Date: Fri, 31 Oct 1997 19:13:02 EST


Subject: Re: PC Dictionaries?

In a message dated 10/28/97 7:12:31 AM, you wrote:

DARE has evidence, both written and oral, of the use of "nigger" to refer


"any person perceived as uncouth, immoral, or threatening, regardless of

skin color." It is used especially frequently by Black speakers. See sense


I find this particular issue one of the more interesting ones in the

discussion. We also have this sense in RHHDAS (sense 3, "Now esp. Black

E. a reprehensible person (of any race); lout; (used as a coarse term of

contempt)."), with written and oral citations.

However, one could make the claim that few or none of these examples

truly represent this sense in free use. Many of our examples, and

those in DARE, consist of black speakers simply denying that "nigger"

means 'a black person' and claiming that it means 'a reprehensible

person'. Even the examples using it in context--for instance, Chris

Rock's now famous "Black people vs. niggers" sketch ("There's a civil

war going on between black people and niggers....You can't go to the

movies because there's niggers shooting at the screen")--do not use

it in a race-neutral manner.

While I think this sense probably does exist, it is nowhere near as

common as it is claimed to be.

Jesse Sheidlower


In my ample experience playing "hoops" in all kinds of neighborhoods, in all

parts of America I, a very white Midwestern American, am frequently called

"nigger." It can either be a term of endearment or a slight put-down, as in

"c'mon, nigger, you know you can't hit that." Or sometimes as a more

vociferous put-down, as in, "shut up nigger, you don't know what you talkin'

about." Or sometimes as a playful joke amongst other black men, as in, "look

at that nigger, he's a real Billy Hoyle" (the Wood Harrelson character from

White Men Can't Jump). Of course, the use of nigger amongst blacks themselves

has both positive and negative connotations. Positive as a greeting-- "s'up

nigger?" or negative (as in the Chris Rock sketch and others).

In the examples I have listed above, nigger can definitely be applied to non-

black people (I've heard it applied to Asians, Latinos, etc.), but the roots

in its current usage invariably go back to black rap slang and thus to blacks

themselves. So, while its usage among white, Latino and Asian Yo Boys or

wiggers indicates the term may have transcended race, its roots remain very