The Other N-Words

By Mark Nichol

My recent post about terms for ethnic groups prompted a note from a site visitor proposing that I write about taboo words. I was not niggardly in my gratitude to the correspondent for his suggestion.

Did your eyes just pop out when you read the fourth word in that last sentence? Unlikely, because most DailyWritingTips.com visitors know that niggardly has nothing to do with a similar-sounding offensive term for black people.

But many people persist in thinking it does. In the late 1990s, an employee of the Washington, DC, mayor’s office resigned in the aftermath of his innocent use of the word, and a few years later, a schoolteacher came under fire when she included the term in a vocabulary lesson.

Another person has noted that he avoids using the word renege around black people, even though it has nothing to do with the derogatory word nigger, derived from Negro. Nor does niggling, but some people argue that such near homophones should be tossed from the word-hoard because somebody, somewhere might be offended.

Nitty-gritty, part of the idiomatic expression “get down to the nitty-gritty,” is a hoary word (oops — perhaps I shouldn’t have used that adjective), but it’s also evocative. Unfortunately, some people believe — erroneously — that it originally referred to the excretory debris left in a slave ship after the cargo had been removed. Evidently, nitty-gritty was in fact originally a synonym for an adjective that rhymes with its component words, but now it is merely synonymous to business in “get down to business.”

What about the original n-word? Did you flinch when I used it above? How dare I type the actual word! Well, it’s in the dictionary, for one thing, and I have a valid reason to use it in this dispassionate, scholarly context. (But I admit I’d hesitate to use it in front of one or more black people, even if I were reading this post aloud in a group setting.)

Should nigger be allowed in print or online? It’s absurd to dodge it in a neutral context such as a post about usage. How about in literature? Mark Twain used it in Huckleberry Finn to further identify the fugitive slave Jim. Doing so was proper in the historical context of that work, and no one can deny that Twain considered Jim one of his most admirable characters. And anyone who refrains from using it in a valid literary context — in a novel about young inner-city blacks who blithely bandy it about, for instance — is self-censoring.

The word is, admittedly, broadly unacceptable in written and spoken discourse. But should I be prohibited from using it in an essay about derogatory or allegedly derogatory language? Should it be stricken from reprints of Huckleberry Finn, and — excuse the expression — blacked out in all existing copies? Should a book about the ’hood omit it?

The word is used countless times every day all over the United States. Most writers and speakers are justified in using it because they are black, and they’re taking it back, or because it’s being used in a valid context. Others, racists who use it to denigrate an ethnic group, are also justified because they are exercising a constitutional right to free speech, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

Do we even have a right, if we’re not black, to decide whether to use it? It has eminently painful associations for black people, regardless of whether it has been used against them as a weapon. For that reason, I’m sensitive enough to use it only in this type of context. But I won’t refrain from using it as such, and I certainly won’t avoid writing or saying niggardly or niggling under any circumstances.

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42 Responses to “The Other N-Words”

  • Samie

    I have to say that, controversial as it is, I have to say that I agree. While it has horrible connotations, it makes me think of another example of taking back a word. The Slutwalk. My friend helped organize one in Spokane, WA, and while the word ‘slut’ doesn’t have the same offensiveness to the general public, if you ask someone being called a slut by a total stranger, it can be just as offensive.

    Saying that, I believe that striking any words that would have been or are actually used from any text for no other reason than not to offend someone demeans the text. If it is interfering the the integrity of what’s being written.

  • Beck

    Eminem uses the “n word” on a fairly regular basis and the last time I checked he was white… How does he get away with it?!

  • Shlomo

    Hi Mark:
    Thanks for your well-stated exposition of this topic.

    I think attempts to force literature from one era to conform to the norms of our day are very misguided.

    I believe that teaching Huckleberry Finn as written by Mark Twain gives a teacher many opportunities to discuss important social and personal issues.

