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Thread: How the N-Word Became Unsayable

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    Senior Member Verđandi's Avatar
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    How the N-Word Became Unsayable

    John McWhorter, New York Times, April 30, 2021

    In 1934, Allen Walker Read, an etymologist and lexicographer, laid out the history of the word that, then, had “the deepest stigma of any in the language.” In the entire article, in line with the strength of the taboo he was referring to, he never actually wrote the word itself. The obscenity to which he referred, “fuck,” though not used in polite company (or, typically, in this newspaper), is no longer verboten. These days, there are two other words that an American writer would treat as Mr. Read did. One is “cunt,” and the other is “nigger.” The latter, though, has become more than a slur. It has become taboo.

    “Nigger” began as a neutral descriptor, although it was quickly freighted with the casual contempt that Europeans had for African and, later, African-descended people. Its evolution from slur to unspeakable obscenity was part of a gradual prohibition on avowed racism and the slurring of groups.

    What a society considers profane reveals what it believes to be sacrosanct: The emerging taboo on slurs reveals the value our culture places — if not consistently — on respect for subgroups of people.

    For all of its potency, in terms of etymology, “nigger” is actually on the dull side, like “damn” and “hell.” It just goes back to Latin’s word for “black,” “niger,” which not surprisingly could refer to Africans, although Latin actually preferred other words like “aethiops” — a singular, not plural, word — which was borrowed from Greek, in which it meant (surprise again) “burn face.”

    English got the word more directly from Spaniards’ rendition of “niger,” “negro,” which they applied to Africans amid their “explorations.” “Nigger” seems more like Latin’s “niger” than Spanish’s “negro,” but that’s an accident; few English sailors and tradesmen were spending much time reading their Cicero. “Nigger” is how an Englishman less concerned than we often are today with making a stab at foreign words would say “negro.”

    “Nigger” first appeared in English writings in the 1500s. As it happens, the first reference involved “aethiops,” as it had come to refer to Ethiopia, or at least that term as applied sloppily to Africa. We heard of “The Nigers of Aethiop” in 1577, and that spelling was but one of many from then on. With spelling as yet unconventionalized, there were “neger,” “nigur,” “niger,” “nigor” and “nigre” — take your pick.

    Its use straddling the 19th and 20th centuries is especially interesting: While America was becoming recognizable as its modern self, its denizens said “nigger” as casually as today we do “boomer” or “soccer mom.”

    Even into the 1970s, the word’s usage in the media was different from today’s. “The Jeffersons,” a television sitcom portraying a Black family that moves from working-class Queens to affluence in a Manhattan apartment tower, was considered a brash, modern and even thoughtful statement at the time. So it was almost a defining element of a show like “The Jeffersons” that loudmouthed, streety George Jefferson would use “nigger” to refer to Black people with (and without) affection.

    Nor are only Black people shown using it; the writers air the “real” “nigger” as well. White men use it a few times on an episode in which George meets modern Klansmen. But white people aren’t limited to it only in very special episode cases like this. George calls his white neighbor Tom Willis “honky,” and Tom petulantly fires back, “How would you like it if I called you ‘nigger’?” Then, that read as perfectly OK (I saw it and remember); he was just talking about it, not using it. But today, for Tom to even mention the word at all would be considered beyond the pale — so to speak.

    The outright taboo status of “nigger” began only at the end of the 20th century; 2002 was about the last year that a mainstream publisher would allow a book to be titled “Nigger,” as Randall Kennedy’s was. As I write this, nearly 20 years later, the notion of a book like it with that title sounds like science fiction. In fact, only a year after that, when a medical school employee of the University of Virginia reportedly said, “I can’t believe in this day and age that there’s a sports team in our nation’s capital named the Redskins. That is as derogatory to Indians as having a team called Niggers would be to Blacks,” the head of the N.A.A.C.P., Julian Bond, suggested this person get mandatory sensitivity training, saying that his gut instinct was that the person deserved to simply be fired. The idea, by then, was that the word was unutterable, regardless of context. Today’s equivalent of that employee would not use the word that way.

    Rather, the modern American uses “the N-word.” This tradition settled in after the O.J. Simpson trial, in which it was famously revealed that Detective Mark Fuhrman had frequently used “nigger” in the past. Christopher Darden, a Black prosecutor, refused to utter the actual word, and with the high profile of the case and in his seeming to deliberately salute Mr. Read’s take, by designating “nigger” “the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language,” Mr. Darden in his way heralded a new era.

    That was in 1995, and in the fall of that year I did a radio interview on the word, in which the guests and I were free to use it when referring to it, with nary a bleep. That had been normal until then but would not be for much longer, such that the interview is now a period piece.

    It’s safe to say that the transition to “the N-word” wasn’t driven by the linguistic coarseness of a Los Angeles detective or something a prosecutor said one day during a monthslong trial. Rather, Mr. Darden’s reticence was a symptom of something already in the air by 1995: the larger shift in sensibility that rendered slurs, in general, the new profanity.

    This occurred as Generation X, born from about 1965 to 1980, came of age. These were the first Americans raised in post-civil-rights-era America. To Generation X, legalized segregation was a bygone barbarism in black-and-white photos and film clips. Also, Generation X grew up when overt racist attitudes came to be ridiculed and socially punished in general society. Racism continued to exist in endless manifestations. However, it became complicated — something to hide, to dissemble about and, among at least an enlightened cohort, something to check oneself for and call out in others, to a degree unknown in perhaps any society until then.

