The N-Word

Friday, January 07, 2011


Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the “n” word 219 times. Some readers just can’t get past the word, and thanks to a new edition, they won’t have to. The new version replaces every instance of the “n” word with the word “slave.” WNYC Radio Rookie Veralyn Williams offers a personal appraisal of the contentious word.

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Comments [20]

Will Hernan

I think its pretty sad that society is getting so offended by a WORD. No offense to anyone, but I see to often black people talk to each other with that word but get all offended when a white person says to them the same way they say it. Whites always joke about being called a cracker so why should we take out a word out of a book if the people that complain about it the most use it the most. Like I said its just a WORD. What did it do to you? Get spelled out to you?

Feb. 17 2011 12:08 PM
Zachary Hinton from Raleigh

Surprisingly enough, I do not think the n-word should be taken out of the Huckleberry Finn, it takes away from the huge purpose of the novel. The N-word has a lot of meaning and history behind it. Taking it out will defeat the purpose of showing readers of the hurt and pain the word brings.

Feb. 16 2011 11:34 AM
Dion Twayne Watson from uptown

i really dont care if someone uses the "N" word in my eyes , only because we use it as a slang word now of days, but if a white person was to come up to me calls me the "N" in a racial way or meaning to be racial then thats different but as for huckleberry fin , i dont care !

Jan. 25 2011 12:58 PM
Chubbz Cutts from yo grandma's house

I feel like the "N" is a word to keep black people down and i dont appreciate it when when i hear young black kids say it .

Jan. 25 2011 12:54 PM
d nova from glenside pa

so when kids see "slave" how will they know it's a pejorative rather than a reference to an enslaved person? if we ignore the author's intent, don't we lose the meaning?

Jan. 16 2011 03:17 PM
Quentin Hammonds from Raleigh North Carolina

I understand what she is coming form but to lets live in reality. The N word is going to be said in this world regards to who say it or what for. We as the black people used it to greet one another and the N word was used so many times that we the blacks learned to live with it because yes words will hurt us unless we let it but then again lets come back to reality. I don't know what that white boy was talking about when he said he say it but if he walked through my neighbor hood saying that he will find his ass ducked tapped to his face with a white flag saying I will not say the N word if I not black even if he did have black friends.

Jan. 14 2011 12:59 PM

This form of censoring in classical literature is not right. I believe that having to go in and censor a word in all actuality gives it more power. To make it taboo gives it a sort of forbidden fruit affect. For people to see how offensive it is by changing it just gives people more of a reason to use it as an offensive term. Censoring it in the novel only demeans the novel. If its in there it was for a reason.

Jan. 14 2011 12:21 PM

I am a white student and I go to a school where the majority is minorities. Like many students at this school, I hear the "n" word frequently and on a daily basis. Here, it is used a pronoun or a replacement for him or her. I do not mind hearing the word but of course, I am not personally going to say it. You can always control what you say but you cannot control what people around you say.
The fact that "Huckleberry Finn" is being changed because of one word seems like a waste of paper. The "n" word in this book is used to reinforce the details about how they used to treat African Americans during the time period of the story. Yes, it may be offensive to some but then they can choose not to read the book. Would you change the statue of David because it shows the full male anatomy?

Jan. 14 2011 12:09 PM
Dominique Pierce from boardcasting class

I am a african american and i hear the "N" word on a daily basis so this is nothing new. I have read the "Adventure's of Huckleberry Finn" and I personally enjoyed a lot. It did not seem racist to me, it was a good book that tells thing that people have said back in time. Most african americans tell people not to use the "N" word but I have heard more african american say the word the most. Some people want to believe the racism is going to go away, thats something that never going to go away racism will always be here, the "N" word will always be said.

Jan. 13 2011 12:47 PM
Artie Johnson

I feel like there are two ways that the "N" word is used, which is nigga and niger. I have no problem with nigga cause like he said in the story I grew up around it. I do have a problem hen a white person says nigger because i feel like thats a way of them looking down on us as black people

Jan. 13 2011 12:44 PM

I feel like the "N" word has its ups and downs. Sometimes I also feel like the "N" word can sometimes just be used very casual without any feelings but I agree, I think hearing a white person saying it is wrong because they were the ones that have used it wrong. But sometimes I think about it and now times have changed.

Jan. 13 2011 12:40 PM
Dominique Jackson

I have to agree with Stephen, racism isn't constricted to your vocabulary but more of your actions. Although I do not consent to the use of the "N" word; for various reason; I have to say that it is only a word. A word that carries centuries of abuse and mistreatment, it in fact is only a word. The context of which it is used is what makes it derogatory .

Jan. 13 2011 12:16 PM
Quentin "Trillsz" Morgan from Hell

I feel as if they had no right to be using the "N" word, even if the author was black, its just a word that shouldnt be used anymore because its been buried years ago. Then in the new version them replacing the word with "slave" isnt necessary . I just felt that the word or a word referring to the word shouldnt be used .

Jan. 12 2011 01:34 PM

This was one of the one of the most foolish responses to the announcement of the new Twain edition. You missed the real story.

