Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 13:02:38 -0500
From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU
Subject: Re: What does the "n" word mean? (was PC dictionaries)
Thanks. I thought that's what you meant.
I disagree, by the way. I think many ethnic slurs have steadily been
gaining 'dirty word' status and constitute a new, fourth category of such
words in English - joining excreta, sex, and religion. The fact that there
are inoffensive ingroup uses does not make them a bit different from, for
example, the fact that an old high school buddy might greet me with
'Dennis, you ol' mother-fucker' (and he'd better damn well 'd'-delete in
'old' too). Far short of offensive, such use shows extreme solidarity,
just as ethnic slurs do in ingroup situations.
(Of course, maybe I just think all my ol' high school buddies are buddies
On Thu, 30 Oct 1997, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
Ethnic slurs are not like most other expletives, which sound nasty only
because they sound nasty; ethnic slurs also have specific targets.
Would you expand on the meaning of 'sound nasty'?
It's, ah, technical jargon. That's the ticket!
Seriously, the "F" word is offensive in almost any context. The word
itself has connotations that are not necessarily deragatory towards
specific individuals, but remain nontheless offensive.
Ethnic slurs, on the other hand, gain their offensiveness because they
have a target. To describe a similar phenomenon, look at Meredith
Brooks's song "Bitch". The chorus begins "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover...".
If a male vocalist recorded a song called "Bitch" beginning "She's a
bitch, she's a lover...", it would be insulting. Why? Because the male
vocalist falls outside of the group the slur insults, and the female
vocalist does not. In my opinion, the same principle applies to ethnic
tlh[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]netdoor.com
"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
preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]pilot.msu.edu