    Shlomo

  • Andrea Baggott

    I just would like to let you know that Brazilians don’t speak Spanish and we don’t like to be considered Hispanic. The right way to refer to us is with the names Latino ou Latina. The word Hispanic brings a very distinct group of traditions, languages, and culture that are really different and distinct from what Brazilians have in Brazil. I know that this is actually how some governamental agencies name us , but this is really far from being right. You can ask to all Brazilians and I guarantee you that nobody consider themselves as Hispanic! Although Portuguese and Spanish are similar languages because they are derivated from Latin, they are very distinct languages with variations in grammar, pronounciation, rules, and words. I just thought that would be good to clarify this aspect, since so many Brazilians are tired to be confused with Hispanics.
    Thanks!

  • Dan

    I am so glad to see someone write about this subject. I hate the fact that we need to erase history because we have evolved as a species. We now know that things we did in the past were wrong, that’s growth and evolution. The word is part of history and part of everyday language.

    We are seeing the same thing happen with the word “retard”. People want it stricken from literature. Grow up people. What next? Shall we remove the words “blind” and “deaf”, and refer to Helen Keller as “auditory and visually challeneged “?

    Don’t rewrite history because you don’t like it, learn from it and change the future.

  • brendan stallard

    Mark,

    Your title reads, “The other N words,” and you go on and talk almost exclusively about the main one.

    I agree with your conclusions The piece is interesting. The title is misleading at best.

    brendan

  • Chuck Hustmyre

    Bravo for having the guts to stand up for our language. I doubt any other language on earth is under as much assault as English. From the gender-neutrality crowd that insists on such words as “fishers” and “flaggers” and “servers,” to the race baiters who demanded a public official resign for saying he crashed his car after hitting a patch of “black ice,” we who love our language and its plethora of options are subject to vicious attack every time we venture into the minefield that is our shrinking vocabulary.

    “We’re destroying words — scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone. It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” –George Orwell

  • Rev. Dr. M. Welhous

    As an African American, I could not have said it any better. We repeatedly here about how fortunate we are to live in a “free” country, however, the very freedoms we speak of are constantly being attacked by the unknowledgeable and overly sensitive. I could not have said it any better about the “other N words.”

  • paulc

    Why one would cringe at the usage of Nitty-Gritty is beyond me. Particularly repugnant is the censoring of classic literature such as Huck Finn to fit it into the more politically correct, delicate, refined tastes of the elite of today.

    Most disdainful is the necessity to be OF a particular race, class, gender, nationality to use ANY particular word. When will we realize that there is no word that cannot be used to profess indignity and hate? When will we realize also that actively censoring words like these or others heinous than the Index Librorum Prohibitorum ever was.

    Once again we repeat the mistakes of history and forget why “freedom of speech” was such an important part of our country’s foundation. That freedom did not come with a “non-hate only” or “race appropriate” proviso. to insure the good we must tolerate the bad.

  • Maeve

    I believe that Twain’s use of the word “nigger” in reference to Jim is not simply a reflection of the times in which the author lived, but a deliberate artistic choice to emphasize the fact that, although described by the epithet used by whites to dehumanize black people, Jim is the most decent adult in the story. The recent bowdlerized version of Huckleberry Finn, prepared by a university professor no less, underlines the fact that at least some American intellectuals still don’t “get” Twain.

    http://americanenglishdoctor.com/wordpress/huckleberry-finn-is-not-a-childrens-story

  • John White

    A new bumper sticker: “I use banned words.”

  • T. James

    Although I go out of my way to avoid offending anyone in ‘real’ life, I also have to agree with Mark Nichol, on the grounds of authenticity. So far I personally haven’t attempted to write either historical or contemporary fiction, but I have read both. The use of terminology and colloquialisms, whether period or regional, is an essential element in transporting the reader into the time and the place of the story.

    Also, to whitewash (this is how ridiculous this can get… do I self-edit that phrase?) over the reality of these events, however painful, by neutering the language associated with them seems wrong. It would leave unacknowledged the realities of the suffering of those who went through the these events, and dimimish the degree of courage shown by all those who overcame them. The ‘free’ use of language, even if superfically offensive, is surely essential to re-tell and celebrate the best aspects of human nature, whilst allowing us to collectively learn from our history by accurately recalling what we are capable of when we are at our worst as a species.