The real story is Huckleberry Finn is one of the first anti-racist novels in American literature, and Twain was one of the most enlightened Americans of his time with regard to race.

Of course you would only know this by actually reading the book, instead of foolishly counting the word nigger.

Another story you missed is how the word nigger came to be applied to Africans. It has to do with the Latin. It began as a purely innocent derivative of the Latin, with no moral or racist implications.

We really need to grow up about this. The word is objectionable now. Its use now is offensive. There is however, a more complicated and interesting story here. You missed it.

By the way, the personal appraisal you offered is every bit as bad as the reporting you criticize in Iraq and children's vaccinations.

Bottom line, you missed the real story.

Jan. 10 2011 12:48 AM
Bob Smyth from Mechanicsville, VA

In your piece on the "n" word, the word in question was used by several people. Your young commentator felt that the usage was offensive when voiced by a white person but not a black person. The belief that one race has a right or rights that members of another race do not is the definition of racism.

Jan. 09 2011 05:01 PM
Nancy from Charlotte

Perhaps my memory is cloudy, but I recall my older relative's confusion in the mid-60s when using the word "colored" was not longer acceptable. They were brought up when the "n word" shouldn't be used but the stigma we know now wasn't prevalent. It seems possible that when Twain wrote the book. the word was offensive but frequently used, especially among those in an economically and educationally disadvantaged (the case of my relatives) class. They would be especially interested in showing there was some group of people who was 'less' than they. Which is the point of racism, isn't it? And one of the points Twain made so well in his book.

Jan. 09 2011 04:52 PM
raul from san francisco

When one is met by fear and ignorance the solution isn't to give in to it.

This is so sad and dopey.

I am an African American man I love Mark Twain and read Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer in and out of school. Loving them both and not recalling any lasting trauma from reading "Nigger Jim" in the text.

I understand the desire on the part of those teachers who feel kids were missing out of reading these books. I also think in the main, no child will be harmed by having the word removed. BUT!

What I fear more is the ongoing dumbing down of our culture. Words offend strike them out, images offend in great works of art put some sticky tape over the offense.

Lastly, what makes me smile about this story and all the years of bans on these books is that in Twain's time he received vicious hate mail because he treated Jim too much like the other characters, i.e., like human being.

Jan. 09 2011 03:11 PM
Steve Hansen from Hilo Hawaii

Racism is an attitude not defined by vocabulary. I am white, of Jew ancestry and friends with people of all ethnicity. I believe that diversity and respect are the keys to peaceful coexistence in this world. I have lived outside the United States and I can honestly say that American tend to have an egocentric attitude that "If you don't think like me you are wrong."

I like to tell this story as a example of how semantics effect our reactions to certain words we use.

In 1978 I was traveling and teaching in Papua New Guinea. My host was a local man who had never seen a white person until he was 20 years old. On one of our travels he was a small black child and referred to her as a picaninny. I reacted to his use of the word, because I was raised to never use that term or the infamous N-word. When I told my host that I thought that that was was derogatory and told him why. He was shocked and replied. "That's too bad, to me is a beautiful word." Keep up the good work. Love your show.

Jan. 08 2011 01:36 PM
Philip Greene from Fairborn, OH

As an educator, I am appalled at the re-editing of Huckleberry Finn by the scholar who does so under the guise of deflating the inflammatory racial slur, "nigger."

For one thing, we have become so frightened of this word that we dare not say it in a news story where it is a relevant reference to something that has been said, as in any other quote. Using the same gauge, why do we not also avoid the word "Nazi," a word that has at least as much horror and evil attached to it.

But beyond that, and more importantly to this forum, to edit this word is censorship, plain and simple. Where do we go next? Shall we edit out the word "gay" from the classic novels of early 20th Century? Maybe we should take out or change references to "chicks" in literature from the 60s and 70s?

And this brings to the front another point: who is to decide that a word or a phrase is so offensive or inflammatory that it should be edited? There is a small portion of the populace who find offensive the words "Jew" or "Latino" or even "Catholic." Should these people determine that these words have no place in a word of literature?

Education is a time-consuming process, not one that can be rushed or have short cuts taken. Instead of trying to shelter our children from anything controversial or uncomfortable, we should instead welcome these things are "teaching moments" and opportunities for better preparing our children to deal with the realities of a world that is not always as welcoming or pleasant as we might like it to be.

Jan. 08 2011 08:00 AM
Ed from NYC

Every week you do not fail to disappoint. This week, adults continue to say "the N-word" regarding the new Twain edition. And then to report on "the N-word", the hosts don't report on it but use a MINORITY TEENAGER from 2006 to utter the omg scary, scary word. So what you've done in effect is used a minority, when I say used I mean this person was used, to kind of, sort of, in a vanilla way, to say the oh-so-taboo N-word a couple of times. We all knew before her teenage reporting that whites can't use it, its commonly used in the hood, some are okay, some aren't. Does this really pass muster for a story or reporting? This show is so boring.

Jan. 08 2011 07:52 AM

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