The History of a word
Martin Coyle Greg Doyle Cultural Studies
The history of the word nigger in England or Britain is not very well documented however in America it is a linguistic hand grenade that is being hurled around a bit too much recently and it is in much debate at present. It is the worst and most offensive word in the English language. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings from Latin “niger” meaning black. In fact it is described as being the worst word used as a racial epithet or even the English language. The word can be used in so many different ways for this reason it has also been described as the most glorious word in the English language. It has been responsible for classic pieces of literature to be removed from schools and condemned as racial trash by some. The influence the word has had in the world of Hip-Hop and trying to reclaim it has been massive. Nigger did not start out as a derogatory term it has taken on a derogatory connotation over time and has unfortunately stuck like this for several hundred years thanks to the horrendous time of slavery. Why does nigger cause such powerful reactions? Is it more offensive than paki, chink, wop, kike, gook, spic and so on. “To be ignorant of its meaning and its effects is to make oneself vulnerable to all manner of perils, including the loss of a job, a reputation, a friend, even one’s life.” (Kennedy, 2002, pp. 3-4) He goes on to say later in the book “nigger is and has long been the most socially consequential racial insult.” (Kennedy, 2002, pp. 31-32) Nigger appeared in court opinions in America in 2001 4219 times compared to kike 84 times and honky 268 times, reported court opinions do not really mirror social life but it shows that people are more offended by nigger and want justice from people like the police. (Kennedy, 2002, pp. 23-33) The origin of the word was first documented in 1619 by John Rolfe when the first slave Dutch ship arrived in Jamestown Virginia with chained Africans. The Dutch would call black people “neyger” meaning person of colour, therefore starting out as a descriptive term and not an insult. The Americans picked this up and it became the official word for slaves in the English speaking world however pronounced slightly differently, “neyger, negro or nigger as it was pronounced came to connote something more than a descriptive colour and took on the meaning of “subhuman beast of burden.” In the minds of the enslavers, such a definition helps to justify the violent enforcement of chattel slavery by the white human beings.” (Counter, 1985, p. 38) The etymology of the word is from Latin meaning black. The Spanish and Portuguese slavers called their African slaves Negro again meaning black, and with the English speaking slavers using the two words neyger and Negro along came nigger through different pronunciations and in time a different meaning, an insult. Black men were seen as lazy, diseased, immoral and dangerous. Also in time a rumour was spread around the world that black men had a higher sex drive than whites and that they could satisfy women in the bedroom more than a white man, and to be very well hung. (Black, 1997)(page number not available) (Counter, 1985, p. 38) In modern times some of the American black society is trying to reclaim the word nigger some would say it is reclaimed already but there are a large number of the black community who disagree with this saying...
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