Sociolinguistic consideration of the N- word

I’m a linguistics minor in college, and I’ve been kicking this around for a while now. I don’t think there exists such a disparity between the connotations of a word between two dialects of English as this little word. I am not Black, but i am mystified as to how this word came to be used as it is in AAVE (african-american vernacular English) Anyone who has payed attention to the media in the last 30 years will probably deduce how the word is used in AAVE. As near as I can tell, it is a synonym for “guy”, “fellow”, “chap”, etc. In the plural, it may even include non african-americans as referents, but how did it come to be used that way? Jews don’t say “kyke”, nor italians “dego”, nor irish “paddy” in the same manner, except perhaps as a sort of self-depcricating joke. No word is treated so differently depending on the race of the speaker. The nearest analogous word I can think of, and I could be totally wrong, is “polak”, as a slur for a Polish person, but the word “Polak” does, in fact, mean “Polish person” in Polish, except the more innocuous form preceded the slur.

Another topic related to political correctness that has fascinated me is the phenomenon called the euphemism treadmill. As a blind person, I can more “safely” comment on this then the former topic, but basically as a word used to refer to an unpopular or sensitive subject becomes “dirty” with use, new, nicer euphemistic terms are sought to replace it. Later, these words too become just as “dirty”, and yet another word is crafted to replace it: lather, rinse, repeat. The various terms for handicapped people come to mind. “differently able”, “special”, or referring to more specific handicaps, “visually impaired”, “sight impaired”. etc. Words for various minorities have the same effect, and are easier to trace because you are more likely to run into a chinese person, an italian, or a black person than a blind or deaf person, so the terms are used more.

The bottom line, I just call myself “Blind” because it has one syllable, and I don’t want people afraid to say certain words around me like “see” etc. That’s just silly. As for the N- word, I just had to get it off my chest, and the disparity between the two connotations of the word depending solely on race is frustrating. Again, I’m not Black, but if you’re offended by a word, don’t use it so copiously yourself, in my opinion. I would never use that term myself.

Let the flaming begin

I’m not an expert on this topic, but it seems to me to go something like this…when a group of oppressed people have to deal with slurs hurled at them all the time, they sometimes take those slur words and basically reclaim them to remove the sting. There are a lot of words I can think of that seem to have this sort of history.

The problem is, that when the people who originally used the words against this group as an insult, hear the members of the group using the words among themselves, they wrongfully (in my opinion), think it’s OK to begin using the words as insults again.

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