Paula Deen’s N-Word Problem Only Tip of Iceberg

My very first consultation on Thursday morning was with Dr. Omunika Tyronenette Shabazz, Vice Director of the Center for Political Correctness here in Washington DC.  The purpose of her visit became clear almost immediately.
“Mr. Collins,” she opened as she picked up the heavy, leather upholstered chair positioned to the right of my desk and placed it as close as possible to where I was sitting, “we have achieved a great victory during the last two weeks, and now…” she declared as she plunked her ample frame into that chair and leaned over the right side of my desk until she was about two inches from my face, “the time has come to press our advantage!”
“Not one month ago, Mr. Collins,” she elaborated, “Paula Deen was a major commercial and, I might add, cultural force in this country.  Then the transcript of her testimony in a lawsuit brought by one of her employees came to light…”
“In the National Enquirer,” I noted.
“Irrelevant!” Dr. Shabazz insisted.  “The transcript could have been published in the New York Times or it could have been posted on the Druge Report web site, and that transcript would still have said the same thing!  And what it said was, that Paul Deen admitted, under oath, to having uttered… the N-Word!”
“Apparently,” I pointed out, “while describing to her husband the actions of a gentleman of color who had entered a bank where Ms. Deen was working and held a gun to her head.”
“Just because someone threatened you with a deadly weapon,” Dr. Shabazz indignantly snapped, “does not justify referring to them afterwards by use of the N-Word!”
“But don’t quite a few gentleman of color,” I asked her, “who perform in the rap music genre, regularly use the N-Word as part of their… artistic expressions?”
“That’s completely different,” she insisted.  “It is perfectly acceptable for members of an oppressed minority to expropriate the terminology, semantics, syntax and semiotics of their oppressor for use in development of revolutionary and/or progressive dialectical portrayals of their world view.”
“So,” I posited, “when they say the N-Word, in public, on rap recordings that are heard by millions of people, it’s an acceptable basis for them to make a fortune, but when Paul Deen said the N-Word, in private, many years ago, that constitutes a case for her utter destruction.”
“Exactly,” Dr. Shabazz confirmed, “and so far, we’ve seen Deen lose endorsement and/or merchandising contracts with The Food Network, QVC, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sears, Smithfield, Walmart, Target, Caesars Entertainment, and KMart!  Plus,” she cackled with obvious satisfaction, “her cookbook publisher dropped her!”
“Congratulations,” I dryly responded.
“And that’s just the beginning!” Dr. Shabazz confidently proclaimed.  “By the time we’re done with her, Paula Deen won’t be able to sell corn dogs out of a truck on the street!  But that’s only part of the battle, Mr. Collins, and what I’m here to speak with you about is much, much larger.”
“And what might that be?” I wondered.
“Now that we’ve accomplished what we have in our direct battle against the N-Word,” she informed me, moving even closer, “it’s time to get rid of the… other words.”
“Which other words?” I asked.
“The ones we at the CPC call the Homophonic Offenders,” she confided.
“Such as?” I requested.
“Such as… ‘niggardly!’” Dr. Shabazz spat.
“Oh yes,” I nodded, “saying ‘niggardly’ got David Howard, an aide to Anthony A. Williams, a former mayor here Washington, fired from his job after complaints from members of the staff who were persons of color.”
“Damn right it did,” she chortled with obvious satisfaction, “and he deserved it, too.”
“And at the University of Wisconsin,” I related, “Amelia Rideau, a junior English major and vice chairwoman of the Black Student Union, complained that a professor teaching Chaucer had used the word ‘niggardly,’ but while the incident caused quite a stir in the media, since the professor had tenure, he could not be fired.  And then there were the cases, where a white fourth grade teacher in Wilmington, North Carolina was reprimanded and required to send written apologies to all her students’ families for including ‘niggardly’ in her vocabulary lessons; and the incident in Mendocino County, California, where a history teacher who was engaged in collective bargaining on behalf of the teacher’s union used the word in a letter to management.  He was accused of racism because the school district superintendant was black, but also kept his job.”
“We at the CPC,” she assured me, “intend to reform academia, so that in the future, no academics, at any level in the educational system, can use the word ‘niggardly’ – or any of its derivatives – and keep their jobs!”
“However, the word and its derivatives” I noted, “such as ‘niggard,’ and ‘niggardiness,’ are of Scandinavian and Germanic origin, meaning basically, ‘miserly,’ ‘a cheapskate,’ and that sort of thing.”  
“That doesn’t matter!” Dr. Shabazz thundered as she reared back in righteous and highly animated objection. “We don’t care what ‘niggardly’ means!  It sounds too much like the N-Word, and that’s all there is to it!  We at the CPC have no intention of letting some snotty little white child – or racist white teacher, for that matter – call a child of color a ‘niggard’ and get away with it with some glib excuse that they were referring to that child’s pecuniary habits!  And in the opinion of the CPC board, Mr. Collins, ‘niggardly’ is merely the camel’s nose in the tent!  Therefore, we want to eliminate from usage all the words that sound like the N-Word!”
