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:
47 Federal Street
PO Box 281
Springfield, MA 01102
Phone: (413) 734-3134
FAX: (413) 731-5979