Black people love words. There’s no getting around it. From “bling” to “booty” to “drive-by shooting,” Blacks have undoubtedly enriched the American English vocabulary. Incredible athletic achievements aside, Black people’s top contribution to the American experiment is undoubtedly the new words that have flown smoothly into the vernacular. “You straight trippin dog,” to a new version of “for real” – which Black people say “fizzule”.
Yet despite their creative knack for inventing slang, pidgins, and complex poetic genres like graffiti and human beatboxing, Blacks tend to be a little wary of Standard English words that contain six or more letters, especially if those words are combined together. Compound words like porch-monkey (the movie Clerks II tries to show white people taking porch monkey back) really throw Blacks into a rage, and they’re known to thereby justify any act of violence against anyone unfortunate enough to say these or other words that discomfort or confuse them.
Black people, however, do not like the word “niggard” or its more common usage, “niggardly,” for example. “Niggardly” means a miser, someone who is stingy. But for Blacks, “niggard” means…well, you know what it means. Black people automatically assume using the word niggardly is a racial pejorative, when in fact it is a fine word to denote someone who is parsimonious, primarily in tipping.
In fact, many white people have used the term “niggardly” before at their job, in a mulitracial setting, and found themselves deprived of that vocation soon thereafter.
Strange though, the etymology of the word “niggard” derives from 1366:
1366, nygart, of uncertain origin. The suffix suggests Fr. origin (cf. dastard), but the root word is probably related to O.N. hnøggr “stingy,” from P.Gmc. *khnauwjaz (cf. Swed. njugg “close, careful,” Ger. genau “precise, exact”), and to O.E. hneaw “stingy, niggardly,” which did not survive in M.E.
“David Howard, the white director of a Washington D.C. municipal agency [..] told his staff that, in light of budget cutbacks, he would have to be “niggardly” with funds. An uproar followed that resulted in Howard’s resignation, which was accepted by Mayor Anthony Williams on the grounds that Howard had shown poor judgment.
Even some of the commentators who admitted that they knew that “niggardly” has no relation to “nigger” (the origins of the first word predate those of “nigger” by about 300 years) still condemned Howard. They were answered by the columnist Tony Snow, who wrote, “David Howard got fired because some people in public employ were morons who
a) didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘niggardly’
b) didn’t know how to use a dictionary to discover the word’s meaning and
c) actually demanded that he apologize for their ignorance.”
“Niggardly” sounds, to the Black ear, too much like the term “nigger” or “nigga”, which Black people are allowed to say to each other, but White people cannot. A white person saying the word “niggardly” or “nigga”, let alone the mother of all hate words, “nigger” is grounds for expulsion from work, or in some cases, death.
Equipped with a biological capacity for language which rivals that of macaws (Zulu and other Bantu languages average about 20,000 documented words, while English and French have several hundred thousand), Blacks tend to overlook troublesome letters and simply go with their instincts. This leads not only to their extraordinary talent for misconstruing harmless phrases or words – like niggardly -, but also to their ability to create nonsensical words out of thin air, giving them an undeniable edge in scatting, freestyle rap, and slam poetry.