  • T. James

    Nice one! My first comment on a writing forum, as I attempt to interact with my peers in a meaningful way, and I ‘drop the ball’ with typos. May the Great Pen in the sky forgive me, I shall attempt to mend my ways.

  • Roberta B.

    It’s about time someone had the courage to address this topic – especially about homophones and other “sounds-like” word. That flap in DC a few years ago was ridiculous and showed just how the illiterate masses can drive, overpower, and beat down reasoned discourse – potentially conditions for very scary outcomes. Right now we have the “math illiterate” running the country which also is very scary.

  • thebluebird11

    I would say that although there are always shades of grey in life, it is pretty black-and-white to me that books should not be banned, in the same way that free speech should not be banned. Certainly, books that were written 100 or 500 years ago need not be re-written for today’s aesthetic, but if one feels one must “clean up” Twain (or anyone else) for eggshell-walking PC people, go ahead and do it, but call it something else, and leave the original as is. After all, we don’t re-write Shakespeare just because half his stuff is incomprehensible! On the contrary; we STUDY it.
    That being said, and given the fact that we do have a fabulously rich language, there might be some words that could be “less used,” if that many people will be upset by it and there are adequate substitutes. It never occurred to me that ‘niggardly’ and ‘niggling’ would ever be construed as offensive in the sense of being related (really??!) to ‘nigger.’ That’s because I know better. Still, what about parsimonious, stingy, penurious or miserly instead? How about fussy, picayune and pettifogging? How much difference is there, really, most of the time? Perhaps there are those who will say, in answer to this post, that if you start eliminating a word here or a word there, where will that lead? I would say that educating people is really the first step. But language is, as we know, a fluid medium, and word use changes (witness the word ‘gay’ as used 200 years ago versus how it is used now). Words come and go, and we hardly miss them as new words crop up to take their place or define new concepts (who even heard of ‘e-mail’ 50 years ago?) If one’s heart and mind are in the right place, that is more important. Maeve, you are so right! Nevertheless, I’ll pass on the Slutwalk, thanks.

  • Sue

    You wrote that black people “are taking it back.” How can anyone take a word back? Words are just that, words. They are part of the language and when used in the correct manner, anyone should be able to write or say this and any other misconstrued word.

    I am also one who does not like the word or use the word, but then I hear it all the time from the black kids. If this word is wrong for me to say, it should be equally wrong for those kids to use it. As a social worker, I came into contact with this on a daily basis. I think this double standard has helped keep racism alive. As well as other self-divided things that are not a part of this discussion.

    If the word niggardly is appropriate for the scene, and is the best word, I think no writer (no one), should be afraid to write it. Nor, should anyone be punished for its correct usage. Somethings are taken so personally when they are no where near a personal problem. If you do not like the word in the book, put the book back.

    Thank you for opening up this discussion. While it should not have, it did take some courage to do so. That is sad. But I thank you. This has been long overdue.

  • Kathryn

    I’m with thebluebird11 on this one. To quote from the OED website:

    “This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.”
    http://oxforddictionaries.com/page/93

    There are more than enough unique words so that we don’t have to worry about losing words from the language–and in all honesty, even the most literate among us probably don’t number more than 3 or 4% of those words in our reading vocabularies.

    This kind of discussion always reminds me of the debate when our County Bar Association amended its bylaws to replace the word “brotherhood” in the phrase “cherish the spirit of brotherhood” included among the organization’s purposes. Members were “outraged, OUTRAGED! I say by all this political correctness, which is just graying the language!” And so on and so forth. The word we substituted for “brotherhood”? “Collegiality.” So gray, yes?

    The thoughtful choice and use of words is important, and one should not lightly reject the best word for the job out of fear of offending somebody. But the spectre of language loss in this context is, to my mind, a strawman.

  • Roberta B.

