Is the N-word worse than "the N-word"

This weekend’s column by Larry Meeks had a question by a white male who frequents karaoke bars. His concern was that he does songs which contain “the N-word”. His question to Larry was concerned whether it was ever ok for a white male to use “the N-word.” Larry’s response was that it is never ok for a white male to use the word, even in song. It is also wrong for black males or females to use the word.

I, as a white male, find the word offensive in what it implies, but we all know what “the N-word” is. It is not like we are shielding children from the word. So why is the “N-word” offensive, but not “the N-word”.
Why do we not say, “the B-word” here, but you will see bitch on occasion when the post has nothing to do with a female dog.

FTR, I thought about putting this in GQ, but I think it will end up here anyway.

SSG Schwartz

Another question is whether “nigga” is the same as “nigger”. What’s the karaoke guy supposed to sing, “N-words! (Cuz bein’ an n-word means you love n-words)*”?

*2Pac, “N.I.G.G.A.”, Loyal to the Game

Another question is whether “nigga” is the same as “nigger”


Your post suggests that you already have an opinion on the subject. Please, tell us what it is.

I"ll ante first. It’s the same word, but I’ll admit that the context may impact the meaning. For some insight as to how I think the word may be shaped by its context, you might want to read this (mine is post #31).

I think the OP is just a tad disingenuous when he asks why the word “bitch” might have an innocuous meaning (and he knows what it is) but other words, such as “nigger,” don’t seem to insulate their users from the opprobrium they deserve by a similar confusion as to the speaker’s intent. The short answer is, because usually only ignorant bigots or polemicists eager for a reaction get caught using that word. The long answer is exactly the same, but with the appendage, “so fuck you!”

I believe you may have misunderstood my OP. I may have used the wrong example, as I know that bitch may be an accurate and non-offensive term when referring to female dogs. I couldn’t think of a better example when I made the OP. What I am trying to get to is why the “N-word” is offensive and “the N-word” is not. We all know what “the N-word”, so why is it acceptable to say “the N-word”? We are not protecting anybody from the word if we all know what it is.

To add more to the OP, I don’t think that there should be songs that include racist language, but apparently people buy them. When people buy them, some will sing along. But when discussing the lyrics people step on tip toes and make sure they say “the N-word” instead of the “N-word.” I am trying to find out what makes one offensive and the other not.

SSG Schwartz

I re-read your post and my response. I think you are seeing this from the other side. I am not asking when or by whom is it appropriate to say the word “nigger” I am asking why saying “the N-word” doesn’t carry that same response.

SSG Schwartz

Well, don’t most (if not all) profanities also have a “Lite” version that’s acceptable in polite company? Heck, fark, freak, shoot, darn, etc.? I think saying “the N-word” instead of saying “nigger” is along the same lines, although it does come with a bit more baggage.

Also, I think saying “the N-word” instead of “nigger” separates the speaker from the bigots who use “nigger” as inflamatory hate-speech.

Picture this: you’re telling a coworker about the new guy, who’s racist. She asks how you know. Do you respond:

A) He kept using the N-word


B) He went on and on about how niggers are ruining the soil.

You’d probably err on the side of caution in case anyone overhears and say N-word, because you wouldn’t want them to think you have any racists beliefs yourself.

Ack! Scare quotes intermingling with quotation marks used for direct quotations makes it rather hard to trace out the use-mention distinction.

As I read it, “the N-Word” is a phrase describing a word. Think of it as a string literal. Example: “Oh my god, he used the N-Word”. Whereas the “N-Word” is a word. Think of it as a variable, representing “Nigger”.


To put it simply, he’s wrong. If he had said “rarely,” perhaps he would have had a case, but “never?” Piffle.

Personally, I hate “the N-word.” I realize that people who use the phrase are trying to be sensitive, but it makes them sound like they’re eight year olds. It’s like “f-bomb.”

RedRosesForMe, in your scenario, I would say, “He kept using racial slurs.”

I’ve been complaining about this for years. I don’t have any desire to write songs with “nigger” in them, or use the word on other white guys (or anybody, actually); I’m not bothered by the existence of “nigga” or the terrible double standard that people keep telling me is involved. But I do hate the use of ‘the N-word’ euphemism in the news, and the corresponding social pressure that encourages people to say ‘the N-word’ even when it’s clear there is no racist intent.

While I think it’s cute and funny. I sometimes I use it ironically in conversation as effortlessly as some use the actual n-word for comedic effect.

But seriously, I don’t really get the ire. “F-bomb” doesn’t irritate me either.

This pretty much nails it.

