Date: Fri, 31 Oct 1997 19:57:39 EST


Subject: Re: PC Dictionaries?

In a message dated 10/28/97 9:45:51 AM, you wrote:

On Tue, 28 Oct 1997, STEVE ALLEN NOLDEN wrote:

I am a Black man, not African-American, and the use of the word "Nigger"

or shall I say the definition of the word, in the Merriam dictionary

greatly offends me. Who gave them the right to define any one person or

race. Is the publisher of Merriam God. Nope.

Of course Merriam-Webster is not God: this is precisely the reason why it

cannot define a word in whatever way it pleases. God might change

language; a dictionary cannot. A dictionary records language; it has no

power to determine or change it.

So what gives him the

right to call me a "Nigger."

M-W is not "calling" anyone anything. It is truthfully recording the

(unfortunate) fact that some speakers of American English do in fact use

the term to refer to black people in a derogatory manner. Pretending

otherwise would be dishonest and would not change the fact that the usage


Peter McGraw

This brings up an interesting point. I was recently asked by an interviewer in

Portland, "should certain words be retired?" She was referring to offensive

uses of words like "babe." As in, "hey babe." Of course, I railed against such

a notion, since they reek of literal-minded, one-dimensional political

correctness. But perhaps at the root of Mr. Holden's and NAACP's protest is a

desire for just this--a retiring of the "n-word." Keep in mind--this sort of

thing is frequently done in other countries. There is an institute Paris,

which determines which foreign words can or cannot be used in advertisements,

etc. And in Germany, the outlawing of a whole slew of words associated with

the Third Reich. Is there a point, EVER, where the retiring of volatile words

could be deemed necessary for the greater public interest?

My answer at this juncture seems to be a flat out NO. One of the tests of a

democracy is its ability to contain disparaging and ugly uses of language.

But I am interested to hear if there are cogent counterarguments to this