    Maeve – The link in your comment above took me to “page not found.” However, I was able to discover your website, American English Doctor. Your statements under “About” very closely reflect my own about literacy and education. No wonder I enjoy reading your posts! One problem in education here is that the bureacracy and credentialing system exclude a large number of people that want to teach and probably would be good teachers. They prefer to take for K-12 only those people who start straight out of college as a teacher and not those who have real life experience and began their careers in another field. After a number of years in another career, I considered this path, but even after a Masters degree (in another subject, not just “education”), I was told I’d need to quit my day job and go full time into a credential program for more than a year. I declined, but settled for what they call an “emergency” teaching credential which allows substituting at one location for no more than 30 days at a time. They’re issued to provide a supply of substitute teachers in case of a shortage (such as a strike?). I’ve never used it. So, a large part of the literacy problem is the system we’re stuck with which I wish could be changed. It’s a pleasure meeting (more of) you. That’s a nice photo of you, too!

  • Maeve

    Roberta B.,
    Thanks for looking further. I think the link in my comment above doesn’t work because of the shortening. This is the bit that should go after AmericanEnglishDoctor.com: huckleberry-finn-is-not-a-childrens-story

    I can certainly sympathize with your efforts to become a teacher without jumping through the current certification hoops that are set up and controlled by schools of education.

    To my way of thinking, “education” is not a true discipline, not like history, French, biology, or the like. If I had my druthers, I’d shut down the schools of education altogether. I’d have each subject department offer pedagogy courses for teaching that particular subject. History of Education could be handled by the History department. Philosophy of Education by the philosophy department. Reading instruction by the English department.

  • Dominick

    No one should use the pejorative beginning with ‘n’ for any reason.

    It’s a bad word that encodes a sickeningly perverse perspective on people. It’s use is harmful — it injures, necessarily so, and, in fact, was coined for that very purpose.

    That certain lower-class blacks use it is a terrible tragedy. They have not, in fact, re appropriated the word, but, rather, use it to denigrate one another. The reason may not be from a white supremacy exactly, but that they would use the word only to speak ill of a black person does show us, obviously, that it’s meaning turns on a racial distinction.

    There’s no ‘context’ in which the word needs to be spelled out, or, even, written or thought of. That Twain was a great writer doesn’t then mean that he was a perfect man. His decision to use the word was an unfortunate immoral choice on his part. We are wrong to perpetuate his error. Nothing that we should want to ‘keep’ can be lost by eliminating the word in past publications.

    Some of you might want to imagine that it can be used without pulling in the negative meaning. You are mistaken, for the mind doesn’t work that way. When you ‘quote’ it in order to make some other point separate and apart from the message the word delivers (and, what, exactly, would that ‘other’ meaning be?), you are, actually, simply causing the mind of the reader/listener to think of black people as a white supremacist does.

    We should not quote those who urge us to hate irrationally. To do so only means that we advance their goals by publishing and thereby promoting their thinking. We don’t ‘owe’ such people, their hateful ideology, or the language choices they make to communicate such ideology anything at all.

    All of what I’ve written applies also to the pejoratives that are wrongly used as names for members of the other oppressed groups. I am completely ‘for’ censorship of all such language. I definitely would, if I had the power to do so, make the use of any such words a crime. I see there as being no loss re: ‘freedom of speech’ in that there is no loss for such hateful rhetoric to not be spoken, never mind broadcast; certainly such thoughts and the language choices made on account of do not advance public discourse in any way.

    That a member of any of the oppressed groups would foolishly or misguidedly choose to use any of the words in any way doesn’t then change what I’ve written. There never has occurred for the simple reason that it cannot occur since the original reference of such words always remains. Even in the case of so-called ‘humor’ or sarcasm, the supposed ‘new meaning’ being invoked can only be done so by virtue of the fact that the reader/listener does know of — and does think — the original meaning.

  • ApK

    I’m totally with Sue on this.

    I cannot see how some Black people can use the N word so casually, but then see it as a justifiable provocation to violence if said by someone of another race.
    If the idea of Blacks using the word is to “take it back” or “take away it’s power” then apparently it’s not working. If it’s still that offensive then they should stop using it.
    Otherwise it’s just fostering an intentional, and needless, racial division.

    That being said, while there have indeed been reported instances of ignorantly attacking someone for innocently using a vaguely similar word, there are also plenty of instances where people INTENTIONALLY uses similar words to insult, thinking it gives them some sort of plausible denyability. Sort of like child poking his fingers within microns of his siblings face saying “I’m not touching you!”

