nigger

noun

nig·​ger ˈni-gər How to pronounce nigger (audio)
plural niggers
1
offensive; see usage paragraph below
used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a Black person
2
offensive; see usage paragraph below
used as an insulting and contemptuous term for a member of any dark-skinned race (see race entry 1 sense 1a)
3
now often offensive; see usage paragraph below : a member of a class or group of people who are systematically subjected to discrimination and unfair treatment
it's time for somebody to lead all of America's niggers … all the people who feel left out of the political processRon Dellums
Usage of Nigger

Nigger is an infamous word in current English, so much so that when people are called upon to discuss it, they more often than not refer to it euphemistically as "the N-word." In senses 1 and 2, the word ranks as almost certainly the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English, a term expressive of hatred and bigotry. Sense 3 is also now rarely used and is often considered offensive. The word's self-referential uses by and among Black people are not always intended or taken as offensive (although many object to those uses as well), but its use by a person who is not Black to refer to a Black person can only be regarded as a deliberate expression of contemptuous racism.

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Did the definition of nigger change?

There is a widespread belief that the original meaning of nigger, as defined in dictionaries, was "an ignorant person," and a related belief that current dictionary definitions describing its use as a hateful, racist epithet are a recent change. We do not know the source of those beliefs, but they are not accurate. The word was first included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary in 1864, at which time it was defined as a synonym of Negro, with a note indicating that it was used "in derision or depreciation." There has never been a definition like "an ignorant person" for this word in any subsequent dictionary published by this company. Nor do we know of such a definition in any earlier dictionary.

Word History

Etymology

alteration of earlier neger, from Middle French negre, from Spanish or Portuguese negro, from negro black, from Latin niger

First Known Use

1755, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of nigger was in 1755

Dictionary Entries Near nigger

Cite this Entry

“Nigger.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nigger. Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

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