ADS-L Digest - 24 Jan 2009 to 25 Jan 2009 (#2009-26)

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 27 18:16:03 UTC 2009

I agree with Larry and Jesse, though, in my personal experience, i.e.,
I have no idea of what evidence the OED provides in support of sense
4, so I'm not going to present this as a general refutation of it, the
use of "nigger" by black speakers to refer to any random non-black
male in *any* reading is new to me, definitely a phenomenon of the
post-rap / hip-hop generation. *I* know this use primarily from The
Chappelle Show. E.g., there's a sketch in which Dave says to a waiter,
"Get this nigger a drink! [Git dis nigga a drank!]," wherein the
"nigger" is an Asian. In the adult (in the non-porn sense) animated
series, The Boondocks, all male characters of whatever race or
ethniicity are routinely referred to as "niggers." As Gin, a whigger,
explains, "When I say 'nigga,' I don' mean no racis' disrespec'. A
'nigga' is a stoopid muthafucka of *innih* race."

This is a kind of sick in-joke. (Aaron McGruder, the writer and artist
of the original comic strip and producer and senior writer of the
animated cartoon is black.) As long as I've been living, I've heard
un- or under-educated black people attempt to argue that "nigger"
applies to "stoopid muthafuckas" of any race - even though it would
never have occurred to any of these people themselves to refer to
anyone else except another black person as a "nigger" - and not
specifically to black Americans of whatever degree of intellectual
acumen. It's a kind of pitiful mirror-image of the argument that the
"Semitic" of "anti--Semitic" - or should that be anti-*Semetic*? -
refers to all peoples of Semitic / Semetic language and / or heritage
and not specifically to Jews.

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.
-Mark Twain

On Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 12:21 PM, Jesse Sheidlower <jester at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM>
> Subject:      Re: ADS-L Digest - 24 Jan 2009 to 25 Jan 2009 (#2009-26)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 12:07:43PM -0500, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> At 9:43 AM -0500 1/26/09, Amy West wrote:
>>> Do you think it's a broadening of what's identfied in MWC11 sense 3?
>>> : a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons  *it's time
>>> for somebody to lead all of America's niggers . . . all the people
>>> who feel left out of the political process - Ron Dellums*
>>> Or something else? Outgrowth of the term used non-offensively within
>>> the group?
>>> ---Amy West
>> I've always taken this use of "nigger" (meaning essentially 'guy' [+
>> black], if I'm not mistaken) to be parallel to the use of "yid" in
>> Yiddish, mostly known to me from Jewish jokes (in Yiddish) that begin
>> along the lines of "There was this yid" or "This yid bought a cow" or
>> whatever, the interpretation of which is not 'There was this Jew' but
>> 'There was this guy', with the 'Jewish' part presupposed or
>> backgrounded.
> OED does cover this fairly well, either in _nigger_ n. sense
> 1.c.  (used by blacks in neutral or favorable contexts
> (i.e. Larry's 'guy' [+ black])) or in sense 4 (a person,
> fellow; here used to refer to non-blacks (i.e. 'guy' [-
> black])). Both of these are much older than the 'socially
> disadvantaged' sense.
> Jesse Sheidlower
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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