1885 illustration from Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, captioned "Misto' Bradish's nigger"

Nigger is a noun in the English language, most notable for its usage in a pejorative context to refer to black people (generally people of Sub-Saharan African descent), and also as an informal slang term, among other contexts. It is a common ethnic slur. The word originated as a term used in a neutral context to refer to black people, as a variation of the Spanish/Portuguese noun negro, a descendant of the Latin adjective niger, meaning the color "black".[1][2][3][4]


Etymology and history

The variants neger and negar, derive from the Spanish and Portuguese word negro (black), and from the pejorative French nègre (nigger). Etymologically, negro, noir, nègre, and nigger ultimately derive from nigrum, the stem of the Latin niger (black) (pronounced [ˈniɡer] which, in every other grammatical case, grammatical gender, and grammatical number besides nominative masculine singular, is nigr-, the r is trilled).

In the Colonial America of 1619, John Rolfe used negars in describing the African slaves shipped to the Virginia colony.[5] Later American English spellings, neger and neggar, prevailed in a northern colony, New York under the Dutch, and in metropolitan Philadelphia’s Moravian and Pennsylvania Dutch communities; the African Burial Ground in New York City originally was known by the Dutch name "Begraafplaats van de Neger" (Cemetery of the Negro); an early US occurrence of neger in Rhode Island, dates from 1625.[6] An alternative word for African Americans was the English word, "Black", used by Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Among Anglophones, the word nigger was not always considered derogatory, because it then denoted “black-skinned”, a common Anglophone usage.[7] Nineteenth-century English (language) literature features usages of nigger without racist connotation, e.g. the Joseph Conrad novella The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897). Moreover, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain created characters who used the word as contemporary usage. Twain, in the autobiographic book Life on the Mississippi (1883), used the term within quotes, indicating reported usage, but used the term "negro" when speaking in his own narrative persona.[8]

In the United Kingdom and the Anglophone world, nigger denoted the dark-skinned (non-white) African and Asian (i.e., from India or nearby) peoples colonized into the British Empire, and "dark-skinned foreigners" — in general.

By the 1900s, nigger had become a pejorative word. In its stead, the term colored became the mainstream alternative to negro and its derived terms. Abolitionists in Boston, Massachusetts, posted warnings to the Colored People of Boston and vicinity. Writing in 1904, journalist Clifton Johnson documented the "opprobrious" character of the word nigger, emphasizing that it was chosen in the South precisely because it was more offensive than "colored."[9] Established as mainstream American English usage, the word colored features in the organizational title of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, reflecting the members’ racial identity preference at the 1909 foundation. In the Southern United States, the local American English dialect changes the pronunciation of negro to nigra. Linguistically, in developing American English, in the early editions of A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806), lexicographer Noah Webster suggested the neger new spelling in place of negro.[10]

By the late 1960s, the social progress achieved by group in the United States such as the Black Civil Rights Movement (1955–68), had legitimized the racial identity word black as mainstream American English usage to denote black-skinned Americans of African ancestry. In the 90's, "Black" was later displaced in favor of the compound blanket term African American. Moreover, as a compound word, African American resembles the vogue word Afro-American, an early-1970s popular usage. Currently, some black Americans continue to use the word nigger, often spelled as nigga and niggah, without irony, to either neutral effect or as a sign of solidarity.[11]



In the United Kingdom and the Anglophone world, nigger denoted the dark-skinned (non-white) African and Asian (i.e., from India or nearby) peoples colonized into the British Empire, and "dark-skinned foreigners" — in general.

In A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), H. W. Fowler states that applying the word nigger to "others than full or partial negroes" is "felt as an insult by the person described, & betrays in the speaker, if not deliberate insolence, at least a very arrogant inhumanity"; but the second edition (1965) states: "N. has been described as 'the term that carries with it all the obloquy and contempt and rejection which whites have inflicted on blacks.' ".

Victorian writer Rudyard Kipling used it in 'How the Leopard Got His Spots' and 'A Counting-Out Song' to illustrate the usage of the day. Likewise, P. G. Wodehouse used the phrase “Nigger minstrels” in Thank You, Jeeves (1934), the first Jeeves–Bertie novel, in admiration of their artistry and musical tradition.

