Nigga

nigga please

Nigga [nig-uh] is a term used in African American Vernacular English that began as an eye dialect (non-standard spelling to draw attention to pronunciation) of the slur ‘nigger,’ which originated as a term used in a neutral context to refer to black people, as a variation of the Spanish/Portuguese noun ‘negro,’ a descendant of the Latin adjective niger, meaning the color ‘black.’ In practice, its use and meaning are heavily dependent on context. Presently, ‘nigga’ is used more liberally among younger members of all races and ethnicities in the United States, although its use by persons not of African descent is still widely viewed as unacceptable and hostile, even when without intentional prejudice. In addition to African Americans, other ethnic groups have adopted the term as part of their vernacular.

There is conflicting popular opinion as to whether any meaningful difference exists between ‘nigga’ and ‘nigger’ as a spoken term. Many people consider them equally pejorative, and the use of ‘nigga’ both in and outside African American communities remains controversial. Some comentators have noted that ‘brother’ (‘brotha’) and ‘sister’ (‘sista’) are terms of endearment, but The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights group, condemns use of both ‘nigga’ and ‘nigger.’

Some African-Americans express considerable offense when referred to as a nigga by Caucasian people, but not if they are called the same by other African-Americans, or by some other minority, as a term of endearment. In this case, the term may be seen either as a symbol of brotherhood, similar to the usage of the words dude and bro, and its use outside a defined social group an unwelcome cultural appropriation. Critics have derided this as a double standard.

Non-rhotic English-speakers, such as speakers of many British dialects and African American Vernacular English, pronounce ‘nigger’ and ‘nigga’ identically, as their accents do not distinguish between these two words.

The term ‘nigga, please,’ first used in the 1970s by comics such as Paul Mooney as ‘a funny punctuation in jokes about Blacks,’ is now heard routinely in comedy routines by African Americans. The growing use of the term is often attributed to its ubiquity in modern American hip hop music. Examples include: hip-hop group Niggaz Wit’ Attitude (N.W.A.), A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Sucka Nigga,’ and Jay-Z’s ‘Jigga That Nigga.’ Ol’ Dirty Bastard uses the term 76 times in his ‘Nigga Please’ album (not including repetitions in choruses). This is reflected in the term’s wide use in modern American gang culture.

Comedian Chris Rock’s routine ‘Niggas vs. Black People’ distinguishes a nigga, which he defined as a ‘low-expectation-having motherfucker,’ from a ‘black person.’ In contrast, Tupac Shakur distinguished: ‘Niggers was the ones on the rope, hanging off the thing; niggas is the ones with gold ropes, hanging out at clubs.’ Tupac, who has been credited with legitimizing the term, said his song ‘N.I.G.G.A.’ stood for ‘Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished.’

The Lanham Act does not permit registration of trademarks containing terms that may disparage persons or bring them into disrepute. Registration by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) of terms that are historically considered disparaging to groups of people has been allowed in some circumstances. Self-disparaging trademarks have been allowed in some cases where the applicant has shown that the mark as-used is not considered by the relevant group to be disparaging.

In 1995, two Houston men filed a trademark application with the PTO for the words ‘Naturally Intelligent God Gifted Africans,’ and its acronym. The application was rejected, as were numerous subsequent applications for variations of the word ‘nigga.’ Most recently, comedian Damon Wayans twice attempted to trademark a brand name called ‘Nigga,’ ‘featuring clothing, books, music and general merchandise.’ The PTO refused the application, stating ‘the very fact that debate is ongoing regarding in-[ethnic]-group usage, shows that a substantial composite of African Americans find the term ‘nigga’ to be offensive.’

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