3 August 2011
Nigga Please… The Connotation and Denotation of the N-Word
The word “nigger” has several denotations and connotations. The different emotions and meanings attached are different for each individual. Dictionary.com defines nigger as “a person of any race or origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc. Slang: a black person” (“Nigger”). The website also states that “the term nigger is now probably the most offensive word in English” (“Nigger”). Nigger as a word has a history, a present and it surely has a future. In the past, the word was intended for one race of people as a negative connotation. At the present time, the word is being presented as a term of endearment by people of the black race and other races. No one knows where the word will lie in the future.
Research shows that the history of the word nigger differs upon whom you ask. “The etymology of nigger is often traced to the Latin niger, meaning black. The Latin niger became the noun Negro “black person” in English, and simply the color black in Spanish and Portuguese” (Pilgrim).
“The linguist Robin Lakoff speculates that nigger became a slur when users of the
term became aware that it was a mispronunciation of Negro and decided to
continue using the mispronunciation as a signal of contempt- much as individuals
sometimes choose to insult others by deliberately mispronouncing their names.
Since the early nineteenth century, then (and probably earlier), nigger has served
as a way of referring derogatorily, contemptuously, and often menacingly to
blacks” (Qtd. in Kennedy).
Black people where regularly called niggers during the days of slavery: it was accepted in the society during those days. No one knows precisely when or how niger turned derisively into nigger and attain a pejorative meaning, however by the end of the nineteenth century, nigger had already become a familiar and influential insult (Kennedy).
An American novelist, Mark Twain, was born 1835 before the Civil War. This was a time when the word nigger was used regularly to describe a black person, using the denotation of the word or a negative connotation. When Twain wrote naturally he used the word nigger in a when speaking about black people. In the novel “Huckleberry Finn” Twain uses the word nigger 219 times (Schneider). Today there are school districts in America that have banned the novel because of the obsessive use of the offensive word. A publishing company in Alabama has changed the novel, removing the word nigger and replacing it with slave (Schneider). This is a bold move considering the history of the novelist and the word nigger during that time period. Since nigger is a part of American history, should the word should not be removed from American culture. History should not be changed to conform to what Americans feel is acceptable today. One cannot go back in history and remove slavery and the derogatory statements and emotions that come along with the past:
“Perhaps some of those who want to deprive nigger of a place in contemporary
American culture mean something considerably more limited. Perhaps they mean
simply that they want the term confined to the past, they want people to know
what the term meant historically. They want in other words, for the N-word to be
limited to a place in the museum of language, while denying it viability as part of
our living and evolving speech” (Kennedy).
Present day the word nigger is used by individuals as a term of endearment. Currently some people insist upon distinguishing nigger, which they see as exclusively as an insult- from nigga, which they view as a term capable of signifying friendly salutation (Kennedy). American people are using the word to refer to one another as friends. When one says, “what’s up my nigga”; it translates to “how are you my friend”. It is not just black people, but people of all races are using the word nigger. Most white people...
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