As recently as the 1950s, it may have been acceptable British usage to say niggers when referring to black people, notable in mainstream usages such as Nigger Boy–brand[citation needed] candy cigarettes, and the color nigger brown or simply nigger (dark brown); [12] however, by the 1970s the term was generally recognized as racist, offensive and potentially illegal along with the variants "nig-nog" and "golliwog". As recently as 2007, the term nigger brown reappeared — in the model label of a Chinese-made sofa, presumably regional Chinese usage of an out-dated form of English.[13] Agatha Christie's book Ten Little Niggers was first published in London in 1939 and continued to appear under that title until the early 1980s, when it became And Then There Were None.[14][15]

North American

Cultural: Addressing the use of nigger by black people, Cornel West said, “There’s a certain rhythmic seduction to the word. If you speak in a sentence, and you have to say cat, companion, or friend, as opposed to nigger, then the rhythmic presentation is off. That rhythmic language is a form of historical memory for black people... When Richard Pryor came back from Africa, and decided to stop using the word onstage, he would sometimes start to slip up, because he was so used to speaking that way. It was the right word at the moment to keep the rhythm together in his sentence making.”[16] Contemporarily, the implied racism of the word nigger has rendered its usages social taboo. In the US, magazines and newspapers often do not use it, instead printing “family-friendly” censored versions, usually “n*gg*r”, “n**ger”, “n——”, and “the N-word”; however, historians and social activists, such as Dick Gregory, criticize the euphemisms and their usage as intellectually dishonest, because using the euphemism “the N-word” instead of nigger robs younger generations of Americans of the full history of Black people in America.

Political: Louisiana Governor Earl Long used nigger in advocating full voting rights for Black Americans; in that time, like colored and negro, it was mainstream usage in the American South.[citation needed] In 1948, the Washington Post newspaper’s coverage of the presidential campaign of the segregationist politician Strom Thurmond, employed the periphrasis “the less-refined word for black people”.[citation needed] In explaining his refusal to be conscripted to fight the Vietnam War (1965–75), professional boxer Muhammed Ali said, “No Vietcong ever called me nigger”;[17] later, his modified answer was the title No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger (1968) of a documentary about the front-line lot of the US Army Black soldier in combat in Vietnam.[18] An Ali biographer reports that, when interviewed by Robert Lipsyte in 1966, the boxer actually said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”.[19] The word can be invoked politically for effect. When Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick came under intense scrutiny for his personal conduct in 2008, he deviated from an address to city council, saying, "In the past 30 days, I've been called a nigger more than any time in my entire life." Opponents accused him of "playing the Race Card" to save his political life.[20]

On February 28, 2007, the New York City Council symbolically banned, with a formal resolution, the use of the word nigger; however, there is no penalty for using it. The New York City resolution also requests excluding from Grammy Award consideration every song whose lyrics contain the word nigger, however Ron Roecker, vice president of communication for the Recording Academy doubts that it will have any effect on actual nominations.[21][22]

Sport: In the first half of the twentieth century, before Major League Baseball was racially integrated, dark-skinned and dark-complexion players were nicknamed Nig;[23][24] examples are: Johnny Beazley (1941–49), Joe Berry (1921–22), Bobby Bragan (1940–48), Nig Clarke (1905–20), Nig Cuppy (1892–1901), Nig Fuller (1902), Johnny Grabowski (1923–31), Nig Lipscomb (1937), Charlie Niebergall (1921–24), Nig Perrine (1907), and Frank Smith (1904–15). The 1930s movie The Bowery with George Raft and Wallace Beery includes a NYC sports-bar named “Nigger Joe’s”.

Denotational extension

The denotations of nigger also comprehend non-white and racially disadvantaged people; the US politician Ron Dellums said, “... it's time for somebody to lead all of America’s niggers”.[25] Jerry Farber's 1967 protest, The Student as Nigger invoked the word as a metaphor for the victims of an authoritarian society. In 1969, in the UK, in the course of being interviewed by a Nova magazine reporter, artist Yoko Ono said, “... woman is the nigger of the world”; three years later, her husband, John Lennon, published the song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” (1972) — about the virtually universal exploitation of woman — proved socially and politically controversial to US sensibilities. In 1978, singer Patti Smith used the word in “Rock N Roll Nigger”. In 1979, singer Elvis Costello used nigger in “Oliver's Army”, a state-of-the-world-today song which referred to people being shot dead trying to circumvent 'Checkpoint Charlie' at the Berlin Wall to escape into West Germany. Later, the producers of the British talent show Stars in Their Eyes forced a contestant to censor one of its lines, changing “... all it takes is one itchy trigger — One more widow, one less white nigger” to the euphemistic “... one less white figure”. Moreover, in his autobiography, White Niggers of America: The Precocious Autobiography of a Quebec “Terrorist” (1968), Pierre Vallières, a Front de libération du Québec leader refers to the oppression of the Québécois people in North America.