    For Americans of this postcountercultural cohort, the pox on matters of God and the body seemed quaint beyond discussion, while a pox on matters of slurring groups seemed urgent beyond discussion. The N-word euphemism was an organic outcome, as was an increasing consensus that “nigger” itself is forbidden not only in use as a slur but even when referred to. Our spontaneous sense is that profanity consists of the classic four-letter words, while slurs are something separate. However, anthropological reality is that today, slurs have become our profanity: repellent to our senses, rendering even words that sound like them suspicious and eliciting not only censure but also punishment.

    New York Times

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    Interesting to trace the stigma of nigger to the Simpson trial, as it relates to the attempt to exonerate the defendant and defame the prosecution by shaming the latter's motivations in law enforcement. We see that this hysteria was first made an issue in the King riots a few years before, when niggers cried 'racism' whilst beating to death a White trucker simply passing through Los Angeles for work. Buchanan then had made a kulturkampf speech addressing hooliganism facing America and the commitment of the Left in ennobling subhumans. We see that it's all gotten a lot worse since then, especially once the Clintons had a nigger follow them in office. Where folks were uninterested in the Democrat party platform when White Gore and Converso Yid Cohen/Kerry failed to be elected, they through Biden were able to impose their noble savagery onto us through blackface politics.

    I've always felt the word is just English slang of a latinate term, a non-rhotic version of niger or negro. Most of the Anglosphere is non-rhotic and in the States, this was and is the main pronunciation difference of the plantation gentry from the Abolitionists. I grew up speaking non-rhotically and this shared by family along the Atlantic coast, but it's weird to hear those like the Mafia pronounce English how we do when they're Latin, so they would naturally pronounce nigger as niger, just as Illegal aliens would say negro. In all of this, Mafia and Illegals are now far more likely to randomly say nigger than us Anglos who've been used to it, whilst we've now been expected to speak rhotically as the non-Anglos normally do with Italian and Spanish. If niggers want to reclaim the word for themselves to make millions of dollars making c-rap records and sue crackers for millions saying it, this is ridiculous because my folk spoke nigger to begin with and we should be the ones taking it back, according to our principle called freedom of speech.

    It shouldn't matter what emotion is felt in saying the word, since in and of itself, it's lack of neutrality has nothing to do with slavery. Yes, black and white may be used like darkness and light in terms of good and evil, like how there's a light at the end of a dark tunnel. If Whiteness is seen as unfair in its definition of goodness, this is an insane obsession about the connotations of pigmentation. The real issues relate to foreigners in our midst and melanin is hardly the main priority in what 'racists' don't want to deal with. As for terminology, I'm unsure why this specific name is considered a slur, or why it seems to be the universal one used. Queen Elizabeth called them Blackamoors and why not, as no different than Ethiopians? The name fits those being at the start of the Dark Continent, but Guinea works better as that's where they're actually from and since they're not of Afroasiatic descent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rodskarl Dubhgall View Post
    Interesting to trace the stigma of nigger to the Simpson trial, as it relates to the attempt to exonerate the defendant and defame the prosecution by shaming the latter's motivations in law enforcement. We see that this hysteria was first made an issue in the King riots a few years before, when niggers cried 'racism' whilst beating to death a White trucker simply passing through Los Angeles for work. Buchanan then had made a kulturkampf speech addressing hooliganism facing America and the commitment of the Left in ennobling subhumans. We see that it's all gotten a lot worse since then, especially once the Clintons had a nigger follow them in office. Where folks were uninterested in the Democrat party platform when White Gore and Converso Yid Cohen/Kerry failed to be elected, they through Biden were able to impose their noble savagery onto us through blackface politics.

    I've always felt the word is just English slang of a latinate term, a non-rhotic version of niger or negro. M.....
    The word itself is merely harmless... Or should Nigeria and Niger change their names to please the politically correct crowd?
    Nope this is about controlling the language. When they can decide what words you may not use, they ultimately control your action via establishing political morality. This is what cults do to control their members... But it also works in the broader political terrain. They did this also by loading the language with a number of newly coined words. "Racism" probably being the most famous there... And it creates a thought terminating clichee by demonising standing up for your tribe, nation or race.

    Loading the Language
    The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis. In [Chinese Communist] thought reform, for instance, the phrase "bourgeois mentality" is used to encompass and critically dismiss ordinarily troublesome concerns like the quest for individual expression, the exploration of alternative ideas, and the search for perspective and balance in political judgments. And in addition to their function as interpretive shortcuts, these cliches become what Richard Weaver has called "ultimate terms" : either "god terms," representative of ultimate good; or "devil terms," representative of ultimate evil. In [Chinese Communist] thought reform, "progress," "progressive," "liberation," "proletarian standpoints" and "the dialectic of history" fall into the former category; "capitalist," "imperialist," "exploiting classes," and "bourgeois" (mentality, liberalism, morality, superstition, greed) of course fall into the latter. Totalist language then, is repetitiously centered on all-encompassing jargon, prematurely abstract, highly categorical, relentlessly judging, and to anyone but its most devoted advocate, deadly dull: in Lionel Trilling's phrase, "the language of nonthought."
    https://culteducation.com/brainwashi...the%20Language
    There you have your buzzwords and catch phrases like "racism", "fascism", "White privilege" etc. They are designed to be thought-terminating cliches. Just as the unwords, e.g. "Nigger", "Muzzie" or "spic" are.... This also grows like a cancer later including terms like Negro or even all references to the privileged group's ethnicity or pointing out their deficiencies (crime, laziness, dishonesty, underachievement) in any way. It gets the character of a secular cult or religion that way. Which is why I'm a bit astonished that people don't realise this manipulation of their 'political morality', which are instruments to manipulate them.

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