the n word: on its way out?

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Thu Mar 8 21:40:50 UTC 2007

Oh, I see now!  Does that "vigour/niger/rigour/tiger" sequence of rhymes in the Burns poem represent Scottish-dialect pronunciations?  /I/ or /aI/ (or something else)?  That is, assuming that all four words are supposed to rhyme (according to the scheme of the rest of the poem), rather than just "vigour/rigour" and "niger/tiger."

As for the phonology of "negro" > "nigra": I've always suspected that the pronunciation of "negro" with an emphatic /i/ was a hyper-correct attempt to differentiate the speaker's utterance from "nigger," but I have no real basis for that supposition. For the /I/ manifested orthographically as "e" before /g/, we may compare "renege."  The terminal /o/ to a schwa (or whatever) is something Southerners, of course, quite regularly do with "o"-final words.


---- Original message ----
>Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2007 15:25:03 -0500
>From: Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM>
>Subject: Re: the n word: on its way out?
>On Thu, Mar 08, 2007 at 03:18:17PM -0500, Charles Doyle wrote:
>> OK, I'll ask: What does it mean to rhyme with "vigour,
>> rigour, tiger"??  Is the reference to Winnie the Poo's
>> (fake)feline companion?
>No, it just means that in the Burnes poem, the word "niger"
>rhymes with these other words. The note was attached to this
>specific quotation, not to the word in general.
>Jesse Sheidlower

The American Dialect Society -

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