In his memoir, All Souls, Michael Patrick MacDonald describes how many white residents of the Old Colony housing project in South Boston used this meaning to degrade the people considered to be of lower status, whether white or black.[26]

Of course, no one considered himself a nigger. It was always something you called someone who could be considered anything less than you. I soon found out there were a few black families living in Old Colony. They'd lived there for years and everyone said that they were okay, that they weren't niggers but just black. It felt good to all of us to not be as bad as the hopeless people in D Street or, God forbid, the ones in Columbia Point, who were both black and niggers. But now I was jealous of the kids in Old Harbor Project down the road, which seemed like a step up from Old Colony...

Other languages

The pejorative use of the word nigger is typical for the English language and more specifically for the North American culture. Many other languages have words that sound the same as nigger (are homophonic), but do not necessarily have the same meaning, while on the other hand having ethnic slurs dissimilar to 'nigger' but carrying the same meaning. This can cause misunderstandings between native and non-native English speakers, when using 'politically correct' words for 'black people'. Where there is a better understanding of the meaning of the English word nigger, speakers of other languages tend to be more careful with the homophonic words in their own language, or may sometimes adopt the word nigger to have a pejorative word for a 'black person'.[citation needed]

Some examples of how other languages refer to a black person in a neutral and in a pejorative way:

  • Dutch: neger is neutral, zwartje (little black one) can be amicably or offensively used, nikker is always pejorative[27]
  • French: noir is neutral, nègre is a racist colonial usage.[citation needed]
  • Hungarian: néger is neutral, feka (little black one) is pejorative[citation needed]
  • Italian: nero is neutral, negro is a rather offensive word
  • Latvian: nēģeris is neutral, nigger is adopted as racist[citation needed]
  • Portuguese: negro is neutral, preto is racist[citation needed]
  • Brazilian Portuguese: negro and preto are neutral,[28] nevertheless preto can be offensively used, is sometimes regarded as 'politically incorrect' and almost never proudly used by afro-Brazilians, crioulo and macaco are always extremely pejorative[29]
  • Romanian: negru is neutral, cioroi (little crow) is pejorative[citation needed]
  • Russian: negr (“негр”) is neutral, chyornyi (“чёрный”, black) is a moderately derogatory slur, usually applied against Middle Eastern and people of the Caucasus, nigger (“ниггер”) is adopted as racist, chernozhopyi (“черножопый”, black-assed) and chernomazyi (“черномазый”, black-luted) are the harshest generic racist slur for non-white people[30]
  • Yiddish: neger is neutral, shvartzer (black man, black woman) is racist[citation needed]


Historically, nigger is controversial in literature due to its usage as both a racist insult and a common noun. The white photographer and writer, Carl Van Vechten, a supporter of the Harlem Renaissance (1920s–30s), provoked controversy in the black community with the title of his novel Nigger Heaven (1926), wherein the usage increased sales; of the controversy, Langston Hughes wrote:

No book could possibly be as bad as Nigger Heaven has been painted. And no book has ever been better advertised by those who wished to damn it. Because it was declared obscene, everybody wanted to read it, and I'll venture to say that more Negroes bought it than ever purchased a book by a Negro author. Then, as now, the use of the word nigger by a white was a flashpoint for debates about the relationship between black culture and its white patrons.

In the US, the recurrent (reading curricula) controversy about the vocabulary of the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), by Mark Twain — American literature (usually) taught in US schools — about the slave South, risks censorship because of 215 (counted) occurrences of the word nigger, most refer to Jim, Huckleberry's escaped-slave raft-mate.[31][32] Twain's advocates note that the novel is composed in then-contemporary vernacular usage, not racist stereotype, because Jim, the black man, is a sympathetic character in the nineteenth-century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The book was re-published in 2010 with edits removing "the 'N' word" as reported in Time online.[33] The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been the subject of controversy in Arizona, where a parent group's attempt to have it removed from a required reading list was struck down by the court.

