February 6, 2021

"'Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended.' The science reporter... described the 'n-word' incident..."

"... as having occurred during a dinner discussion about the use of racial slurs, in which one student on the trip asked whether a classmate should have been suspended for using racist rhetoric in a video. 'To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself,' McNeil wrote. He apologized for 'extraordinarily bad judgment' to both the staff of the Times, singling out those he worked closely with, and to the students on the trip. 'I am sorry. I let you all down.'... Times executive editor Dean Baquet had previously said McNeil should be 'given another chance' because his comments were not 'hateful or malicious' in intent, but in a message to staff on Friday, the top editor wrote, 'We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.'"


In the old days, a big deal was made of the "use/mention" distinction. It doesn't seem to matter anymore. Even McNeil, defending himself, asserts that he "used" the word.

I understand wanting to say that "intent" shouldn't be decisive, because it presents evidentiary problems. What went on in a person's head? Did he somehow mean well? But the "use/mention" distinction doesn't require a trip into someone's mind. If you have the outward statement, you can know whether the speaker/writer used the word as his own word or was referring to the word as a word. 

You don't need to know whether I think Dean Baquet is a coward to distinguish the statement "Dean Baquet is a coward" from "I can imagine someone saying 'Dean Baquet is a coward.'" And writing that last sentence, I can see why the "use/mention" distinction went to hell!

109 comments:

Fernandinande said...

'I am sorry. I let you all down.'

Blasphemer!

"N-word" is like "G*d".

donald said...

Coward, fucking moron. Either works here.

mikee said...

The purpose of censorious cancellation is to gain power over others. Tell people offended by free speech to get stuffed.

mikee said...

Here's how cancellationk worked in the olden days. Why has Monty Python been so prophetic?

gilbar said...

What word are you talking about?

Wince said...

Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., said the state had favored its entertainment industry over...

Does a similar "unequal treatment" favoritism apply to the use of certain words when it comes to rap music and movies?

And the race of a speaker for that matter.

Levi Starks said...

Sticks and stones.

alanc709 said...

I'll believe in the sincerity of this movement when all rap music is condemned and deleted.

Rob said...

McNeil’s self-criticism and apology didn’t save him. Rather than grovel, he should have said he hadn’t done anything wrong—because he hadn’t. Of course, maybe his self-abasement was sincere and he shares the woke beliefs of his persecutors. In that case, my sympathy for him has left the building.

mesquito said...

I admit I once read “Huckleberry Finn.”

But, as God is my witness, I did not move my lips.

Jupiter said...

gilbar said...
"What word are you talking about?"

gilbar mentioned the racist word!

Jupiter said...

Faster and faster and faster!

mezzrow said...

When the filter becomes binary, eradication can be farmed out to bot servers. This filter is so effective it has rendered me unable to even think words that fall into the offending categories. The hard part is making sure I download the nightly updates. Make sure you accept the push notification.

It'll all be much easier after the interface is physically installed to the cortex and you can automate the updates. Forward.

robother said...

That guy who recorded the audio book of Huckleberry Finn is so fucked.

Cacimbo said...

Would McNeil have been fired or a complaint even filed if he identified as black. If not his firing was racist, not his use of the word.

Rap culture and media have turned n***er into a cool word.I have seen teenagers on a small island in Belize and Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn eagerly greeting each other with "my n***er." To me it sounded comical, but these kids grew up hearing it. That is how they think the cool kids talk.They have seen blacks using that word to refer to each other for decades - not as a racial epithet Just like that country singer. From what I read he was not using the word racially,

Gahrie said...

White priveledge is the ability to have your life ruined for using a work that thousands of low to no talent rap "singers" use hundreds of times in every "song" they release, and Black people use to refer to each other every day.

DavidUW said...

Words are magic in this stupid age.

Fernandinande said...

Rather than grovel

The useless pitiful groveling reminded me of Cool Hand Luke, which we watched recently -

Boss Paul: Suppose you's to back-sass?

Luke: No I won't. I won't. I got my mind right.

Diamond said...

Blazing Saddles is still funny.

Ann Althouse said...

