LINGUIST List 4.308

Sun 25 Apr 1993

Disc: Racial terms

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  1. Michael Newman, Re: 4.288 FYI: Boston U., Racial terms

Message 1: Re: 4.288 FYI: Boston U., Racial terms

Date: Thu, 22 Apr 93 08:21:51 EDRe: 4.288 FYI: Boston U., Racial terms
From: Michael Newman <MNEHCCUNYVM.CUNY.EDU>
Subject: Re: 4.288 FYI: Boston U., Racial terms

It seems to me that an automatic response to words rather than meanings is
always unfortunate. It is literaly a reaction to the most superficial parts of
a message. It is ironic that in the particular case of 'nigger' that the long-
standing African-American usage of the term as more or less synonymous with
'guy' is spreading beyond that community. On the subways of NY, an excellent
place to do amateur sociolinguistics, I've heard it used by members of biracial
groups of teens, and once a pair of white kids (who might have been New
Yoricans, NYers of Puerto Rican origin). No one turned their head. On the
other hand, the use by a white teacher as an example, provoked a student riot
a couple of years back. A teacher friend suggests that what probably happened
was that some students just weren't paying attention, heard only the word, and
spead the message that Teacher X said "nigger" to the students, etc. etc. But
even here, the reaction was to a perceived use of the term and not to its sim-
ple use.
Consciously modeled on the African-American use 'nigger' is the by now fairly
settled use of dyke, and the still somewhat controversial use of 'queer.' My
brother, who's straight, uses 'queer' quite freely around me and his room;
both of us gay. Of course, we don't take offense, though my sociolinguistic
ear was certainly turned. I'm not sure if it because he's just decided it's the
term, because he thinks's it shows what a cool straight he is, or because it
avoids the cumbersome 'lesbian and gay.'
Michael Newman
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