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Derogatory Words -- NPR's Margot Adler reports that reference publisher Merriam Webster is reworking its definition of several derogatory words. It wants to make sure that dictionaries accurately reflect the offensive nature and history of the terms. Should the definition of the word nigger change?

The publisher of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is reconsidering its definition of the term "nigger"; this after the company was deluged by angry letters from thousands of African Americans.
Kathryn Williams, the curator of a museum in Flint Michigan started the letter writing campaign last fall to protest the definition which starts off as "a black person -- usually taken to be offensive." Subsequent definitions include "a member of any dark skinned race" and "a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons." The Merrian Webster dictionary is popular on college campuses.

The company admits to receiving 2,000 letters, prompting the review. However, they continue to defend their definition saying their practice has been to list what they conclude is the oldest definition of a word -- instead of the most commonly accepted definition -- first in their dictionary.

Civil rights groups sensing that the company has underestimated the breath of the outrage have called for a boycott of the dictionary if the definition is not changed or eliminated. One proposed primary entry is "a slang term used primarily as a derogatory and racially demeaning reference to a black person."

The company's address and phone number are shown:
Merriam-Webster Inc.
47 Federal Street
PO Box 281
Springfield, MA 01102
Phone: (413) 734-3134
FAX: (413) 731-5979

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I'm just trying to make a way out of no way, for my people" -Modejeska Monteith Simpkins

 

AFRICAN AMERICA IS AT WAR

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON AFRICAN AMERICA

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON AFRICAN AMERICANS

THERE IS A RACE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE IN AMERICA

AMERICA'S RACISTS HAVE INFILTRATED AMERICAN POLICE FORCES TO WAGE A RACE WAR AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE IN AMERICA

THE BLACK RACE IS AT WAR

FIRST WORLD WAR:  THE APPROXIMATELY 6,000 YEAR WORLD WAR ON AFRICA AND THE BLACK RACE

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sunnubian ...

This is actually a conflict that has been going on since 1998!!

I believe last year or the year before was when I first heard about it, when the NAACP and Tom Joyner and Tavis Smiley were also calling on a letter writing/fax campaign to the publishers to take that definition out.

If I am not mistaken, the only concession made was that M-W would start flagging certain words and marking them as "offensive" but would not agree to delete the definition from their dictionaries. I will try to find out more information to see if there has been any further success towards this endeavor!
quote:
Originally posted by EbonyRose:
sunnubian ...

This is actually a conflict that has been going on since 1998!!

I believe last year or the year before was when I first heard about it, when the NAACP and Tom Joyner and Tavis Smiley were also calling on a letter writing/fax campaign to the publishers to take that definition out.

If I am not mistaken, the only concession made was that M-W would start flagging certain words and marking them as "offensive" but would not agree to delete the definition from their dictionaries. I will try to find out more information to see if there has been any further success towards this endeavor!

I just went to their online dictionary. Here is what they have for "nigger":
Main Entry: nig·ger
Pronunciation: 'ni-g&r
Function: noun
Etymology: alteration of earlier neger, from Middle French negre, from Spanish or Portuguese negro, from negro black, from Latin niger
1 usually offensive, see usage paragraph below : a black person
2 usually offensive, see usage paragraph below : a member of any dark-skinned race
3 : a member of a socially disadvantaged class of persons
usage Nigger in senses 1 and 2 can be found in the works of such writers of the past as Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens, but it now ranks as perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English. Its use by and among blacks is not always intended or taken as offensive, but, except in sense 3, it is otherwise a word expressive of racial hatred and bigotry.

I also took the opportunity to look up some derogatory terms for white folks such as "honky", "ofay", "peckerwood", "cracker", and "redneck". The are characterized as usually, often, or sometimes disparaging.
However, Merriam-Webster, Inc. is not being sincere in there defense because they are basing in on the "oldest" meaning and they are citing the newest meanings of the word----when I was a preteen/teen, the word was listed in Webster (I think) as originally an English word meaning a very stingy person---and then it would go on to mention that ALSO is often used when referring to Blacks, etc.