The David Sedaris book "Theft by Finding" has the n-word 16 times — each time it's a mention, not a "use." He's recorded in his diary somebody else's use of the word, and it documents racism in specific real-life contexts. He says the word out loud in the audiobook, usually putting on a voice to represent the speaker of the word. That book was published in 2017. I wonder if all that would be censored today.

wild chicken said...

"Rap culture and media have turned n***er"

No, that word is n***a.

Bug difference!

wild chicken said...

BIG

iowan2 said...

I can't get this response to square with a stated goal, or solution.

This makes some SJW feel better, but accomplishes nothing.

It actually diverts resources from working toward the stated goal.

Its hard for me to believe there is a problem, when events like this are the examples.

Josephbleau said...

If you are not allowed to discuss a particular subject no solution can be advanced. No common ground can be found. The issue will remain unhealthy and rotten. This is exactly what these people want.

Josephbleau said...

We are all in the public eye. If you value your career never have any conversation about race or equality at all, the chance of making a blunder is too high. Likewise, never mention Trump in public at all. In 5 years we can talk about Trump when the radioactivity decays.

Bob Boyd said...

In the old days, a big deal was made of the "use/mention" distinction. It doesn't seem to matter anymore.

It's about taking a scalp.

Lucid-Ideas said...

Latino speakers are the worst afflicted. Did you know that in Brazilian Portuguese there are close to a hundred linguistic variations on the color black? Masculine vs feminine. Dominant vs diminutive. Slang. Innuendo. Sex talk. Etc.

Seriously, in Brazil they have the same problem we have but without the veil of civility bullshit. It's much more raw. Conversely there's a lot more antagonistic language for white men. Doesn't bother me a pin.

mikee said...

My grandfather, a Slovakian immigrant who worked in a Pittsburgh steel mill for 30 years, once told me that immigrants working in the mill might call one another names, from "John Bull" for the English to the dreaded African-American designator "NonWord" which we dare not mention while we discuss it, but that simple self preservation in a dangerous work environment meant that they were all coworkers, and looked out for one another. They might go to different churches on Sunday, and back then even lived in neighborhoods segregated as much by languages as skin color. But they knew Sam was a good worker and Gino was a smart guy and Tom was a lazy bum but could still handle the hot metal like it was pastry dough, and so on, because they had the common goal of going home with all their body parts.

Perhaps the fight today to censor and control language is so harshly fought because the stakes are so very, very low compared to what previous generations experienced. My grandfather got through three decades of mill work safely, then lost a finger in retirement mishandling his garden rototiller. I think of him often when I'm getting out my lawn mower.

Kevin said...

Assuming arguendo that the Times permits black employees to use the N- word, is this arguably a Title VII violation? Or assume that the policy is that only white employee's are not permitted to use racial slurs? One of the Times editors, is after all, notorious for her racial jokes about white people. If it weren't for the apology letter, I think this would make an interesting case.

Cacimbo said...

@wild chicken Good point, my mistake.

Lucid-Ideas said...

N-word this.
N-word that.
N-word with a hiss.
N-word banned in althouse chat.
Niger hardest hit.

Bob Boyd said...

The "use/mention" distinction was important to people who were anti-racism. Those people have been displaced by people who are anti-racist.

Being anti-racism is an intellectual and ethical endeavor.

Being anti-racist is a witch hunt. And a witch hunter always finds a witch.

mikee said...

Also, if intent of the speaker should not be decisive in determining what something means, may I ask who gets to choose the listener that decides, in a Godlike manner, what something means? If you are offended and I think your taking offense is laughable, how do we choose which to agree upon? May I suggest that whenever someone takes offense, if one other person on earth, alive or anywhere in the historical written record, is not offended, then your taking offense is your personal problem to handle in private, and not that of the speaker.

Bob Boyd said...

Anti-racism focuses on eliminating bad ideas.

Anti-racist focuses on eliminating people.

Owen said...

I used to worry about accidentally getting tagged for using a Bad Word, but then I identified as black. So I’m safe now. And if you question me, you’re a racist.

Hey, this game is fun!

h said...

It is essential that we have an open and honest conversation about race in America. But if you say the wrong thing in that conversation, you will be punished. /s

Tommy Duncan said...

