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

David A. Daniel dad at POKERWIZ.COM
Tue Jan 19 11:04:53 UTC 2010

Funny story. It is 1967/68. I am at USC and have a part-time job flipping
burgers in a local fast food joint. My boss was a black woman. So, one day
there is some confusion about one of the orders and the boss says to me,
"Who ordered this burger?" Now, it happens that it was a young black guy who
had ordered the burger. So, I say, "That guy," and sort of nod my head in
his direction. She says, "Which guy?" Now I must narrow down the
identifiers, and, given the times, I am in an absolute panic about how to
identify him, not knowing which term might or might not get me into trouble.
So I say, "That guy over there," and nod my head more vigorously. "What
guy?" she asks, starting to get irritated. "That guy over by the door."
"Damn! Which guy by the door." I raise my voice in frustration a bit and
say, "That guy there, in the blue shirt." "What?" she says, "The colored
guy?" (Ah ha!) "Yep," I say, oozing relief, "the colored guy." "Well, why
didn't you just say so?" Why, indeed?

I only got one rule: Never bet money that you don't have on a dog race with
your ex-girlfriend who happens to be a stripper.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010 11:13 PM
Subject: Re: McWhorter on "Negro" [Was: on "Negro English"]


One reason that "Negro" got discarded was the claim, publicized by
Carmichael and/or Brown but dating back to at least 1914,  that  "Nee-gro"
[often pronounced with contemptuous inflexion] is just a "polite form of
'nigger.'"  The source was a belief that the "polite form" was used
cynically as a code-word in the presence of the victims who, of course,
could not "reasonably" object even if they caught on.

The southern white pronunciation /nIgr@/, often deliberately equivocal,
didn't help.


On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 7:55 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:

> Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro" [Was: on "Negro English"]
> At 1/18/2010 12:20 PM, Bill Palmer wrote:
> >When I was growing up in Virginia in the 1950's, the few blacks I had
> >conversations with, routinely used "colored".
> Was this because there "Negro" sounded to much like "Nigger"?  So
> "colored" was the term of choice among the other possibilities?
> Joel
> >The local newspapers in all news stories involving blacks had the word
> >"negro" following the name.  This practice ended sometime in the 60's I
> >believe.
> >
> >My great aunt and uncle (natives of KY, born in late 1800's) routinely
> used
> >"darky", and my wife's aunt, native of SW Georgia, born around 1890
> >routinely used  the term even when in the presence of blacks.  Other than
> >those examples, Stephen Foster was the only person I ever heard use that
> >term.
> >
> >Bill Palmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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