Date: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 11:20:20 EST


Subject: Re: ADS-L Digest - 27 Oct 1997 to 28 Oct 1997

Ron Rabin writes,

Someone also noted that African American use of nigger reclaimed it, as

did homosexual use of queer. But my sense is that nigger has been used

right along as a general reference term for black man (not black women?

not by black women?) by African Americans for as long as I've heard it

spoken. And you?

The someone was me, but I agree with the point: "nigger" has evidently been

used by African Americans (although I think there has been a conscious recent

reclamation effort too) in a way not quite parallelled by "queer" or other

recent reclamation efforts ("hag", "dyke", etc.).

What do we know, historically and a matter of sociolinguistic practice and

lore, about a group themselves using a term neutrally that is used to

label them from outside negatively? We do have the example of "Black

is beautiful" where a group asserts as positive that which is used

as a negative. What I find interesting is that nigger could remain

neutral for black speakers while it exists (and existed) in such a nasty

sense for whites.

One candidate for this status that I think doesn't really fit is the Yiddish

"yid", referring to a (Jewish) person. This word was around in Yiddish before

becoming a pejorative in German and English, I believe. Someone who knows the

history can correct me.