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The “N” Word

I have noted that in the discussion of the hack job on Huckleberry Finn that few have observed that this is just another attempt to rewrite American history concerning the antebellum South.

Samuel Clemens specialized in writing in the vernacular, the everyday speech of the people, not in formal English. The novel is a snapshot of a time and place written down by one of America’s greatest storytellers. Clemens grew up in that period and provides a window to it that a history book cannot. Through the story we learn about regular people, not leaders or politicians.

The “N” word was always a low-class word that wasn’t used in “polite society”, which means that is was the common word in use. If someone wants to eliminate the word, at least do Mr. Clemens the courtesy of the calling the result something else and not Huckleberry Finn. That worked when The Seven Samurai became The Magnificence Seven.


1 Steve Bates { 01.09.11 at 12:18 am }

It is said that Mr. Clemens always used exactly the right word “and not its second cousin.” Twain’s novel, one of the truly great explorations of race relations in the 19th century, loses much of its impact if the speech of its characters is bowdlerized for modern audiences. And that in turn deprives our young people of the sheer power of Twain’s work: the notion that Huck eventually decides he would literally go to Hell before he would betray Jim is simply incomprehensible if Huck’s own background is perverted by a modern editor.

That’s not even mentioning the absurdity of some of the immediate results, such as the transformation that yields “free slave” …

2 Bryan { 01.09.11 at 12:53 am }

Which is why they should call this “Dewberry Kelly” and advertise it as the continuation of the “Joe Plumber” stories. Refer to it as a bad parody by the Auburn instructor.

[all corrections made thanks]

3 JuanitaM { 01.09.11 at 6:07 pm }


What can I say except God spare us from all the little busybodies whose life work is to homogenize and pasteurize all of the rest of us. Good grief.

By the way, I really appreciated that you put the Mark Twain “cat by the tail” quote on your page. With all the mental fire power you have here daily, it’s nice to know that I was able to add a little something!

4 Bryan { 01.09.11 at 9:54 pm }

Juanita, everyone wants to edit their past and doing so steals understanding from their future. People need to know why bad things happened, and smoothing off the sharp edges of the past makes it harder to understand. It also diminishes the courage of those who fought against the system. Being called rude names was the least of your problems if you were black in the antebellum South.

I still remember a few years ago when something caused people to realize that, like almost everyone else at the time, Abraham Lincoln was racist. I don’t understand why people missed that point, it’s not like it wasn’t obvious from a number of things he wrote. That was the way things were and why they needed to be changed. It has been a long hard road to where we are today. If it were easy, people would have done it a long time ago.

Juanita, everyone adds to the community, and thank you for bringing it up. It makes a point well beyond cats.

5 Badtux { 01.10.11 at 11:35 am }

Polite people, of course, used the word “Negro”. The *other* N-word was vulgar and marked you as white trash rather than as fit for polite company. The oh-so-correct doyennes of the Daughters of the Confederacy were quite insistent upon this point whilst they were teaching us elementary school kids that Abraham Lincoln was an evil man who stole the property of Southerners, the Negros were better off under slavery because they were inherently lazy and stupid and couldn’t properly care for themselves and needed a master to do so, and Robert E. Lee was a kind and just gentleman who was the greatest general, like, evah.

– Badtux the Southern Penguin