the n word: on its way out?

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 9 20:44:34 UTC 2007

Thurmond  said "nigger," straight up. I wasn't there, but I saw the
original MovieTone News (or whatever it was called) version that the
TV clip was excerpted from, not just the TV clip. Of course, what I
remember hearing back then is irrelevant, since he quite clearly says,
_on that clip shown on TV_, "nigger," as any random white Southerner
would have said, in those days. I found it to be truly astounding that
TV commentators and newspaper transcripts of what he said replaced
that obvious "nigger" with the pswaydo-euphemism, "nigra."

I find it truly astounding now that anyone here can speak of giving
one of the greatest racists in United States history "the benefit of
the doubt." Doubt?! What doubt?! How can anyone who knows anything at
all about the history of American racism even *dream* of giving Strom
Thurmond and his ilk any kind of benefiit? Is it really the case that
people here are devoid of any understanding of what Thurmond and the
Dixiecrats stood for?

Fitzpatrick, the late, great editorial cartoonist of the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, compared Thurmond, Bilbo, Talmadge, Eastland, Tillman,
etc., to no less a light than Hitler himself.

Well, maybe you had to have been there.


> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: the n word: on its way out?
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On 3/8/07, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> >
> > IIRC, George Wallace was a notable utterer of "Nigra."  He may have
> > switched to something else after he mellowed late in life.
> Don't know about Wallace, but Strom Thurmond used "Nigra" [nIgr@]
> during his 1948 presidential campaign. In his notorious speech to the
> "Dixiecrat" convention (resurrected during the Trent Lott brouhaha in
> 2002), Thurmond spoke of "the Nigra race" (some claim he said "the
> nigger race", though Thurmond wasn't known to use the word "nigger" in
> public).
> From the sound clip of Thurmond's speech, he's clearly not saying
> [nigroU]/[nIgroU], but it's difficult to tell whether he's saying
> [nIgr@] or [nIg@] because of the following [r] in "race":
> If we were to give Thurmond the benefit of the doubt, we might say
> that "Nigra race" came out as something close to [nIg@ reIs] because
> of dissimilation (cf. the loss of the first [r] for both rhotic and
> non-rhotic speakers in such words as "prerogative" or "surprise").
> But as Wilson and Jon suggest, this phonetic similarity was useful for
> speakers like Thurmond, since it allowed "Nigra" to be heard however
> the audience wanted to hear it, all the while giving the speaker
> plausible deniability.
> --Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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