McWhorter on "Negro" [Was: on "Negro English"]

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 18 21:44:03 UTC 2010

In my own limited experience, "coloreds," pl., was mostly associated with
white, blue-collar speakers (like Archie Bunker on "All in the Family,"
beginning ca1971).  As such speakers seem more likely to be crudely and
openly prejudiced, the noun became offensive before the adjective did. I
haven't heard it in a quarter century or more.

I don't think anybody uses "colored" as a sing. n. in the U.S. I certainly
can't recall hearing it.


On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 3:21 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro" [Was: on "Negro English"]
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> Since I was only born in the 60s and was not even in the country until
> the 80s, I can't say much about the use back then. But I do have a
> question. Is there some differentiation in use between "colored" and
> "coloreds"? In particular, I am wondering if using the aggregate term
> might have been offensive even when using the individual description was
> not.
>     VS-)
> On 1/18/2010 1:03 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> > I may have been more sensitive to nuance than most (look how I ended up),
> > and some of this sense may be the reuslt of autosuggestion, but I
>  believe
> > that many middle-class white people in NYC *may* have felt uneasy about
> > using "colored" in conversation with "Negroes," regardless of what
> Negroes
> > said among themselves and despite the existence of the National
> Association
> > for the Advancement of Colored People, the paradigm example of the term's
> > general innocuousness.
> >
> > Nonetheless, as Bill suggests, _colored_ was not an objectionable term
> _per
> > se_. For my grandparents (born in the 1880s), it was the usual word, used
> as
> > both adjective and noun.
> >
> > My impression, based, of course, only on edited publications, is that
> > _darky_, whatever its connotations, was historically more common in the
> > slave states and postbellum South than it was up North.
> >
> > I do recall that NYC papers up to about 1963-64 (after the Civil Rights
> > March) routinely identified black criminal suspects and crime victims as
> > "Negro" and perhaps "colored" (hazy here). The practice ended
> > suddenly, often with an editorial statement explaining that the paper had
> > never thought of it as offensive, but was now persuaded otherwise. The
> "N"
> > of "Negro" had been capitalized in print for a generation: ISTR that in
> _The
> > American Language_ Mencken (evidently a condescending
> > paternalist) implicitly scoffed at the idea that any change was needed.
> >
> > I believe the NYC papers would also identify the ethnicity of Asian
> > Americans in similar circumstances as "Chinese," "Japanese," "Korean,"
> > etc. If so, that endedt too, unless the ethnicity was clearly germane to
> > the events reported.
> >
> > Obviously a historian of journalism is needed to discuss such matters
> (and
> > I'm sure they have already). But these personal recollections (or what
> seem
> > to be recollections) may be of some interest to modern youth.
> > (Another antiquated phrase.)
> >
> > JL
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