Also, all of the negative racial slurs attributed to whites never are as insulting as the word nigger is to us or for anyone to be called, for example:

Honky: the large marble that young boys competed for in marble games---the big one--the head huncho . . .

Cracker: from what slaves called the overseer that slang the wip across their backs

Redneck: from farmer (original "dirt poor" farmers), when white people farm in the hot sun their necks turn red (the face being sheilded by the large hats and looking down onto what they are doing

I don't know what ofay or peckerwood means really, though I have heard peckerwood, doughboy, casper, patsy and more.
kresge ...

Eek Eek I cannot believe that definition!!!

I am, like, Eek Eek

And then sunnubian tells me but that wasn't always the definition!!! And I am, like .... DANG!!! Eek Confused Eek

I don't know ... it does address some important points that both you and sunnubian bring up, such as it being the worst word in the English language, and also it defining the word for both before and now, I guess. However, i'm not sure if I find it acceptable or accurate .... or even appropriate for that matter!

I'll have to figure out if I'm pissed off or not and get back to you!! LOL Big Grin
Since the subject is up,

There is one other theory as to why Black people in particular were designated this term, that had nothing to do with the derrogatory inference of the word:---to make a long story short:

The first (nearly the first, almost, whatever) white man to come to Niger, left and came back and so on . . . taking with him Blacks from Niger/the story of Black people that lived in a place call Niger . . . and in time all Africans would be referred to as Nigers(how all Africans may be assumed to be Nigerians by some today because its to only familar name of an African country to a lot of people that don't know any better. . . . and anyway, as time went on the true pronouceation and meaning was lost in translation(s).
quote:
Originally posted by sunnubian:
Since the subject is up,

There is one other theory as to why Black people in particular were designated this term, that had nothing to do with the derrogatory inference of the word:---to make a long story short:

The first (nearly the first, almost, whatever) white man to come to Niger, left and came back and so on . . . taking with him Blacks from Niger/the story of Black people that lived in a place call Niger . . . and in time all Africans would be referred to as Nigers(how all Africans may be assumed to be Nigerians by some today because its to only familar name of an African country to a lot of people that don't know any better. . . . and anyway, as time went on the true pronouceation and meaning was lost in translation(s).

I always assumed that it was because in classical Latin the word for black was 'niger.' This view at least seems consistent with the OED
(Oxford English Dictionary). It says the following with regard to the etymology of the word.

nigger, n. and a.
[Prob. an alteration of NEGER n., after classical Latin niger (see NIGER n.1); cf. earlier NIGRO n., NIGRITE n.1 Cf. post-classical Latin niger black person (1582 in a Spanish colonial source). Cf. also Swedish niger (1758), prob. a borrowing from English (although this may perh. represent a borrowing of NEGER n.).
Some early examples of the form niger (esp. in learned use) may perh. represent a direct reborrowing of classical Latin niger black (see NIGER n.1).
Forms in -gg- (see forms) are rare before the 19th cent., and the prevalence of a pronunciation with // in the first syllable is therefore hard to establish. However, it seems likely that the form niger (the preferred form up to the end of the 18th cent.) is intended to represent the same pronunciation (as sporadic later examples of this form clearly are).
The resurgence of the form nigga (plural often niggaz) and other forms without final -r in late 20th-cent. use (esp. in representations of urban African-American speech) is prob. due to its deliberate adoption by some speakers as a distinct word, associated with neutral or positive senses (esp. senses 1c, 4, 5, and 7); cf. quot. 2001 at sense 7. Cf. GANGSTA n. and a.
The word was initially used as a neutral term, and only began to acquire a derogatory connotation from the mid 18th cent. onwards (cf. sense 1b). In standard English usage the word NEGRO n. had already become the usual neutral term by the end of the 17th cent.
For coincidence of the word in some dialects with NIGGARD n. cf. forms and etymological note s.v.
With the phrase to work like a nigger (see sense 14) cf. French travailler comme un nègre (1811). The phrase nigger in the woodpile (see sense 15b) is said to derive from an incident in the U.S. in the time before the American Civil War when a group of escaped slaves who had been conveyed along the Underground Railroad to Pultneyville, New York State, with a view to crossing Lake Ontario into Canada were enabled to make the final stage from a warehouse in which they were hidden to a boat by means of woodpiles set up across the wharf through which a concealed passage had been constructed (see further N.Y. Folklore Q. (1958) 14 16-25).]
Hot dang! Kresge,

