nig·​ger | \ ˈni-gər How to pronounce nigger (audio) \
plural niggers

Definition of nigger

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 process— Ron Dellums

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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." Its offensiveness is not new—dictionaries have been noting it for more than 150 years—but it has grown more pronounced with the passage of time. The word now ranks as almost certainly the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English, a term expressive of hatred and bigotry. Its 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. Its offensiveness has grown to such an extent in recent decades that sense 3 is now rarely used and is itself likely to be found offensive.

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.

First Known Use of nigger

1755, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for nigger

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

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Cite this Entry

“Nigger.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of nigger

offensive : a black person


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