    ApK

  • Hannah

    There are a lot of good points raised in this article, although reading some of the comments is leaving me wondering how many of the commenters have actually experienced the power of derogatory slurs. I wholeheartedly agree that blanket-banning offensive terms and their homophones without regard for context is a poor idea, not simply from a linguist’s standpoint, but also because banning “niggardly” weakens the original point, which is that the n-word is an incredibly offensive term and shouldn’t be used lightly.

    However, a lot of the responses to this article are problematic. Views like “If this word is wrong for me to say, it should be equally wrong for those kids to use it” display an astounding ignorance of what the real issue is here: that words have power. As a white person, I have the privilege of not being affected by someone using the n-word. Consequently, I don’t have the right to decide when those words are appropriate for me to use and when it’s appropriate for others to use. It’s not a double standard, it’s called not being an asshole. The reason some African-Americans choose to use it isn’t a desire to create a privilege that white people don’t have, it’s that they are admitting that the word has power and that nothing is going to stop certain people from using it in a derogatory manner, and that the best way to stop it being such a powerful weapon is to use it themselves. It’s not about “getting away” with using it. And if you think that reclamation doesn’t make a difference, I’d suggest you take a closer look at the history of our derogatory slurs; “queer” has gone completely full-circle to the point of having almost no power at all and deriving most of its negativity from the speaker’s tone. What’s more fruitless is trying to ignore a word and claim that “words are just words”. Words aren’t just words; they’re what we make them.

    The problem, I think, is the failure to acknowledge why some words have power. “Slut” isn’t just offensive because it’s offensive, it’s offensive because it feeds into the misogynistic idea that it’s not okay for women to have a lot of sex: it’s offensive because it boils down to “You’re a woman who knows what she wants and is willing to go and get it.” It’s not acceptable to use words like “tranny” and “shemale” even in a joking context, because it marginalizes the people who are the butt of the joke. It doesn’t matter that you’re not actively trying to be oppressive, you are anyway. You have a privilege that these people don’t, which is being able to use these terms lightly. But you also have the same ability to not be an asshole that everyone in the world has, so consider thinking first about how a transwoman would feel about that “shemale” joke you were about to make.

  • Roberta B.

    Maeve – I agree w/you, again. I don’t see “education” as a discipline appropriate for a baccalaureate major.

  • Allena

    To the Brazilian writer above: Hispanic is a coined term- used solely for counting purposes in the 1970s- made by a white society. Many hispanics hate the word hispanic and prefer Latino/a too.

    As far as this goes: “You wrote that black people “are taking it back.” How can anyone take a word back? Words are just that, words.”

    Nuh unh, no way- words are power and are often taken and used to have power. Nigger was used as a word of dominion for one human over another, usually (though not always) for majority power over minorities. Black people using the word nigger is TEXTBOOK reclaimation. You can SAY all you want that words are just words, but that’s completely and totally erroneous-

    “language is never neutral”
    — Paulo Freire

  • Peter

    Should [“nigger”] be stricken from reprints of Huckleberry Finn, and — excuse the expression — blacked out in all existing copies?

    Well, in a way it would be more honest to do so…the word doesn’t have the same meaning now as it did then, and for a modern general reader (as opposed to those studying it in context) it would make sense to “translate” it rather than have it be misinterpreted.

  • Peter

    After all, we don’t re-write Shakespeare just because half his stuff is incomprehensible!

    If Shakespeare had written prose, we might; but there’s nothing in Shakespeare that is more offensive today than when it was written…what would offend people is in the incomprehensible half 🙂

  • Claire Kellerman

    Thank you for this valuable insight.

    I sent you a private comment because it was too long for a forum, but I will say that a blond, blue-eyed, (former prison inmate) white man recently said the “n” word in my presence.

    He was lost in many ways, he later admitted, so I offered,

    “Do not ever say that word in my presence again. When I hear you say that word, it says nothing about any other human being on earth, but it makes you seem this big.” (VERY very small, I indicated with my finger and thumb.)