“Will that prohibition include what rappers say?” I sought to ascertain.
“No,” she shook her head back and forth mightily, “of course not!  We want to ensure severe, lasting and powerful sanctions against racist white people who say the N-Word, ‘niggardly,’ or any other words that sound like the N-Word!”
“Just white people?” I chided.  “Not Asians, for example?  Not Native Americans?”
“No, no,” she shot back, “them too, of course.  Anybody who’s not black, basically.  We want it so that if anybody who’s not of African ancestry says the N-Word, ‘niggardly,’ or any of the other words on the Homophonic Offenders List, then they’re out of a job, nobody will do business with them, nobody will lend them money, or talk to them, sell them food or clothng, let them in their church, admit them to their hospital, you know – that sort of thing.”
“So what qualifies as… black?” I inquired.  “Do octoroons qualify, for example?”
“Who?” Dr. Shabazz huffed.  “You mean, persons of color who possess one-eighth African ancestry?”
“Correct,” I answered. 
She pondered my question for a moment.  “If they self-identify as black, then yes.”
“How about hemi-demi-octoroons, then,” I pressed.  “People who are only one-thirty-second African?”
“Hmph,” she grunted disdainfully.  “Seems to me, folks like that could pass.”
“Pass for white?” I asked.
“Yes, sure,” she confirmed.
“What if they don’t want to?” I hypothesized.  “What then?”
“If they look white,” she reasoned, “they shouldn’t be allowed to use the N-Word.”
“How about blasians, then,” I pursued.  “People who are half black and half Asian, like Tiger Woods?  Or people who have Native American, white and African ancestry?  If people like that get married, who knows?  Some of their children might look white, and some of them might look colored, and…”
“Don’t say ‘colored!’ Dr. Shabazz shouted.  “You can’t say ‘colored!’”
“Sorry,” I apologized, “I forgot for a moment that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only place the phrase ‘colored people’ can be used in contemporary America, and that the phrase ‘people of color’ must otherwise be substituted, but then, of course, my previous utterance would have to have been parsed as, ‘Some of their children might look white, and some of them might appear to be persons of color,’ which is, as I am sure you can appreciate, Doctor, rather awkward.  But what I am trying to grasp here is the nature of your plans.  Does the CPC intend to create and maintain a national registry of those persons who are permitted to say the N-Word and those who aren’t?”
“Certainly not,” she sniffed dismissively.  “That would be ridiculously impractical and ludicrously expensive, not to mention completely absurd.”
“Well then,” I prodded, “how do you intend to ensure that only the right people are allowed to say the N-Word?”
“We intend,” she sagely intoned, “to follow a commonsense strategy of allowing public opinion, the media and the courts to make that determination on a case-by-case basis after the fact.  We have complete confidence that such a system will work, and work for the best outcomes for all in the name of the greater good.  Once the societal norm is established, people will be able to look in the mirror and know whether they can say the N-Word or not.  And we believe that the identification of potential Homophonic Offender words, their listing, proscription and suppression, to be key and essential to effective enforcement of N-Word policy in the United States, and, ultimately, the world.  And it is to the achievement of that goal, Mr. Collins, that I invite you to join me in the initiation of the CPC’s visionary project.”
“Well, in that case,” I began, “there’s obviously ‘knickers,’ which in America denotes loose-fitting trousers ending at the knee or calf, and, in Britain, is a slang word for women’s undergarments.”
“Good,” she smiled, taking out her tablet computer to make notes, “this is what the CPC is paying for this morning, Mr. Collins.  Please continue.”
“Well, of course,” I went on, “there’s ‘naggers,’ meaning those who nag, which differs by only one vowel inflection.  Then there’s ‘snigger,’ meaning to laugh with scorn, which differs only by a single consonant, as well as ‘nickerer,’ a word that denotes a person who sniggers; ‘niggler,’ one who is preoccupied with trifles and petty issues; ‘negus,’ a hot spiced port wine drink; ‘nigour,’ a term of art for melted butter; ‘naygas,’ a title used for royalty among the Semitic peoples of modern Ethiopia, as well as ‘nagus,’ obviously an imitation of it, used as a term for the leaders of the Ferengi Alliance in Star Trek; ‘nigaud,’ a word borrowed from French, meaning a fool, ‘negar,’ a word borrowed from Persian meaning ‘sweetheart,’ ‘nekker,’ a word borrowed from Teutonic mythology denoting a water sprite, all three of which are generally poetic terms; ‘nayger,’ a word descended from Middle English, meaning a weaver; ‘snecker,’ which means ‘to fill in with small stones,’ as in constructing a wall made of larger ones, for example, proceeding from the terminology of the masonry trade, as well as ‘nidger,’ which means one who dresses stone masonry with mortar and trowel; ‘nicker,’ which is a specific job description in the boot and shoe industry; ‘nibber,’ from the stationary and stylus manufacturing sector, referring to someone who makes pen nibs or places them on pens; ‘kneader,’ a term that describes machines or persons which knead dough in the bakery industry; ‘necker,’ which is a specific job description in the jewelry industry; ‘knacker,’ which is a word for a person who trades in animal carcasses or makes animal harnesses from hides; ‘neyger,’ a word used to refer to someone who is a seamstress or tailor; ‘nigiri,” a style of sushi involving the placement of raw fish or other suitable ingredients on slabs of japonica rice rather than combining it with the rice in a roll of seaweed; ‘nigun,’ a type of Hebrew religious music based on humming; ‘neger,’ a term used by military historians for a German one-man torpedo boat; ‘neggery,’ a place in the Neopets virtual reality game where Negg Faeries store Neggs; ‘knaggier,’ a nautical term meaning ‘to be more rough with knots’ than another skein of rope; ‘snaggier,’ a estuarine and limnological term, meaning a section of a river having the most underwater snags caused by sunken logs and branches, relative to other parts of the same body of water; ‘nicor,’ an English word for an aquatic monster, such as the grindylow, which snatches little children who stray too close to the water’s edge; and, ‘nacre,’  the word which preceded ‘mother of pearl’ as the term used to describe oyster shell.”