Moreover, unlike the literary escaped slave Jim, antebellum slaves used the artifice of self-deprecation (known as "Uncle Toms"), in pandering to societal racist assumptions about the black man's low intelligence, by advantageously using the word nigger to escape the violence inherent to slavery.[34] Implicit to "Uncle Tomming" was the unspoken reminder to white folk that a presumably inferior and sub-human person could not, reasonably, be held responsible for poorly realized work, a kitchen fire, or any such catastrophic offense. The artificial self-deprecation deflected responsibility, in hope of escaping the violent wraths of overseer and master. Using nigger as a self-referential identity term also was a way of avoiding white suspicion, of encountering an intelligent slave, and so put whites at their ease. In context, a slave who referred to himself, or another black man, as a nigger presumed the master's perceiving him as a slave who has accepted his societally sub-ordinate role as private property, thus, not (potentially) subversive of the authority of the master's white supremacy.

The original title of And Then There Were None (1939), by Agatha Christie.

Other late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British literary usages suggest neutral usage. The popular Victorian era entertainment, the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado (1885) twice uses the word nigger. In the song As some day it may happen, the executioner, Ko-ko, sings of executing the "nigger serenader and the others of his race", personified by black-faced singers singing minstrel songs. In the song A more humane Mikado, the Mikado sings of the punishment for older women who dye their hair or wear corsets, to be "Blacked like a nigger/With permanent walnut juice." Both lyrics are usually changed for contemporary performances.[35] In addition, Ten Little Niggers (1939) was the original British title of Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None, which has also been known by the alternate title Ten Little Indians.

The Reverend W. V. Awdry's The Railway Series (1945–72) story Henry's Sneeze, originally described soot-covered boys with the phrase "as black as niggers".[36] In 1972, after complaints, the description was edited to "as black as soot", in the subsequent editions.[36] Rev. Awdry is known for Thomas the Tank Engine (1946).

How the Leopard Got His Spots, in Just So Stories (1902), by Rudyard Kipling, tells of an Ethiopian man and a leopard, both originally sand-colored, deciding to camouflage themselves with painted spots, for hunting in tropical forest. The story originally included a scene wherein the leopard (now spotted) asks the Ethiopian man why he does not want spots. In contemporary editions of How the Leopard Got His Spots, the Ethiopian's original reply: "Oh, plain black's best for a nigger", has been edited to, "Oh, plain black’s best for me." Again, Kipling uses the word in A Counting-Out Song (Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923), the rhyme reads: "Eenie Meenie Mainee, Mo! Catch a nigger by the toe!"

In short story, The Basement Room (1935), by Graham Greene, the (sympathetic) servant character, Baines, tells the admiring boy, son of his employer, of his African British colony service, "You wouldn't believe it now, but I've had forty niggers under me, doing what I told them to". Replying to the boy’s question: "Did you ever shoot a nigger?" Bains answers: "I never had any call to shoot. Of course I carried a gun. But you didn’t need to treat them bad, that just made them stupid. Why, I loved some of those dammed niggers." The cinematic version of The Basement Room short story, The Fallen Idol (1948), directed by Carol Reed, replaced novelist Greene’s niggers usage with natives.[citation needed]

Popular culture

In the US and the UK, the word nigger featured in branding and packaging consumer products, e.g. “Nigger Hair Tobacco” and “Niggerhead Oysters”, Brazil nuts were called nigger toes, et cetera. As racism became unacceptable in mainstream culture, the tobacco brand became “Bigger Hare” and the canned goods brand became “Negro Head”.[37][38][39] The Chinese Nanhai De Xing Leather Shoes Habiliment Co., Ltd.'s online store describes the color of a model of man’s leather boots as “nigger-brown”.[40]


The movie Blazing Saddles (1974) used nigger to ridicule US racism. In Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), the sequence titled “Danger Seekers” features a stuntman effecting the dangerous stunt of shouting "Niggers!" at a group of black people, then fleeing when they chased him.

The movie Full Metal Jacket (1987) depicts black and white U.S. Marines enduring boot camp and later fighting together in Vietnam. "Nigger" is used by soldiers of both races in jokes and as expressions of bravado ("put a nigger behind the trigger"), with racial differences among the men seen as secondary to their shared exposure to the dangers of combat. As noted by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey), "There is no racial bigotry here. We do not look down on niggers, kikes, wops or greasers, because here you are all equally worthless."