I’d also point out the “The N-word” is not a direct substitute for “nigger”. While it makes sense to say that Mr. Racist “used the N-word repeatedly,” it’s nonsense to say Mr. Racist was complaining about all the N-words moving into the neighborhood (you would instead say Mr. Racist was complaining about all the blacks moving into the neighborhood, and used the N-word to describe them).

In short, “The N-word” forces the user to talk about the term itself without allowing the term to be employed in a manner that allows to continue to be part of the living language. Whether this is an effective way to have the word “die out” is another debate, but it is certainly less prevalent today than it was, say, 30 years ago.

Is anybody else remembering Steve Carrel doing his Chris Rock routine from The Office?

I think as a rule of thumb it’s not a good idea for a white person to use nigga or nigger unless

1- directly quoting another person for relevant reasons
2- discussing whether it’s okay for a white person to say nigger or nigga
3- that’s about it

Anybody who has lived in America for more than a few months knows that the word has a history. It should not be used ever in reference to an individual, and actually it’s always in reference to an individual. Whether black artists should use the word is another topic that I think should be up to them, but there’s just not the same history when blacks use it against other blacks as there is when whites do.

I’m not queer for the word queer, but it’s been reclaimed so c’est la vie- it depends strictly on context. (When old people say “the queers next door” it’s a lot different than “queer eye for the straight guy”. Nothing beginning with nigg that doesn’t mean stingy has been sufficiently reclaimed yet to use it.

I react completely differently when a gay friend or a straight person who I know not to be homophobic tells me “Don’t fag out” if I do a “gay gasp” when seeing the Fox Theatre’s fall lineup. If a politician, conservative or liberal, were to say “Fag marriage is a big issue” I’d be furious- the word’s not meant for public statements or mixed company because whether it’s offensive requires personal familiarity with the user, and if you don’t know them then the default is that it’s meant to be offensive.

The short version of a very long true though ersatz-Faulknerian Alabama story: There was a 50-something black guy named Jimmy at the store where my father bought cow feed who you’d have thought was the illegitimate son of Stepin Fetchit and Prissy- “yassuh” and “no’m” and “sho nuff is” and laughing at redneck racist jokes, etc… One day my father got into a long conversation with him (as he did with everybody) and it turned out Jimmy was actually very intelligent, far better read than anybody at the feedstore (he’d only been to high school himself but he had kids in college), he was a decorated Korean War vet, and a man who’d left Alabama as a teenager and returned only when he was middle-aged and his parents needed help (he was able to live on his city of Philadelphia retirement and what the feed store paid him in cash). My father asked him about the difference in north and south and elsewhere, and was in Jimmy’s estimation the cliche true that “southerners love the individuals but hate the race, northerners love the race but hate the individuals”. Jimmy’s response “I would say it’s more true that in Alabama white folks will call ya ‘nigger’ but think Jimmy, while up north they’ll call ya Jimmy but think of you as ‘that nigger’.”

When my father made a comment about how it would seem the south was better based on that, Jimmy’s response, which I’ll always remember, was “I can see how someone who’s never been called nigger would think that. Both north and south can bite ass, but don’t undersell not being called nigger, and the fact it’s to your face doesn’t mean you’re not still being called a nigger. Back in slavery they could give you shit and make you say ‘thank ya suh’, but that ‘thank ya suh’ then was as genuine as the laughter when someone tells a nigger joke is today.”
I was 14 at the time but that stuck with me and was a sort of “wah-wahhhh” moment in how I saw that word. When I heard the line “the best fooling in the world is done in front of white folks” from PURLIE VICTORIOUS I thought of it.[ersatz Faulkner life-lesson out]

I think using the term “n word” in journalism is ridiculous and childish. “N word” could be appropriate for the situation presented where the racist cow-orker used the word nigger. When describing the situation to others, I’d likely use “n-word” as the simple use of the word ‘nigger’ inflames people.

I swear to God it’s really not that serious. Some people are more sensitive than others, in both directions as this thread proves. You can’t please everyone with one set of rules. In the end it’s just a word (or reference to a word).

Yeah, that’s what I figured it had to be. Still, it was fairly confusingly written. But since people now seem unafraid to write “ ‘nigger’ ” in reference to the word “nigger”, discussion is much clearer.

Liberal was correct in his assessment. I was trying to be both clear and unoffensive. Also, I was being kind of facetious by using “the N-word” and the n-word"

SSG Schwartz

“N-word” is not equivalent to the word “nigger”; it merely refers to it. It itself is not an offensive word, and in fact carries with it the notion of avoiding offense.

It also won’t evolve into an offensive word, since it can’t be replaced for “nigger” in actual usage without the speaker sounding like an idiot. “Hey, N-word! You and your N-word friends get your F-bomb-ing S-H-word together and get the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of here!” Yeah, right.