the n word: on its way out?

Seán Fitzpatrick grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET
Fri Mar 9 15:55:17 UTC 2007

I doubt that you can lay “nigger” on the solecism/dialect of Southern
economically challenged persons of pallor, nor its offensiveness to
stereotyping by their more melaninic class-mates.  Nigger was common in
British speech and is attested at least to the late 18C.  Furthermore, there
are cognates in Continental languages derived from Fr. neger and Latinate
“negro” (from  neger, negra, negrum).  I encountered the Dutch cognate on my
Wanderjahr back in 1969.  I stayed for a while with family friends near
Delft (a suburb of ‘s-Gravenhage).  Jan took me to see his office, which was
on a short, narrow lane.  Jan, who spoke fluent English and had lived in
America, told me that in the old days it had been a slave market and was
called “Nickersteeg” <’nik ker “shtaygk>.  With some relish—looking for my
American reaction--he translated it, in case I had missed it, as “Nigger
Alley”.  You can find it on Google maps, between Oude Delft and Koornmarkt


“Nigra” is a fairly good phonetic spelling of a variant Southern
pronunciation of negro, and is actually a better fit for your speculations
about “nigger”.  I have encountered it widely in speech, writing, and
cinema.  It is a natural pronunciation and probably further recommended
itself by sounding like nigger but being different enough for polite
conversation.  AHD goes farther:  Nigra (1944), on the other hand, reflects
a pronunciation in certain circles of Negro, but meant to suggest nigger,
and is thus deemed (according to a 1960 slang dictionary) "even more derog.
than 'nigger.'”.


Seán Fitzpatrick

It’s a Gnostic thing. You wouldn't understand.

-----Original Message-----
From: Landau, James [mailto:James.Landau at NGC.COM] 
Sent: Thursday, 08 March, 2007 09:49
Subject: Re: the n word: on its way out?



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 -

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