If you weren’t aware of the whole kerfuffle over Mark Twain’s classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the attempts to avoid some uncomfortableness about teaching the book by using the word slave in place of a certain controversial pejorative word that begins with the letter between “M” and “O” and that rhymes with “T*mmy H*lf*g*r”, well it would take way too long to explain the whole thing here in a suitably evasive way.
But it’s worth noting that these issues are not new. A PBS documentary from the year 2000 discusses the history of controversy over the book–of which this language issue is a small, if incendiary, part. They cover the N-issue directly in an accompanying guide for teachers on the PBS website. It gives an overview of why it’s a sensitive issue and offers practical advice for how to teach the book without the use of scissors, a sharpie, find-and-replace, or white out.
To quote from a quote from the aforementioned Teachers Guide:
Nigger (also spelled niggar): a word that is an alteration of the earlier neger, nigger derives from the French negre, from the Spanish and Portuguese negro, from the Latin niger (black). First recorded in 1587 (as negar), the word probably originated with the dialectal pronunciation of negro in northern England and Ireland.
—Anti-Bias Study Guide, Anti-Defamation League, 1998
Are you with me? Not surprisingly, the announcement of the forthcoming Huck Finn (now with more “slave”) version has provoked a variety of reactions. Roger Ebert even started a kerfuffle within the kerfuffle with his comments that he’d rather be called the former than the latter.
Filmmakers and funny people Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine have come up with their own clever satirical response: to publish a version inserting the word “robot” instead of the [don’t-make-me-avoid-writing-it-again-please-thanks]. They seem to be serious about this, in a funny way, and are even willing to take money from other people to make it a reality.
The idea is great, their promo video is hilarious. And they have already doubled their fund-raising goal on Kickstarter (with 3 weeks yet to go, so you can still give).
For an alternate spin on the N-topic, I point you to rap group The Coup, from their 1993 debut album, where they question the use of the term in hiphop…
Could we do something about the word “honey” next, please?