Mark Twain's novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has long been the subject of controversy for its racial content, including its use of the word "nigger" as applied to the escaped slave character Jim. Huckleberry Finn was the fifth most challenged book during the 1990s, according to the American Library Association.[41] In 2011, a new edition of the book published by NewSouth Books replaced the word "nigger" throughout the book with the word "slave" and also removed the word "injun". The change was spearheaded by Twain scholar Alan Gribben in the hope of "countering the 'pre-emptive censorship'" that results from the book's being removed from school curricula over language concerns.[42] The changes sparked outrage from critics and scholars.[43]


Responding to accusations of racism after referring to "niggers" in the lyrics of the Guns N' Roses song, “One in a Million”, Axl Rose stated "I was pissed off about some black people that were trying to rob me. I wanted to insult those particular black people. I didn't want to support racism."[44] The country music artist David Allan Coe used the racial terms "redneck", "white trash", and "nigger" in the songs “If That Ain’t Country, I’ll Kiss Your Ass” and “Nigger Fucker”.[45] In the 1960s, record producer J. D. "Jay" Miller published pro-racial segregation music with the “Reb Rebel” label featuring racist songs by Johnny Rebel and others, demeaning black Americans and the Black Civil Rights movement.[46]

Contemporarily, rap groups such as N.W.A. (Niggaz with Attitudes), re-popularized the usage in their songs.


In Saturday Night Live, comedians Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor say nigger and honky to each other in a word-association interview. Comedians such as Pryor, Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Lenny Bruce used nigger in their comedy.

In the multi-part historical drama, the mini-series "Roots" the word was used in historical context on multiple occasions.

The word was used for laughs as late as the 1970s in sitcoms that used race as a basis for their humor, but it was used quite sparingly, and only by Black characters. It was used in at least two episodes of Sanford & Son, and those episodes would later be censored to remove the offending line(s) in syndication ("Here Comes The Bride, There Goes The Bride" and "Fred Sanford, Legal Eagle"). DVD releases of the show do contain the offending lines in question. The word was also said by George Jefferson on All In The Family in the episode "Lionel's Engagement", and it was said by Louise Jefferson on The Jeffersons in the episode "Like Father, Like Son".

In episode 20 of the Family Matters second season, the graffito nigger was written on Laura Winslow’s school locker, and found a note addressed to her that read: “If you want to learn Black History, Go back to Africa”.

Elsewhere, Dog the Bounty Hunter used nigger in referring to his son’s girlfriend.[47]

The Boondocks uses the word nigger heavily, which has sparked controversy.[citation needed]

Dave Chappelle of Chappelle's Show produced a comedy sketch entitled "The Niggar Family", a clever play on the homophone as applied to a white family with that surname.


The musical Show Boat (from 1927 until 1946) features the word and "nigger" as originally integral to the lyrics of “Ol' Man River” and “Cotton Blossom”; although deleted from the cinema versions, it is included in the 1988 EMI recording of the original score. Musical theatre historian Miles Kreuger and conductor John McGlinn propose that the word was not an insult, but a blunt illustration of how white people then perceived black people.

Cultural controversy

"Nigger-brown" colored furniture

In April 2007, a dark brown leather sofa set, sold by Vanaik Furniture and Mattress Store in Toronto, Canada, was labelled as “Nigger-brown” color. Investigation determined that the Chinese manufacturer used an outdated version of Kingsoft's Chinese-to-English translation software for writing the tags; it translated the Chinese “dark-brown” characters to “Nigger-brown”, and neither the Canadian supplier nor the store owner had noticed the incorrectly translated tag; subsequently, Kingsoft corrected its translation software.[48][49][50][51] In Hong Kong English, the phrase nigger-brown was, decades earlier, routinely used in newspapers without racist connotation.[citation needed]

The Dam Busters film

Nigger was the name of a black dog that belonged to Wing Commander Guy Gibson,[52] a Second World War, Royal Air Force hero. The film The Dam Busters (1955) features Gibson as a main character and his dog is depicted in several scenes. Both in the film and in the real events portrayed, the dog's name was also a radio codeword, used to report that Gibson's squadron had successfully destroyed one of its targets.

Some of the scenes in which the dog's name is uttered were later shown in the 1982 film Pink Floyd The Wall.[53]

In 1999, the British television network ITV broadcast a censored version with each of the twelve[54] utterances of Nigger deleted. Replying to complaints against its censorship, ITV blamed the regional broadcaster, London Weekend Television, which, in turn, blamed a junior employee as the unauthorised censor. In June 2001, when ITV re-broadcast the censored version of The Dam Busters, the Index on Censorship criticised it as “unnecessary and ridiculous” censorship breaking the continuity of the film and the story.[55] Versions of the film edited for US television have the dog's name altered to "Trigger".[54]

The name has caused some controversy with a new remake of The Dam Busters, produced by Peter Jackson. A 2009 newspaper article suggests that the name will be changed to "Nigsy" in the new film.[54]


Anti-abolitionist cartoon from the 1860 presidential campaign illustrating colloquial usage
  • Nigger as "defect" (a hidden problem), derives from "nigger in the woodpile", a US slave-era phrase denoting escaped slaves hiding in train-transported woodpiles.[7]
  • In American English: nigger lover initially applied to abolitionists, then to white folk sympathetic towards black Americans.[56] Sand nigger, an ethnic slur against Arabs, and timber nigger and prairie nigger, ethnic slurs against Native Americans, are examples of the racist extension of nigger upon other non-white peoples.[57]
  • In several English-speaking countries, "Niggerhead" or "nigger head" was used as a name for all sorts of things, including commercial products, places, plants and animals, as well as a colloquial technical term in industry, mining and seafaring.
  • Flora and fauna nomenclatures include the word nigger. The Arizonan nigger-head cactus, Echinocactus polycephalus is a round, cabbage-sized plant covered with large, crooked thorns. The colloquial names for echinacea (coneflower) are "Kansas niggerhead" and "Wild niggerhead". In Oceania, the "niggerhead termite" (Nasutitermes graveolus) is a native of Australia.[59]
  • In 1960, a stand at the stadium in Toowoomba, Australia, was named the "E. S. 'Nigger' Brown Stand" honoring 1920s rugby league player Edward Stanley Brown, so nicknamed since early life because of his pale white skin; so known all his life, his tombstone is engraved Nigger. Stephen Hagan, a lecturer at the Kumbari/Ngurpai Lag Higher Education Center of the University of Southern Queensland sued the Toowoomba council over the use of nigger in the stand's name; the district and state courts dismissed his lawsuit. He appealed to the High Court of Australia, who ruled the naming matter beyond federal jurisdiction. At first some local Aborigines did not share Mr Hagan's opposition to nigger.[62] Hagan appealed to the United Nations, winning a committee recommendation to the Australian federal government, that it force the Queensland state government to remove the word nigger from the "E. S. 'Nigger' Brown Stand" name. The Australian federal government followed the High Court's jurisdiction ruling. In September 2008, the stand was demolished. The Queensland Sports Minister, Judy Spence, said that using nigger would be unacceptable, for the stand or on any commemorative plaque. The 2005 book The N Word: One Man's Stand by Hagan includes this episode.[62][63]

Place names

The word nigger features in official place-names, such as "Nigger Bill Canyon", "Nigger Hollow", and "Niggertown Marsh". In 1967, the United States Board on Geographic Names changed the word nigger to Negro in 143 place names. First changed to "Negrohead Mountain", a peak above Santa Monica, California was renamed on (February 2010) to Ballard Mountain in honor of John Ballard, a black pioneer who settled the area in the 19th Century. "Nigger Head Mountain", at Burnet, Texas, was so named because the forest atop it resembled a black man's hair. In 1966, the US First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, denounced the racist name, asking the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and the U.S. Forest Service to rename it, becoming "Colored Mountain" in 1968; and in West Texas, "Dead Nigger Creek" was renamed "Dead Negro Draw".[64] "Nigger Nate Grade", near Temecula, California, named for Nate Harrison, an ex-slave and settler, was renamed "Nathan Harrison Grade Road" in 1955, at the request of the NAACP.[65][66][67][68][69]

In northwestern North America, particularly in Canada and the US, there are places which feature many uses of the word nigger.[70][71][72][73] At Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, "Niggertoe Mountain" was renamed Mount Nkwala. The place-name derived from a 1908 Christmas story about three black men who died in a blizzard; the next day, the bodies of two were found at the foot of the mountain.[74] A point on the Lower Mississippi River, in West Baton Rouge Parish, named "Free Nigger Point" until the late twentieth century, first was renamed "Free Negro Point", but currently is named "Wilkinson Point".[75] "Nigger Head Rock", protruding from a cliff above Highway 421, north of Pennington Gap, Virginia, was renamed "Great Stone Face" in the 1970s.


