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Monday, March 5, 2012

The N-Word

Posted by Wm.™ Steven Humphrey on Mon, Mar 5, 2012 at 11:29 AM

So in this week's edition of Last Supper, our resident food critic/smartypants Chris Onstad wrote the following in reference to receiving a banh mi sandwich from a friend:

"What do I owe you?" I asked, picking up one of the cucumber-sized rolls and assessing its delicate deportment.

"Oh, don't worry about it."

This was odd, as he was niggardly in all things. I don't even think he let the barber keep his hair.

Here's a letter we received in response:

Hey Chris. I'm not particularly politically correct, but can you please stop using the word "niggardly" for the word "cheap"? It's really degrading. OK? thanks
Kim

Here's Chris' response to Kim's response:

Hi Kim,

Thanks for writing in with your concern. "Niggardly" is not degrading
to any particular race or culture, as it might homonymically sound due
to its similarity to an unfortunate ethnic slur of near-same spelling.
Here are its origins:

Origin:
1325—75; Middle English nyggard, equivalent to nig niggard (<
Scandinavian; compare dialectal Swedish nygg; akin to Old English
hnēaw stingy) + -ard

Best,
Chris Onstad

And here is Kim's response to Chris' response:

Chris,

I seem to be as from this article, "one who seeks justice but rejects the truth".

Growing up in all-white Oregon I learned the meaning of the word niggardly in grade school as stingy or miserly. I never looked up the origin of the word, nor was it explained in class, but assumed it was a racist word that described a negative characteristic of black people. Words like that were pretty common in the sixties. Now, even knowing the possible origin of the word I'm feeling this whole thing is a "white privilege" attitude.
An example of the way I'm experiencing the conundrum I'm feeling was if the word "fat" were considered offensive and someone used the word "fattish" and it was explained to me fattish it had it's origin 600 years ago in Norway to describe a large cod. Would I use this word in the company of large people even though it has no reference to them?
In one article I read, a reporter said, "he would not use the word among black people, especially among less-educated black people, out of politeness and to avoid causing someone to feel uncomfortable, regardless of any non-racial meanings he would intend." I think all black people appreciate his consideration, educated or not. Maybe the word should also not be used around ignorant white people as myself.
Supposedly, the origin of niggardly predates the word nigger by 500 years or so, and the word nigger, possibly was not a pejorative word until the 1900's. The English language continuously evolves. So considering the recently charged similarity can't you use another, more modern word?

Kim

Your response to Kim's response to Chris' response is welcome in the comments.

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