Perhaps it's time to turn off the outrage machine. Or at least ignore it.

Of course, "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me" doesn't feed the narrative machine or produce useful political wedges.

Owen said...

Mikee @ 9:04: “...Perhaps the fight today to censor and control language is so harshly fought because the stakes are so very, very low compared to what previous generations experienced...”

Word. Bald men fighting over a comb.

MayBee said...

It's interesting you brought this up, but I really don't understand what *you* are saying.

JPS said...

I hate that word. You call someone that, you refer to someone as that, you deserve all the condemnation and contempt that are coming your way.

But FFS, now we're not allowed to type it out? To quote it? To read aloud the Reverend King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail"?

Is this actually the only word we can't write out or say aloud anymore? Because it seems to me George Carlin's famous list, even his glorious extended list, of words you can't say is all fair game.

Judgment is out the window. The context and intent of McNeil's utterance are out the window. You said that. You're not allowed to say that. Now we will ruin you. We take no pleasure in it (actually we take great pleasure in it), but it's got to be done.

It is very useful to some people to weaponize fragility in others.

pacwest said...

What word are you talking about?

If I had to guess I think it would be p*wer. Might be c*ntr*l though. N*t sure.

Ken B said...

The point is power. In the old south if a black men encountered a white man on the street he had to avert his eyes and step aside. There were consequences if he did not.

It’s all about who has to avert their eyes and step aside.

Ken B said...


Blogger Josephbleau said...
If you are not allowed to discuss a particular subject no solution can be advanced. No common ground can be found. The issue will remain unhealthy and rotten. This is exactly what these people want.

——-

Plus one.

Rudinesque Joseph. 😉

jaydub said...

"That book was published in 2017. I wonder if all that would be censored today."

Certainly would be on your blog because you have told us that you will not tolerate it in any context, even the most innocent reference to it as appears to have been in McNeil's case. I haven't personally heard that word (whatever it is) used by a White person in at least 15 or 20 years, and anyone who would use the word as a pejorative would be immediately banished from polite society, as well he should be. However, this pretension that the word doesn't exist is beyond the pale, so to speak.

Bob Boyd said...

My Grandmother, who was born around 1900 and spent her life on a small farm in Kansas, taught me not to use the N-word when I was very small, but I remember it clearly.

She told me, "Don't call 'em a n*****. They'll stab ya."

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your ass.

Mike Sylwester said...

This situation is a consequence of promoting someone to a newspaper's executive editor just because of his race.

Charlie said...

Look at the bright side.....there are now fewer people employed at the NYT!

MayBee said...

If we know what word is being replaced by "n-word", why is typing or saying "n-word" acceptable? Surely the shorthand for it is just as hurtful and damaging as the whole word.

Raping someone is harmful. Calling it "seducing" someone doesn't make it less harmful. Why does saying "n-word" make it less harmful to hear such a horror?

chuck said...

Another victim of the raging pandemic. McNeil should have worn a gag.

Richard Aubrey said...

I used to think Sarin was dangerous.... But at least you had to carry it in a container somebody might spot.

Krumhorn said...

I don’t know anything about McNeil’s work, but since the likelihood is great that as a NYT writer he has caused or inflicted similar injustice to others, he has now been a properly sauced and cooked goose. Karma works that way. Lefties eating their own.

- Krumhorn

Michael said...

Dick Gregory wrote a book you can buy through the Amazon portal on this site. The title is N...r. Gregory wrote it out fully and it is so printed on the cover. All six letters. I apologize, of course, for referring to the title though I did not write it out and when I looked up the book I stopped myself from reading the word that n my mind and instead translated it instantly to the Nword the autobiography of Dick Gregory.

Lucid-Ideas said...

@Bob Boyd

https://www.google.com/amp/s/abc7news.com/amp/san-francisco-senior-attacked-sf-man-pushed-on-video-day-time-attack-caught-anza-vista-crime/10205928

Knife not included.

Bob Boyd said...

Thanks for the link, Lucid.

It was worth for this alone:

A woman named Maylasia Goo, 20, was also later arrested and booked for one count of accessory after the fact.

Maylasia Goo! What a great name.

pacwest said...

Why does saying "n-word" make it less harmful to hear such a horror?

If it hadn't of been glorified by popular black culture it would have been long gone from the lexicon by now. When's the last time you heard spic or chink? (Sorry, I meant to say THE s-word and THE c-word.)

Bob Boyd said...

Sorry, that funny name leapt out at me, but I hadn't watched the video or read the article yet. Horrific. Seriously. Nothing funny about it. Wow.

I wonder if this is some kind of new fad. I've been hearing about these attacks where a young black man will just suddenly rush an older white man and knock them down then flee.
It happened to my sister's next door neighbor just a couple weeks ago in Seattle. He was a little banged up, but not seriously injured. Frightened though. And now afraid to walk on his own street the way he always has.

tcrosse said...

If we know what word is being replaced by "n-word", why is typing or saying "n-word" acceptable? Surely the shorthand for it is just as hurtful and damaging as the whole word.

Before he fell into disgrace, Louis CK made this very point.

Lucien said...

Ann: do you honestly believe that any black person hearing that word is actually traumatized by its mention — but only if the speaker is not black? Once you realize that the trauma BS is just that, then the naked cultural and political power play involved becomes more odious. And if a black person hears or reads the word, do they need to wait until they can attribute a race to the speaker/author in order to “collapse the wave equation” and determine how offended to act? It’s enough to flummox one.

TheDopeFromHope said...

The Times seems to be a bit niggardly in the treatment of its employees. Or is it now “n***ardly”?

tcrosse said...

Gimme an N....

mikee said...

If a person hears this unmentionable word spoken aloud, but cannot tell the race of the person speaking it, is it a racist use of the word? Have we discovered the racial equivalent of Schrodinger's Cat, a word that is or isn't racist, until the potential offendee determines the racial status of the speaker?

What if a person with a white mother and a black father says this word? Does this change if the person saying the word had a black mother and a white father? Or is the offense limited to 50% of fully offended because of a racial discount on potential offensiveness?

What other examples of this type of conundrum exist when we stop being sensible humans and start listening to progressive woke scolds, instead of laughing at them?

Lurker21 said...

Do we now have to call all fired reporters, like all adult film actors, "stars"?

۰

Use/mention breaks down when you consider whether someone gets satisfaction out of mentioning the word. Did Sedaris or his readers get (pardon my French) a frisson when they wrote or read the forbidden word? Does the thrill that comes from attacking the supposed racist contain the thrill that comes from repeating their words?

۰

I will also reflect that this was probably not the worst thing that could happen when a middle-aged man chaperones teenagers on an international trip.

robother said...

Do not say that Dean Bacquet is a coward. Rather, say that when it comes to courage, he is a niggard.

Joe Smith said...

Black people are obviously too sensitive and ill-equipped to live in a modern society.

It's up to speech laws and the government to 'save' them.

Joe Smith said...

"The point is power. In the old south if a black men encountered a white man on the street he had to avert his eyes and step aside. There were consequences if he did not."

The point is power. In the old south if a black men encountered a white Democrat man on the street he had to avert his eyes and step aside. There were consequences if he did not.

Fixed it. But you probably didn't know that being a foreigner and all...

donald said...

Niggardly. In denounce myself. I’m sure I’ll be executed anyway.

Sebastian said...

"I can see why the "use/mention" distinction went to hell!"

Can you? You have yet to subscribe to the Universal Theory of Progressive Instrumentalism.

An inference from which holds that whatever doesn't serve prog purposes must go. The use/mention distinction doesn't serve prog purposes. Therefore, out. On the other hand, banning any use of any bad words and anyone who uses the use serves the prog purge. Therefore, progs ban with abandon. Scorches the earth, shows who's boss, adds another scalp to the trophy case of the culture war, while encourager les autres. Win/win/win.

Mark O said...

Would someone here let me know when these "slurs," "unmentionables," "racist epithets," and any other "bad" words, become inherently taboo. That is when the "N" word rises from racial contraction to a shibboleth, winsomely spoken between persons of a certain class in a certain race. Then, from there to a word so intrinsically and profoundly execrable, that no one, no insiders or outsiders, would dare to breathe it.

Until then, I will consider it impolite, but in actual fact, a token of power.

