Mark Twain New Editions: ‘Offensive’ Words To Be Removed

Mark Twain New Editions: ‘Offensive’ Words To Be Removed.


One thought on “Mark Twain New Editions: ‘Offensive’ Words To Be Removed

  1. When I was growing up in an educated white family in Kentucky in the 1950’s, you could tell a lot about someone from the language they used in referring to African Americans. This language was socioeconomic, geographic, political. Poor or poorly educated whites said ‘Nigger;’ better off and better educated whites usually said ‘Nigras.’ Of course it’s not this simple, but I believe the latter thought they were being correct and respectful. They were differentiating themselves from “white trash,” and they were more than likely racist themselves. They were not antagonistic to ‘Nigras’ so much as needing to believe in their superiority, perhaps due to some underlying sense of their inferior status as Southerners. Back then, people who were politically correct by today’s standards, and probably from somewhere other than Kentucky or the South said ‘Negro.’ The African American’s I knew then worked for my grandmother: a handy man named John Russell, a cleaning leady named Mary Francis. I didn’t know their last names, but I did have a child’s love for them – they were kind to me. I don’t know how they referred to themselves and it never occurred to me to ask, so my ‘50’s etymology is incomplete.

    I heard a radio interview recently with someone who’s written a book about euphemism. We need euphemisms for words that are uncomfortable to say. ‘Nigra’ became politically incorrect because racists used it, and ‘Negro’ also became politically incorrect – replaced by ‘Black’ (“I’m Black and I’m proud.” “Black is beautiful.”), and now ‘African American’ has become the PC term. As long as the term becomes associated with being a second-class citizen, it will need to change, I guess. Perhaps we’re through with these changes now, but language changes for other reasons as well and cannot be held constant or regulated artificially. But historically, these terms have meaning; they convey information about people and settings. ‘African American’ in Mark Twain has no meaning – it is not right because the term was not in existence then. It is grating because it is false. “Nigger” is grating for a very different reason, but at least it’s true and its truth is part of the story Twain is telling. I haven’t read the Toni Morrison text, but I think context matters and even more, truth matters. and I agree with the writer that front loading seems so much more respectful and grown up than censorship.

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