Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 14:35:37 -0500 From: Jesse T Sheidlower Subject: Re: What does the "n" word mean? (was PC dictionaries) > The reporter who interviewed me about the n word for the local TV station is black and said she was surprised to see all this discussion, since when she was growing up her working definition of the word was 'an uneducated person' and it had no racial connotation. She was surprised when I told her it was connected to Negro. I thought this was very interesting. Jesse, and others: is there any additional confirmation for such a use of the word in the African American community? I alluded to this in a previous message. The short answer is that it depends on how you interpret the evidence. Both DARE and HDAS have an entry for this sense with many citations. However, most of the citations consist of declarations from black people that _nigger_ has no racial sense but instead refers to reprehensible people of any race. A prominent early example of such a declaration: 1942 Z.N. Hurston _Dust Tracks_ 25: He called me Snidlits, explaining that Zora was a hell of a name...."Snidlits, don't be a nigger*," he would say...."Niggers lie and lie.".... *[footnote from Hurston:] The word "nigger" used in this sense does not mean race. It means a weak, contemptible person of any race. Most examples are similar; we've quoted from many letters written to the Random House dictionary department with such claims. There are a small number of examples where it could be interpreted in the sense claimed, but it's not entirely clear that these examples have no racial connotation--cf. the Chris Rock routine I quoted in my last message. (Oh, an ambiguous example that in HDAS we placed under the relatively neutral "fellow; person" sense that may actually belong in the "reprehensible person" sense: a1994 "Queen Latifah," in C. Major _Juba to Jive_ 320: Those niggers [sc. the U.S. government] don't know what the fuck they [sic] doing.) I would say that there is certainly a very strong belief in the African-American community that this is what the word really means, but whether it's actually used this way is doubtful. Jesse Sheidlower