    He listened, and he seemed genuinely open to that. Rather than putting him down, I just let him know my truth. Compassion goes a long way, but I still never want to hear that word used casually or even close to it — by anyone. We are all healing here.

  • Peter

    I definitely would, if I had the power to do so, make the use of any such words a crime.

    I would, if I could, make that a crime! Self-censorship is one thing, legal censorship if right up there with book-burning as one of the few crimes truly deserving of the death penalty!

  • thebluebird11

    @Peter: Definitely with you on that one. You see how good our legal system is at fighting REAL crime; can you imagine WORD POLICE? Oooh, I’m shakin’ in my boots…

    @Hannah: You made some good points, clearly put into words what I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Maybe you can comment on this: What is the deal with the news piece I saw on Yahoo the other day, “JEWISH singer Amy Winehouse dies.” I don’t remember news about WHITE singer Kurt Cobain, BLACK musician Jimi Hendrix, SHORT singer Janis Joplin, and so on. Aside from the fact that mentioning her religion was irrelevant (to her life, to her death, to her music, to her persona), why am I so annoyed?

  • ApK

    On the topic of education as a field of study, I disagree with Maeve and Robert. I think it must be a field of study.
    I DO agree with Maeve that there should be courses within, say, history on how to teach history, because it may be different from what is needed to teach, say, geometry.
    But SOMEONE needs to be able understand those differences and CREATE those pedagogy courses! Knowing a subject does not automatically make one able to effectively teach it.
    So, I think there should be a major for education, but I don’t think that major should be intended to, in itself, make someone ready to teach any particular subject. I have had some small amount of training in “education” and it has given me skills and knowledge that I have been able to apply to training radio operators in the military, teaching guitar at a community center, and instructing customers in the use of software.

    ApK

  • ApK

    Bluebird, regarding referring to “Jewish singer….” was there recently an article on this very blog on that topic…not including those adjectives when they were relevant? Or am I thinking of somewhere else?

  • ApK

    OK..was=wasn’t, were = weren’t.

    Curse the lack of an edit feature!

  • Daquan Wright

    I think it’s best used in historical context or to provide exploration into an era or “way of thinking.” The word in itself is never important, it’s the meaning that’s attached it.

    If you’re going to say it to someone to offend them, then you should be prepared to deal with the consequences.

  • thebluebird11

    @ApK: LOL I knew what you meant! (although I don’t know the answer to your question!)

    @Daquan: I am sure that Twain himself wasn’t using the word to denigrate the character. He was using it in the context of how those people spoke at that time. Except for the fact that it is currently an inflammatory word, the fact that he uses it is no different from the fact that he uses other colloquialisms and local dialect particular to that era and area. That is how they spoke. If someone today wrote a book about rap singers, and was quoting them as perhaps they spoke to or of each other, I’m sure that word would be in there several times. My theory is, if you don’t want to use a word, don’t use it. If you don’t want to see it, don’t read the book. If you don’t want to hear it, don’t see the movie. You can still keep your principles and hold your head up, even if the rest of the world is not. As Voltaire said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • Stephen Thorn

    @Hannah: I’m a white person too, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been the target of racial (and other) slurs. My heritage is Scotch-Irish and I’m a Christian, as well as a man, and so I qualify as a “cracker”, “honky”, “redneck”, “mick”, “Bible thumper”, “drunken Irishman”, “holy roller”, “intolerant”, and a bucket-ful of other epithets and prejudices (including that all men are clueless, stupid, insensitive, etc.). Add that I walk with a cane and I get “cripple”, “gimp”, “Chester” (from Dennis Weaver’s character in “Gunsmoke”), and “slowpoke.” Please don’t think that hatred, bigotry, prejudice, intolerance, and blatant ignorance only count when they’re aimed in one direction.

    That having been said, I might get angry or disgusted if those terms are used in a written work, but I would never advocate censoring such works. I’m all too well aware that the sword of censorship is double-edged — it may cut your enemy today, but tomorrow it may be aimed at you instead. To put it less poetically, if I demand you be censored today I may be the target of censorship tomorrow.

