The fine art of contextual cussing

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An article I wrote in response to some of Piers Morgan’s bullshit

First published by DIY Leeds (currently offline, awaiting relaunch)

Original text:

The fine art of contextual cussing

The conversational waters we sail day-to-day can be treacherous. Aboard
our individual vessels we bob about, navigating as best we can with our
continually recalibrating moral compass on hand to keep our course in

Should we choose to venture into the icy seas of racial epithets, we
find ourselves surrounded by ostensibly innocuous Cs, Fs and Ns,
floating about the place; their remaining ’90%’ – ’unts, ‘ucks
and ‘iggers respectively – remain subaqueous, beneath the waves, out
of site.

In plotting this course through the ocean of discourse, we hear the
simpering tones of Piers Morgan filling the airwaves with his latest,
typically woolly shipping forecast, this time with a broadcast entitled,
“If black Americans want the N-word to die, they will have to kill it

First and foremost, can we agree that it’s as unwise during debate to
generalise by melanin as it is to generalise by sock colour, possibly
more so.

I don’t consider the above to require any qualification and shall
leave it as it is (please comment if you feel otherwise). Onward we sail
to the crux of the matter!

Piers and I share a commonality in that we both hate “the N-word”.

Captain Morgan, for his part, laments the fact that N-bombs are dropped
on Twitter at a greater daily rate than _actual_ bombs were dropped on
Laos by the US during the Vietnam War.

After a brief nod to the appropriation of words ending in ‘id,
‘aggot and ‘unt – though without mentioning ‘ories,
‘uffragettes, ‘ykes and the like – he goes on to explain his
distaste for such attempts thusly:

“It doesn’t work. It has the complete opposite effect to the one
that I imagine everyone who does this imagines it will have. Far from
‘owning’ these words, seizing back control with the use of them, I
believe it merely serves to empower those who wish to deploy them
abusively – and encourage them to continue doing so.”

Setting to one side the easy argument of ‘who the hell is Piers Morgan
to presume what black Americans collectively want from a discourse on
racial appellatives?’, allow me to explain my very different reason
for disliking the ’N-word’:

It does not exist
Indeed, it has never existed

The word that does exist and that will always exist is ‘nigger’ (as
well as ‘nigga’, but that really is a different word these days,
pragmatics and contextualisation being as they are).

Like the proverbial iceberg, the initial ’N’ is just the tip of the
matter and provides nothing of real value when analysed independently of
its oft-hidden remainder. Indeed, if by some miracle of physics, the
part of an iceberg visible above water was all there is to icebergs, the
Titanic would have ploughed confidently onwards and many lives would
have been spared (as would many ears and eyes from the torturous
Hollywood re-enactment of the late ‘90s).

We rightly remember that more weighty matters hang beneath.

I do not intend to intone that such cusses are best banded around
willy-nilly. Frivolous use of words is as foolish to me as the cowardly
avoidance thereof.

And it _is_ cowardly behaviour, is it not, to insert words into the
minds of others without actually uttering them yourself. This point is
best illustrated by those who have made good use of such words.

“And while the niggers of this world are starving with their mouths
wide open, what is it that turns the coins we throw at them into
worthless little tokens?”

The above is a line from the song Violence of Truth by The The, a song
which examines the lack of social progress made in our divided world and
the author’s views as to why the exist, his sentiment summed up by the
closing line, “That’s why human beings still walk on all fours”

Here, Matt Johnson seems to be demonstrating his anger at the fact that
sections of humanity are reduced to beggary and dehumanised, a point
made more powerful by including a term intended to dehumanise black

Consider also the following:

“Just remember, in here, you the nigger. Not me.”

This quote is from the indelibly excellent film, American History X. The
black inmate, Lamont makes this statement to fellow inmate and white
supremacist Derek Vinyard, pointing out neatly that incarceration has
rendered the white man stood before him one of the racial minority.

In both examples, the term ‘nigger’ is contextualised to
illustrate the plight of another person or group via dehumanising
terminology, the gravitas of the statement being much more difficult to
achieve without said term.

Which is my point. We need to remember these words. We need to remember
what they mean, and not merely in the etymological sense, but what their
existence says about humanity in general. By attempting to kill them
off, we forget the effect their use has on others; we take a passing
glance at the benign looking island of ice and forget the looming giant
beneath that could scupper our little moral vessel.

And when we use them wisely, such words add weight to our statements.
Should I witness a racially motivated verbal attack by one person to
another, I will state in recounting the incident that I saw a man scream
“nigger” in another man’s face. I will do so because you were not
there and I wish to convey the event as it happened, with all the
nastiness intact.

I can’t do that with N-bombs, Piers, nor should I be expected to. In
taking a cowardly stance on the use of language, we lose its power and
render ourselves conversationally subservient to those linguistically
bold enough to use words appropriately.

And in that context, the only nigger in the room is Piers Morgan

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