BUMBLE BEE said...

The Last Poets now? The Revolution Can Not Be Televised!

NMObjectivist said...

There is no more "use/mention" distinction. Our times remind me of the French Reign of Terror.

Ken B said...

Alice from Queens, on Twatter

To the staff of The Times:

I should *ot have ever used the letter that comes betwee* the letters "m" and "o."

Origi*ally, I thought the co*text i* which I used this ugly letter could be defe*ded.

I *ow realize that it ca**ot.

Do*ald J Mc*eil Jr

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

Ugh. Tried to explain the use/mention distinction to someone on social media. Didn't go well. Was accused of "pining for the good ole days when a comedian could use the word with impunity."

These people are crackpot zealots who don't really have the capacity to understand the concept. It's odd and, ultimately, worrisome.

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

And now, the word "obesity" is spelled, "ob*sity," so as not to offend the obese, excuse me, the ob*se.

When does the phenomenon of adults thinking and acting like children become dangerous?

Earnest Prole said...

These are the stupid days.

Rabel said...

"At least six students or their parents claimed McNeil had made racist and sexist remarks throughout the trip."

His story about only using the bad word only once and in an innocent way is a lie.

Joe Smith said...

"These are the stupid days."

I guess 'Idiocracy' was a documentary after all...

Yancey Ward said...

Rabel,

I believe the guy, and here is why- I have literally never heard a person use the word the way the students and their parents claimed he was using it throughout that trip, and I grew up in a particularly non-PC world, even for its time. At this point, there had better be video of him using it this way, or it didn't happen.

YoungHegelian said...

The wonderful thing about Cancel Culture for those in power is that it allows them to use some minor mistake as an excuse to topple someone who ordinarily would be untouchable. Probably, McNeil had pissed off someone in power at the NYT, but it wasn't enough that such a veteran reporter could be safely pushed out for it. This faux-pas on the bus provided the perfect opportunity for revenge.

Of course, management can in the future always be lenient for the proper individual who gets caught out in the future. "We understand poor So-and-So just misspoke and we're going to move forward because reasons". It's all about personalities & in-group struggles, you understand, fought under the banner of Social Justice.

And then let's not forget the old Chinese adage of "Kill a chicken to frighten the monkeys" as a method of group control at the Times. It's amazing how much a knowledge of the history of the Cultural Revolution & the Great Purges has become useful in contemporary America. Next up, "Darkness at Noon" as a "how to" book.

Yancey Ward said...

"It's interesting you brought this up, but I really don't understand what *you* are saying."

I think I know what she was saying, but, yes, it was surprisingly convoluted for me, too.

rhhardin said...

It's not any kind of mistake to say the n-word.

It's talking past the sale, to say of it that you can be cancelled for making a small mistake.

mikee said...

Rabel, claims are not proof. The "severity of the claim demanding instant punishment without proof" method of Democrat censorship went away when Bill Clinton abused an intern, and the true claims against him had to be proven by, and only were proven by, forensic DNA analysis of his sperm on her blue dress.

If one censorious woke scold is offended, it is almost axiomatic that six more nearby will join in the being offended. And truth is optional in woke world.

n.n said...

When does the phenomenon of adults thinking and acting like children become dangerous?

When they normalize elective abortion ("life deemed unworthy of life") for social progress, medical progress, and sociopolitical leverage under the ostensibly "secular" Pro-Choice quasi-religion (e.g. "ethics") and colorful rubric of social justice.

n.n said...

Revenge of the nerds.

Blackbeard said...

This has nothing to do with race, it is all about power. What could be a clearer demonstration of power than the ability to tell your opponents the very words they are allowed to speak?

Joe Smith said...

I love it when liberals eat their own.

Curious George said...

"tcrosse said...
Gimme an N...."

Hahaha!

rhhardin said...

Try ordering niger seed for your goldfinches and house finches.

rhhardin said...

In 1973, a typist corrected a naval requirements memo for asking for two riggers, substituting colored gentlemen.

rhhardin said...

More currently, who is rigging the election? The election riggers.

Jupiter said...

"If you have the outward statement, you can know whether the speaker/writer used the word as his own word or was referring to the word as a word."