  • Crankyashley

    I’m not white and I was really torn about whether or not to use the word nigger (once) in my own writing when making a comparison to a made up term for non-humans in my setting.

    @thunderbirdblue11 The “Jewish Amy Winehouse” titles bothered me too. As does “Mr. Obama” as opposed to his proper title. I didn’t hear anyone calling Bush “mister”.

  • Craig W.

    Re Sue: “You wrote that black people “are taking it back.” How can anyone take a word back?”

    I believe that “taking it back” means that they are changing the meaning. This has happened before. The word “Yankee” comes from a derogatory word used by Dutch speakers in what is now New York to refer to the English colonists in New England. “Sooner” started as an insult directed at people who allegedly “jumped the gun” when the Oklahoma territory was opened for homesteading. By adopting the label, the negative aspects of the word were defeated. Now, we have the New York Yankees baseball club (a bit of irony there) and Oklahoma Sooners of the University of Oklahoma.

  • thebluebird11

    @Stephen Thorn: You’re certainly not alone; I would imagine that there is no one on this planet who could not be made the butt of some insult, slur, epithet, etc. Even someone who is “average” is just “your average Joe,” which (at least to me) has the connotation of being bland, boring, easily ignored. I’m a white Jewish female, so of course I’m a JAP to many people (altho I’m far from it). I’m also short, and in case I’m not aware of that fact, people constantly call it to my attention, as in, “Just how short ARE you?” There are just people in this world who are always looking to start trouble, and they don’t need to look far. If they can’t find fault with someone’s physical attributes, they will find fault with their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), which side of the tracks they come from, who their sex partners are, who their ancestors were, what talents they lack, how much money they have or don’t have, and what they do or don’t do with it, and so on. Again, as so many things in life do, it boils down to “live and let live.”
    I don’t see why humans have this crazy need to emphasize their differences, when in fact we have so much more in common that we can build on and enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out differences, as long as they are seen for what they are: variations on a theme. I have blue eyes, someone else has brown eyes. I have pink skin, someone else has brown skin. One is not better than the other; they are just different. If someday we had enough interbreeding so that all humans had the same color skin, there are people who would find other reasons to hate people!
    @CrankyAshley: When Bush was the prez, he was indeed called Mr. Bush on many occasions.

  • Alexandre

    When I first saw the “N-word” used in To Kill A Mockingbird, I cringed a little, but I believe that it was essential to the story. My stand on this issue is that as long as words like these are used in context and are more focused on telling the story rather than offending, then it is alright with me.

    By the way, thank you to the heavens Mark for your more-than-amazing job. I don’t know how you can manage updating this site even to this day. Please remember that you don’t go unnoticed.

    -A big fan

  • Mark Nichol

    Alexandra:

    Your stand is sensible. Thanks for your comments!

  • Shirley Hayes

    The use of the “N” word depends on who the user is and what their intentions are. I’ve heard Black people say affectionally, “That’s my nigga.” The use of ‘nigga or nigger among Blacks is usually said in private or among other Blacks because the understanding is there is nothing derogatory intended meanig “my buddy, my homee.” If said in the negatative, even if the person is Black, it could start a fight or a very heated argument. A White person saying the word, is always taken in the negative no matter the intent. Hey, that’s life.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Got to thinking about this topic again during my re-reading of Stephen King’s “The Green Mile,” and his use of terms such as “colored” and “negro” and even the dreaded “nigger.” Background: the book is set in Georgia, USA, during the 1930’s and at that time and place blacks were generally regarded as second-class and often the target of discrimination.

    The book actually uses the above-mentioned racial words to illustrate a more racially-kind mindset. The main character, Paul Edgecomb (white, guard at Cold Mountain penitentiary’s Death Row) is disturbed by another white character’s comments about “Georgia negros” being of no value, “coloreds” being potentially dangerous for no good reason, etc. By comparing Paul’s atttudes against the other character’s we are shown ‘a better path’ than racism and relegating other humans to a lower status based on their color. I never heard about any protests against King for using those antiquated and racist terms in his excellent novel, and perhaps that’s why: they were used as a subtle teaching tool as well as making the background of the novel come alive.

    Just a thought to stir up the hornets.

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