Posted by: u3094935 | September 5, 2009

The N-Word and giving words power.


I caught this on tv the other day and thought you might be interested to see it. It is a debate on the significance of the word ‘Nigger’ and the meaning behind the word in society (primarily American society). It’s a Dr Phil episode.

Very complicated issue ! how do you stop a word that has grown so powerful? Similar words are used in Australia for Aboriginals and to be honest I am uncomfortable listing them, even though I do know of them.





  1. I’m reminded of a post in Language Log from linguist Geoff Pullum. He writes: “Mind how you go: it’s a loaded, dangerous weapon of a word […] if you’re at all in doubt, don’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. But if you think you know what you’re doing, by all means use it where and if you dare. I want you to, because there are things I need to know about you. Whether you refer to African Americans as niggers is relevant to whether you and I are ever going to have lunch together or be drinking buddies, for example. I don’t want to know you have been cowed by some ban or convention; I want to know how you think it is appropriate to talk. Knowing how Michael Richards used the word nigger is highly relevant to my decisions about whether I will ever put my money down to see his act in a comedy club. Useful information.Use the word as you think apt; it will reflect things about you very informatively, like a mirror on the wall. Ultimately your linguistic choices are up to you. That’s exactly as it should be.”
    Read it all here:

  2. [MA15+: the following text contains course language, and is recommended for a mature audience]

    I wouldn’t even know where to start here. You could probably write an entire book on the word and the issue still might not be adequately explained.

    One thing that I do definately believe is that it isn’t helpful to talk about the issue while completely dodging *what* word we’re talking about and self-censoring.

    I don’t believe that I can really do the discussion justice, because I come from a perspective where nigger is only used in a referential way to U.S. popular culture.

    I’m not so sure I would compare it to a word like boong though. I think they can both hold intense negative feelings, but I cannot think of a single circumstance where boong could possibly, questionably, remotely be used in a positive way like “Hey, that bloke’s a funny-arse boong”. It also no longer has real currency in popular culture, is not used in/supported by popular music (that I’ve heard…) and I reckon for the younger generations (say, under 35?) it is fading from their vocabulary.

    I thought the best advice came right at the end of part 4 of the videos, where the woman who was on stage said that you shouldn’t use the word if you wouldn’t have felt comfortable using it in front of a woman she identified in the audience, who looked like a sweet old grandmother architype character.

    Another thing I thought about was rhoticity. For those who don’t know or rememba’, African American English/whatever you want to call it, is a non-rhotic dialect of English. This may contribute to two distinct styles of word usage, ‘nigga’ vs. ‘nigger’, which may be distinguishable by the average person from North America as a whole.

    In the end, I think it all just comes down to mutual respect for the audiences you are addressing. If you think they wouldn’t appreciate usage of certain terms, no matter their background, just don’t bloody well use them!! I know better than to use cunt in the company of women, I’m not going to use Indochina jokingly to a Vietnamese mate of mine and I’m not going to use nigger or boong as an identifier, even ironically, because I believe they are always inappropriate.

    On the flip side, there needs to be appropriate responses to this word usage. I should express my disdain for the terms, which I do. A word like nigger doesn’t have all the social and cultural history in Canberra, so an appropriate response can be minimal, a quick flash of anger. One of my mates uses boong, and you better believe I’m gonna lay that c*nt the f*ck out!

    Even after all I’ve just written, I’m not even sure I’ve really contributed meaningfully to the discussion.

    Hopefully, time will heal all wounds… Then we won’t have to deal with it! 😛

    • Nice post ! If the word ‘boong’ is dying out in Australian use, is it dying with a decline in racism toward Aboriginals. My grandparents (Aussie, mum’s side) used it a fair bit, along with Dago (my Dad is Italian and this never went down well). Wasn’t there some fuss with a particular brand of cheese in Australia some time back ?? was it Coon cheese ? I’ll have a look…. here we go.. [,,24407038-3102,00.html] it also references the Nigger Brown stand in Toowoomba.

      Perhaps the word nigger will die out with racism in America, as I don’t think it is a well used word in the English language as far as it’s semantic relation to ‘black’ goes.

      I can’t help thinking of Harry Potter and the ‘he who can’t be named’ – Voldemort :o) with Harry refusing to NOT use the name in full – and being the one who was able to face him. aahhh now there’s something in that for all of us !

      Cheerio, Jo

  3. Here is an article about removing an offensive sign from a footy stadium in Toowoomba.

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