“Good, good,” Dr. Shabazz sniggered… or perhaps I should say, chuckled, “this is great stuff.  We’ll get them with this for sure – with this, we can shove our fist right up…”
“There are some instances, however,” I politely interrupted, “where a bit of analysis is required.  For starters, there’s the question of the word spelled N-I-G-E-R.  It has two meanings.  First of all, it refers to the seeds of a particular plant, Guizotia abyssinica, sold as ‘thistle seed’ by purveyors of bird feed products.  It’s not really the seeds of any sort of thistle plant, though – who wants those growing around your bird feeder?  Instead, the niger plant, from east Africa, is substituted.  In most cases, it won’t even grow in the US, but even if a few seeds do sprout around the bird feeder in our warmer climates, it’s a small and rather pretty yellow annual flower – a member of the aster family, and hardly a nuisance.  And I think that the bird seed manufacturers may be ahead of the curve when it comes to your Homophonic Offenders List, too, because they have already changed the labeling of their products to read ‘nyjer,’ so as to avoid any incidents of… ahem… unfortunate mispronunciation.”
“Looks like they got themselves out of a world of hurt,” Dr. Shabazz opined, “and none too soon at that.”
“On the other hand,” I cautioned, “pronunciation of the name of the country of Niger, located in central northwest Africa, presents a problem for the CPC Homophonic Offenders List.  It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to censure US politicians or members of our foreign service for mispronouncing the name of Niger in an offensive manner.  Fortunately, I think there’s a solution.”
“And what’s that?” Dr. Shabazz demanded.
“The country is a former French colony,” I offered, “an therein lies the solution.  I suggest that, instead of insisting on banning the name of this particular country from verbal discourse, that the French pronunciation of ‘nee-ZHAIRE’ be used instead.  This is an example of where I would recommend that the CPC be cognizant of the necessity for occasional compromise.”
“Only very occasional compromise,” she murmured with a grudging tone.  “What else you got?”
“Well,” I mentioned, “there’s the word ‘nigrus.’  It has Latin roots meaning black, and it’s used extensively in medicine and biology.  Banning it would mean changing literally thousands of scientific terms that have been used, in some cases, for centuries.”
“Terms,” she grumbled, “that were invented by white men.”
“Mostly, yes,” I conceded.
“I don’t know,” she fretted, shaking her head.  “The N-Word issue is just about the most important thing in our society today.  Maybe it might be worthwhile to shake up the white male dominated scientific community.  I’ll have take the issue to the CPC board and let them decide.”
“Okay,” I sighed.  “Next we have the issue of proper names – we must recognize the fact that people from all over the world have come to America and brought their family names with them.  There’s Snegur from Moldavia; Nijjer from the Punjab; Nejjer and Neggir from Arabia; the Welsh surname Knigar; the Austrian name Knigger; Portuguese surname Nacur, the Dutch name Kneeger and the German surnames Knegger, Kniger, Neggers and Pneger.”
“They can all change their last names to Jones as far as I’m concerned,” she hissed.  “No white people with names that sound like the N-Word are going to allowed to get away with it any longer!”
“Very well then,” I concluded, “it seems the CPC has more than enough… grist for the mill at the moment.  Would you like me to perform further, exhaustive research to ensure that no potential candidates for the Homophonic Offender List escape your scrutiny and sanction?”
“Yeah, do that,” she grunted as she hefted her ample frame out of the chair with considerable effort.  “All right, it looks like we have enough now to get started crushing those ofay, honky crackers.”
“Excuse me,” I interjected, “but did I just hear you use offensive terms for… um… Caucasians?”
“And don’t they deserve it?” Dr. Shabazz challenged, as she lumbered toward the door.  “Present company excepted, naturally.”