An insult

October 21, 1997

IT IS NOT for political correctness but for accuracy that the publishers of Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary should change its definition of ''nigger.'' No threatened boycott by the NAACP should be necessary to alter the way that particular entry is phrased. It should be very clear in all rTC dictionaries and reference books that the word does not simply mean ''a black person.''

The derogatory nature of the word must not be an aside in its definitions. Derision was its original and remains its most frequent intent -- even among African Americans. Popular culture is rife with images depicting a generation of African Americans who either spew or coo the term, depending on the situation. Black comedians pepper jokes with the word to loosen-up audiences.

The NAACP would be remiss if it limited its campaign to changing the definition of ''nigger'' in dictionaries. It should also ask for change in the entertainment industry, which has decided it likes the sound of the word. Those who subscribe to the mistaken belief that if you use the word frequently enough it will lose its sting should know by now that they are wrong. In any tone of voice, there is an insult implied.

Retire the insult to the dictionary. Make room for it among other words now considered archaic.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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