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Etymology and Evolution of the N-Word

Etymology

Since slavery, Nigger has been used as a derogatory name to call to black people. The etymology or origin of the word Nigger is traced back to Latin, meaning black.  Nigger was used by slave owners and non-slave owners, the word is still being used today by white nationalists and supremacist to demean blacks and other ethnicities who have dark color skin.

This word had become an important word in America’s vocabulary to belittle non-whites. Nigger was also used to insult other ethnic groups; Jews are called White-niggers; Arabs, sand-niggers; Japanese, yellow-niggers.

Negro replaced nigger in the etymology of derogatory words. This word means black in Spanish and Portuguese and was considered as a polite word to call black people from the 18th Century to the mid-20th Century.

During this time, the word negro was used in organizations like The American Negro Academy, National Council of Negro Women, Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, and United Negro College Fund.

Negro was accepted as a normal term to describe black people during the 1960s and civil rights movement, However, community leaders like Malcolm X did not like the word because they associated negro with slavery, segregation, and discrimination.

He and other leaders preferred black rather than negro, and the black community began using this word instead.

However, in the 1980s, the word nigga was commonly used by black people to call one another without being derogatory.  Nigga is used in the black community as a greeting and as an urban slang term.

In fact, in 2014 nigga was used 500,000 times a day on Twitter in the year 2014.  NIgga is not only being used by black people but other people of color and white people, according to The Washington Post.

The etymology of negro became nigger, then nigga and all are used derogatorily. Given the meaning of nigger is black many in the community have reverted to using it to describe themselves today.

Written by Jameisha Artis
Edited by Cathy Milne

Sources:

Huffington Post: Nigger VS. Nigga
The Washington Post: Redefining the Word: EXAMINING A RACIAL SLUR ENTRENCHED IN AMERICAN VERNACULAR THAT IS MORE PREVALENT THAN EVER
African American Registry: Negro (the word) a history
NPR: ‘Negro’ Not Allowed On Federal Forms? White House To Decide
New York Post: Census to replace “Negro” with “black” or “African-American”

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Florida Memory’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

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