The N-word euphemism

The prosecutor [Christopher Darden], his voice trembling, added that the "N-word" was so vile that he would not utter it. "It's the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language."

— Kenneth B. Noble, January 14, 1995 The New York Times[78]

The euphemism the N-word became mainstream American English usage during the racially contentious murder trial of ex-footballer O. J. Simpson in 1995.

Key prosecution witness Detective Mark Fuhrman, of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) – who denied using racist language on duty – impeached himself with his prolific use of nigger in tape recordings about his police work. The recordings, by screenplay writer Laura McKinney, were from a 1985 research session wherein the detective assisted her with a screenplay about LAPD policewomen. Fuhrman excused his use of the word saying he used nigger in the context of his "bad cop" persona. Linguistically, the popular press reporting and discussing Fuhrman’s testimony substituted the N-word in place of nigger.


Niger occurs in Latinate scientific nomenclature and is the root word for some homophones of nigger; sellers of niger seed (used as bird feed), sometimes use the name Nyjer seed. The classical Latin pronunciation /ˈniɡeɾ/ sounds like the English /ˈnɪɡər/, occurring in biologic and anatomic names, such as Hyoscamus niger (black henbane), and even for animals that are not in fact black, such as Sciurus niger (fox squirrel).

Nigra is the Latin feminine form of niger (black), used in biologic and anatomic names such as substantia nigra (black substance).

The word niggardly (miserly) is etymologically unrelated to nigger, derived from the Old Norse word nig (stingy) and the Middle English word nigon. In the US, this word has been misheard or misread to mean nigger, therefore being taken as offensive. In January 1999, David Howard, a white Washington, D.C. city employee, was compelled to resign after using niggardly — in a financial context — while speaking with black colleagues, who took umbrage. After reviewing the misunderstanding, Mayor Anthony Williams offered to reinstate Mr Howard, who refused reinstatement for another job elsewhere in the mayor's government.[79]

The portmanteau word wigger (white + nigger) denotes an adolescent white boy emulating "street black behavior", hoping acceptance to the hip hop, thug, and gangsta sub-cultures.

Intragroup versus intergroup usage

Black hearers often react differently to the term when it is used by white speakers and by black speakers. In the former case, it is regularly understood as an insult; in the latter, it may carry notes of in-group disparagement, or even be understood as neutral or affectionate, a possible instance of reappropriation.

Among the black community, the slur nigger is almost always rendered as nigga, a pronunciation emphasizing the unique intra-racial dialect of black people. A self-referential pronoun in African American Vernacular English usage popularized by the rap and hip-hop music cultures. In these situations, it is used as in-group lexicon and speech, wherein it is not necessarily derogatory.[80]

Acceptance of intra-group usage of the word "nigga" is still debated, although it has established a foothold amongst younger generations. The NAACP advocates against the usage of both "nigga" and "nigger". Mixed-race usage of "nigga" is still considered taboo, particularly if the speaker is white. However, trends indicate that usage of the term in intragroup settings is increasing even amongst white youth due to the popularity of rap and hip hop culture.[81]

According to Arthur K. Spears (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 2006)

In many African-American neighborhoods, nigga is simply the most common term used to refer to any male, of any race or ethnicity. Increasingly, the term has been applied to any person, male or female. "Where y’all niggas goin?" is said with no self-consciousness or animosity to a group of women, for the routine purpose of obtaining information. The point: Nigga is evaluatively neutral in terms of its inherent meaning; it may express positive, neutral or negative attitudes;

While Kevin Cato observes:

For instance, a show on Black Entertainment Television, a cable network aimed at a black audience, described the word nigger as a "term of endearment." "In the African American community, the word nigga (not nigger) brings out feelings of pride" (Davis 1). Here the word evokes a sense of community and oneness among black people. Many teens I interviewed felt that the word had no power when used amongst friends, but when used among white people the word took on a completely different meaning. In fact, comedian Alex Thomas on BET stated, "I still better not hear no white boy say that to me... I hear a white boy say that to me, it means 'White boy, you gonna get your ass beat.'"[82]

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