Now I have a headace, I need to take two tylenols and lay down for a minute. Smile

This is some very good ellaboration on the subject, which further proves that Merrium-Webster is full of it for their present definition to be what it is and only what it is today, and citing their reliance on the "oldest definition" of the word, when in fact they are ONLY citing the newest definition of the word. It is more like they are trying to keep the derogatory inference alive.
Can somebody help me out here? What exactly is offensive about the definitions? And what is inaccurate about them?

quote:
Civil rights groups sensing that the company has underestimated the breath of the outrage have called for a boycott of the dictionary if the definition is not changed or eliminated. One proposed primary entry is "a slang term used primarily as a derogatory and racially demeaning reference to a black person."


Now, the problem with the proposed definition above is the fact that a dictionary definition is supposed to say what the word MEANS, not what it IS. The above definition says what the word IS. The N-word IS "a slang term used primarily as a..." But it MEANS "a black person," usually in a derogatory sense. The entry next to a word in the dictionary is the DEFINITION, not the DESCRIPTION (unless the word has more of a function than a definition, like "the"). We need to understand that their definition is THE definition, and so there's nothing to be upset at M-W about.

OH! And guys, the "stingy person" descriptor word was not the n-word. Sunnubian, you're talking about the word "niggard" and "niggardly." These words are totally unrelated to the n-word. The n-word comes from Latin words for black; niggardly comes from the Old Norse for something completely different. They sound alike, but they have no relation.
Vox,

I know what I read in a dictionary---it is not something easlily forgotten.

And the problem with the definition in M-W is that it is not true.

Also, the n-word can be attributed to slang only to a certain extent, actually only the slang meaning of the n-word can be attibuted to slang.

Also, in the dictionary in which I read the definition to be what I stated in the post, it included the two words that you post as derivatives the the word nigger; like coward, cowardly, cowardice . . . for example . . .

At any rate we are not and have never been niggers and Merriam-Webster has not right to publish to the world that we are, and further, as I keep stating, the word is older than M-W new definition of the word and is older than any attributation of Africans for the meaning that webster-merriam is citing.

What they are doing is taking a racial slur and defining it as if it were a true definition of the race referring to. It is equivalent to Merriam-Webster publish this definition:

Woman:
A female human; a bitch, a cunt

or
Bitch:
A female dog; a woman

. . . a woman
Sunnubian, the dictionary is not saying that blacks are n's. It's saying that the word, when used, usually refers to a black person. Your analogy with "woman" is wrong, because the dictionary does not define "black" as ngr.

To define a word means to explain what is meant when the word is used. It is undeniable that most of the time, when the word is used, it is used to denote someone black. Therefore, it is accurate to define "nigger" as "a black person," especially when the definition includes a usage note explaining that the word is highly offensive.

BTW, the same dictionary includes a similar definition for the word "honky." It says:

usually disparaging : a white person

I'm sure you'd agree that they're not calling themselves honkies. While, as you say, "At any rate we are not and have never been niggers," the fact remains that the word does and always has been used to denote us. The dictionary is not meant to vouch for the accuracy or fairness of a term; it's meant to vouch for the fact that a term is used, whether rightly or wrongfully, fairly or not, to denote a particular thing.
Definition
nigger [Show phonetics]
noun [C] OFFENSIVE
a black person

(from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)



another example, however it does GO ON to say that is is an extremly derrogatory term when referring to Black people, etc.,

The problem is that a dictionary would outright define one of its definitions of the term, "a Black person" ----that should never be one of the definitions at all, only what the word orinally meant and then pointing out that it is also USED as an insult inference to Black people.
I see this is one of those bizarre, unfortunate causes that the organizers (and their followers) are simply off base on, and will never understand. This woman's movement began 6 years ago, and after all this time, apparently people still buy into it.

