Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 12:54:01 -0500

From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU

Subject: Re: PC Dictionaries?

At 12:29 PM 10/28/97 -0500, you wrote:

From Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, p. 19a

(Explanatory Notes), Order of Senses: "The order of senses within an

entry is historical: the sense known to have been first used in

English is entered first."

From the definition of "nigger": "1: a black person -- usu. taken to

be offensive 2: a member of any dark-skinned race -- usu. taken to

be offensive 3: a member of a socially disadvantaged class of

persons it's time for somebody to lead all of American's ~s ... all

the people who feel left out of the political process -- Ron Dellums

_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 suspect the problem is that when a group of people has been historically

belittled, some of its members will sometimes come to believe that

belittling is taking place even when, from a more dispassionate perspective,

belittling is not taking place. Sure, racist ideas overt and subtle (of many

groups against many groups, actually) absolutely still exist. But the

lexicographers' argument on this list has been that the MW dictionary entry

in question is not a party to that.

Don't you get the impression that whoever wrote the NAACP press

release didn't actually look in the dictionary he or she was


Well, this is part of a whole array of modern-day folklore where an

accusation that racism is taking place in goverment or business or other

institutions resonates so much with people on an a priori level (see my

first para. just above) that it is accepted on the face of it, and repeated

till it is widely known and believed, without anyone feeling a need to check

into the actual fabric of the situation. There was a very big rumor a few

years ago that the old three-master ship (or whatever it is) on the Snapple

bottle was a picture of a slave ship. The small-type kosher K on the label

was then taken as a subtle Klan symbol. For that and maybe other reasons,

all the Snapple flavored ice-teas, which were *very* popular among all

groups of younger people in New York City at the time, lost tremendous

market share for several years. Snapple was eventually sold to a private

firm by the conglomerate that had just bought it maybe four years earlier.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]