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NAACP backs calls for revising dictionary definition of racial slur

October 17, 1997

BALTIMORE (AP) _ The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is backing calls for Merriam-Webster to revise its dictionary definition of the word ``nigger.″

The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s 9th and 10th editions defines the word as ``a black person ... usually taken to be offensive.″

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said that definition ``doesn’t say, `Once used to describe a black person, a slur.′ It says, `A black person.‴

``The NAACP finds it objectionable that the Merriam-Webster would use black people as a definition for a racist term,″ he said.

The Baltimore-based NAACP said it would lead a boycott against the publisher if the word’s definition is not revised, The (Baltimore) Sun reported today.

Two Michigan women began the push earlier this year to have the word banned or its definition revised. One, Delphine Abraham, drafted a petition calling for the word’s removal from the dictionary.

Hundreds of people contacted Merriam-Webster after its definition of the racial slur was printed in the September issue of Emerge magazine. The publishing company said in a statement that it was ``reviewing our treatment of this word to see if there are better ways to present this information.″

``We have tried to make it clear that the use of this word as a racial slur is abhorrent to us, but it is nonetheless part of the language, and as such, it is our duty as dictionary makers to report on it,″ the company said.

In Merriam-Webster’s most recent edition, a paragraph was added, saying that ``nigger,″ although used by writers like Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad and Charles Dickens, is perhaps the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English.

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