The dictionary should be objectively correct as to the denotative use of a word. It is objectively correct that the N-word's primary definition (and really, the ONLY one, to be honest) is, "a black person." That is the way the word is used, whether we like it or not, and it is the job of the dictionary to show that. This is probably one of those points where you either understand it or you don't.
It is objectively correct that the N-word's primary definition (and really, the ONLY one, to be honest) is, "a black person."
___________________________________
Since when and to whom?

I cannot believe that you believe that any more than the derogatory term "bitch" being objectively correct and the b-word's primary definition and really, the ONLY one, is, a woman.
Sunnubian, I usually respect your posts, but I think you're being ridiculous here. You know damn well that when the n-word is used, it's used to refer to a black person.

This is how I'll try to resolve it:

Provide me with an example of a complete sentence that contains the word "nigger," in which the word does NOT refer to a black person. And to keep it honest, instead of making one up yourself, get one from a google search, and post the link. And let the link be one of the first 30 or 40 sites that come up in the one-word search. If it doesn't mean black person, then one of the first sites to show up in your search should be non-racial in its usage.
I am admittedly being a smart ass here, but here goes! This is from an article in Fast Company magazine; an interview with Russell Simmons.

He is close to Minister Louis Farrakhan and actively defends the idea of reparations to African-Americans for slavery, yet is just as happy to break bread with Ronald Perelman or Donald Trump. ("He's my nigga," he says affectionately of The Donald. Responds Trump, after a pause: "I think that's a great compliment, and I think I will thank him for that.")


link


Oh yes, and . . .

The ex-Klansman showed his true colors when asked by Fox News Sunday morning talk show host Tony Snow about the state of race relations in America. Sen. Byrd warned: "There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time. I'm going to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much."


link

Sorry folks, you know I love to instigate! brosmile
quote:
Originally posted by Vox:
Sunnubian, I usually respect your posts, but I think you're being ridiculous here. You know damn well that when the n-word is used, it's used to refer to a black person.

This is how I'll try to resolve it:

Provide me with an example of a complete sentence that contains the word "nigger," in which the word does NOT refer to a black person. And to keep it honest, instead of making one up yourself, get one from a google search, and post the link. And let the link be one of the first 30 or 40 sites that come up in the one-word search. If it doesn't mean black person, then one of the first sites to show up in your search should be non-racial in its usage.

-_______________________________________

I think that you are missing my point: first the word nigger was in the white man's language before contact with African/before slavery in America, second the word does not MEAN "a Black person" ---it is only used to REFER to a Black person in a derrogatory manner----my point is that is does not mean "a Black person" so the dictionary's definition should reflect that truth---and only show where it is used to refer to a Black, etc., person in a derrogatory manner, and not a statement that it means a Black person, that that is what we are.

Let me put it this way, ARE YOU A NIGGER?---Well by Merriam-Webster's definition you are:
Nigger: a black person. (unless you are not black).

P.S.: no sarcasism intended.
MBM, thanks for the posts. Of course, there are exceptions TO a rule, and then there are exceptions that PROVE the rule. Your examples fall into the latter; the fact that The Don had to say that he took it as a compliment, shows you that he knows the word's usual context; Byrd was trying to damage-control a racial controversy involving his use of the n-word.

Sunnubian, the person missing the point, really, is you, not me. I may not think of myself as a nigger, but the fact is, the word can and has been used to describe me. Just a couple of years ago, some girl I said something to referred to me, to somebody she was on the cell phone with, as "just some nigger (nigga) tryin' to holla at her." The fact that she, like millions of others, use that word specifically to denote black people, demands that the dictionary show that definition. To change it is to screw with the whole purpose of the dictionary.

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