But it is not the intentions, nor even the actions, of the person using the word that matter. It is the feelings evoked in some other person, who may or may not be present, and indeed, may or may not even exist. In fact, it doesn't even matter whether he actually uttered the word. What matters is that the accusation was made, and any response but immediate and savage punishment implies that the accusation might sometimes be made in error, or even that the infraction is a trivial or inconsequential one, like using the wrong fork. Words are not forks.

rhhardin said...

Going from speech to intentions is subject to the usual social dynamics of reading.

You get from that good readings and bad readings, not good and bad words.

It's language, not scrabble.

rhhardin said...

What is the scrabble score of the n-word, by the way.

n.n said...

You get from that good readings and bad readings, not good and bad words.

From black hole to black whore h/t NAACP. Social dynamics for profit and leverage.

From baby to "burden" h/t Obama. From democracy to dictatorship h/t Democrats. From civil rights to civil rites h/t feminists. From re-education camps to concentration camps h/t communists, socialists, et al. From social justice anywhere to injustice everywhere h/t ethicists.

Joe Smith said...

"What is the scrabble score of the n-word, by the way."

In Harlem? A kick in the teeth : )

rhhardin said...

Derb discovers an allegory:

Anosognosia is a condition in which the patient is suffering some severe neurological impairment but does not know it. The impairment is strictly neurological, in the higher processing regions of the brain. You might, for example, be suffering from paralysis of a limb, yet be unaware of it.

There are even some extreme cases recorded in which the sufferer is blind but does not know it! The eyes and optic nerves have normal function, but the brain centers that process visual stimulus are not working. To compensate, the brain makes up a visual field, trying to use cues from memory and the other senses.

It doesn't work very well. You keep falling over things, but you can't understand why.

Western society seems to have fallen into something like a social anosognosia. Our collective senses are gathering information OK, more than ever before in history in fact. But our collective brain is failing to process it, and compensates by making stuff up.

n.n said...

Scrabble Word Score Calculator

n-erd is worth 5 points
n-egro is worth 6 points, may be worth more in the near future with immigration reform
n-orovirus is worth 12 points
n-incompoop is worth 18 points

n-ecrophilism is worth 21 points
n-atal, however, is worth only 5 points

All, of course, subject to board dynamics.

Curious George said...

"What is the scrabble score of the n-word, by the way."

Like in life, it depends where it's played.

Ken B said...

People have been punished not just for saying the n word, but for using locutions like “the n word”. I posted a link here recently. You can’t use , or mention, or mention a mention. Alice *ails it above.

rhhardin said...

The scrabble score of the n-word is 8. Will the number 8 soon be used to refer to the n-word? Don't risk using the number 8. Remember it's old tweets that they go after, sometime in your future.

rhhardin said...

The word whose scrabble score is eight, you can call it, but only temporarily.

rhhardin said...

Words that are only two letters away from getting you in trouble
dagger
finger
ginger
ligget
linger
niggle
nugget

Meade said...

Clue: People Who Annoy RHHardin

N _ G G E R S

rhhardin said...

This sentence has three a's, one b, two c's, two d's, thirty six e's, three f's, three g's, eleven h's, nine i's, one j, one k, three l's, one m, eighteen n's, twelve o's, one p, one q, eight r's, twenty six s's, twenty t's, two u's, five v's, seven w's, three x's, four y's, and one z.

Is "nine" being used or mentioned? Used, certainly, but its letters are being counted as well, contributing to the number of i's for example, being nine.

rhhardin said...

A close reading might determine that it's the left being mocked.

Meade said...

Answer: naggers

Spaceman said...

I'll start worrying about this as soon as rappers get criticized for saying nigga and bitch every other lyric. And being nominated and some winning Emmy awards for doing so.

mandrewa said...

Romanian TVee waxes wonderfully sarcastic on the subject. Listen to New York Times Science Reporter Donald McNeil gets cancelled

I mean really he does this well. The first half of this rant is fun to listen to.

Seamus said...

He quoted someone saying "Jehovah." Therefore he must be stoned to death. As, I guess, must I.l

Kirk Parker said...

Meade:

Bzzzzt!!! Thanks for trying to play!

The answer is nogger.