Wednesday, May 21, 2014

He Went Metric Years Ago. The Guy's Hat's Got No Brim

TCWOWS:

Hi, it’s me. ‘Niggardly’. I just wanted to talk about the way you use me. Got a sec?

I‘ve always been honest with myself about my uncanny resemblance to the word ‘nigger’, even though we have no common etymological ancestors or definitions. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of it – it’s a weird linguistic fluke and nothing more.

I’m not exactly an everyday word. I’m no ‘pants’ or ‘food’ or ‘door’ or ‘hand’.  When people need to describe the state of being ‘ungenerous or stingy’ most of them just use ‘cheap’. ‘Cheap’ gets a lot of action, cuz it’s short and sweet. And once the word ‘nigger’ became more or less universally reviled, I figured my usage would drop off even more. When gangsta rap came along I hoped maybe people would start using me as slang. Like, ‘Yo, my nigga, that’s a muthafuckin’ niggadly tip you left the waiter.’ But that didn’t really catch on. Them’s the breaks in the world of words, though, There’s lots of words that don’t get used often because they sound like other words; just ask ‘coccyx’ and ‘angina’.  You roll with it.

The post goes on to lament the author's suspicion that some people continue to use the slightly-archaic word because it hits the sweet spot of implied racist intent while technically retaining plausible deniability. Eh, I guess it's possible, but my amateur fascination with the evolution of language has convinced me that attempts to morally sanitize word usage will forever remain a couple steps behind people's inventiveness. In fact, while reading this, I found myself wondering whether the more clever racists have actually moved on to some new linguistic convention similar to Cockney rhyming slang, where synonyms like "stingy" or "miserly" become code words for referring to, you know, those people.

On a more lighthearted note: