The Definition of Nigger, Niggle, Niggly

I love words. I love writing words. I love reading words. I love hearing words. I have a new WordPunk blog that deals with “words in the wilds.” The power of words is in their definition. Words have meanings only because they are shared in context and understood between people. Dictionaries help bridge the fuzzy confusion between definition and meaning. Imagine, then, my delight and horror in receiving this email from a university professor friend of mine:

Word came down from above that we are no longer allowed to use “niggle” or “niggly” or any variety thereof in writing or speaking with students because “they sound and look too much like that other word” (the N-word) and we don’t “want to upset the student body.” I thought they were joking at first until I also saw a warning against using “spook” in class, too.

Ah! Censorship in the classroom posing as social responsibility! Doesn’t it just make your skin crawl that university students are viewed by their administrators as too stupid to learn and too ignorant to ever know the true definitions of words?

What are we protecting them from by banning certain words: Poor reading and listening skills? Is this new policy what the Jena 6 have wrought? Is this the real lesson in the lynching of Black children? Have we finally found the aftereffect of Isiah Thomas’ Black bitches?

We have used the word “Nigger” here in various forms and consequences and the most famous instance is my “Nigger Tax” article. We use real words with real — perhaps even unpopular — meanings here because those words are accurate and definite even if they stab and wound. Our intention is never to hurt.

We only wish to provide a forum for analysis and a community well for the discussion of unpopular and uncomfortable topics. So let’s do the right thing and crack open the Merriam-Webster dictionary to learn the truth of these words in context and their use in American colloquial speech. Let’s start with “Niggle:”

“Niggle” has no racial implication or inference. It is “Niggle’s” fault that some people see or hear “Nigger” when that word is written or spoken?

Is this censorship a matter of political correctness or one of the misbegotten elementary need to appear protective? Here’s the definition of “Niggly” and it sends you to “Niggling” for more definition:

Now let’s hold our breath and cross our fingers and type “Nigger” into Merriam-Webster — not a simple feat — to see the real definition of what has become a denigrated and caustic word that now bothers other non-related words:

There are five definitions for the main “Nigger” entry, but only the first one relates to Race and skin color.

Now let’s look at all the other Merriam-Webster definitions of words that include the word “Nigger” — they’re listed in the sidebar when you search on “Nigger” via their online portal — to see the context and meaning of those word throughout the history of American culture:

Are all of those definitions variations on a “Nigger” degradation?

Should those words be added to the “Do Not Speak or Say” mandate at all universities colleges and high schools?

Do we forbid words from being employed in everyday usage because they may look and sound and even feel like other words some do not like?

Now let’s take a look at the word “Spook” and its meaning in definition:

Do we ban the use of “Spook” because of its fourth definition?

If we refuse to allow “Spook” to be written or spoken in any context — can “Spoof” and “Spoke” be far behind as banned collateral damage along with “Niggle” and “Niggly?”