Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 08:53:44 -0500

From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU

Subject: Re: What does the "n" word mean? (was PC dictionaries)


Would you expand on the meaning of 'sound nasty'?


On Thu, 30 Oct 1997, STEPHANIE LYNN KIRK wrote:

I don't understand how a white person can use the "N" word and it be

offensive and black people can use this word toward each other and it

not be offensive. Maybe someone can explain this phenomenon to me. I

personally do not use this word in any context, but this is something I

just don't understand.

People don't usually use slurs on themselves, so the offensive

connotations of the term are stripped when the targets of the term use it.

The terms "Christian" and "Quaker" both originated as slurs, but were

borrowed and defused by the target groups. If a white fellow uses the N

word, history indicates that he probably means it in a racist sense. If

a black fellow uses the N word, a racist meaning would be nearly


Ethnic slurs are not like most other expletives, which sound nasty only

because they sound nasty; ethnic slurs also have specific targets.

Tom Head


"The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible.

What the second duty is, no one has yet discovered."

-- Oscar Wilde

Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA


Office: (517)353-0740

Fax: (517)432-2736