> stereotyped as an insult because white trash were more likely to be
> insulting to blacks than higher-class whites were.  If this be true,
> then we have the paradox that the n-word became so offensive due to
> black stereotyping of a particular class of whites!
> 2) In Gone With The Wind, a book which to the eternal misfortune of the
> United States failed to live up to the promise of its title, the n-word
> does not (if I remember correctly) appear, but instead there are
> frequent uses of the word "nigra".  I cannot recall ever having heard or
> seen "nigra" elsewhere, so I ask if it were a one-shot euphemism
> invented by either the author or an editor for this particular book?
>     - Jim Landau
>       Test Engineer
>       Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
>       8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
>       West Atlantic City NJ 08232 USA
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Dennis Baron [mailto:debaron at UIUC.EDU]
> Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2007 6:57 PM
> Subject: the n word: on its way out?
> 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 <snip>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
                                                      -Sam'l Clemens

Dope wil get you through times of no money better than money will get
you through times of no dope.
                                         -Free-Wheeling Franklin

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list