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Nigga (/ˈnɪɡə/) is a colloquial term used in African-American Vernacular English that began as an eye dialect form of the word "nigger", an ethnic slur against black people. In some dialects of English, the word is pronounced the same as nigger in non-rhotic speech.


In practice, its use and meaning are heavily dependent on context.[1] Presently, the word "nigga" is used more liberally among younger members of all races and ethnicities in the United States.[2] In addition to African Americans, other ethnic groups have adopted the term as part of their vernacular.[3][4]

There is conflicting popular opinion on whether there is any meaningful difference between "nigga" and "nigger" as a spoken term.[5] Many people consider the terms to be equally pejorative, and the use of "nigga" both in and outside black communities remains controversial.[6] H. Lewis Smith, author of Bury That Sucka: A Scandalous Affair with the N-word, believes that "replacing the 'er' with an 'a' changes nothing other than the pronunciation"[7] and the African American Registry notes, "Brother (Brotha) and Sister (Sistah or Sista) are terms of endearment. Nigger was and still is a word of disrespect."[8] The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights group, condemns use of both "nigga and "nigger".[5]

Some African-Americans only consider "nigga" offensive when used by people of other races,[5] seeing its use outside a defined social group as an unwelcome cultural appropriation. Used by blacks, the term may indicate "solidarity or affection",[9] similar to the usage of the words "dude", "homeboy", and "bro". Others consider "nigga" non-offensive except when directed from a non-African-American towards an African-American. Yet others have derided this as hypocritical and harmful, enabling white racists to use the word and confusing the issue over nigger.[3]

Cultural influence

The term "nigga, please", used in the 1970s by comics such as Paul Mooney as "a funny punctuation in jokes about Blacks",[10][not in citation given] 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.[11][12] Examples include:

One of the earliest uses of the term in a popular song was the 1983 song "New York New York" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, although it had featured in some very early hip hop recordings such as "Scoopy Rap" and "Family Rap", both from 1979. Ol' Dirty Bastard uses the term 76 times in his Nigga Please album (not including repetitions in choruses).[12]

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 between "nigger" and "nigga": "Niggers was the ones on the rope, hanging off the thing; niggas is the ones with gold ropes, hanging out at clubs."[13] Tupac, who has been credited with legitimizing the term, said his song "N.I.G.G.A." stood for "Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished".[14]

Use in trademarks or brand names

Until a 2017 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Matal v. Tam,[15] the Lanham Act did not permit registration of trademarks containing terms that may disparage persons or bring them into disrepute.[16] 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.[17]

In 1995, two Houston, Texas 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".[11] 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".[12]

See also


  1. ^ Kennedy, Randall (2002). "Chapter One: The Protean N-Word". Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. New York: Pantheon Books. pp. 3–13. ISBN 0-375-42172-6.
  2. ^ Cooke, Jeremy (1 March 2007). "Racial slur banned in New York". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  3. ^ a b Aldridge, Kevin; Thompson, Richelle; Winston, Earnest (5 August 2001). "The evolving N-word". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Archived from the original on 2013-01-10.
  4. ^ Pierre, Kendra (1 May 2006). "'Nigger,' 'Nigga' or Neither?". Meridia. Lehman College. Archived from the original on March 9, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Allen-Taylor, J. Douglas (9–15 April 1998). "New Word Order". Metro Silicon Valley. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  6. ^ Alonso, Alex (30 May 2003). "Won't You Please Be My Nigga: Double Standards with a Taboo Word". Streetgangs Magazine. Archived from the original on 2013-01-04.
  7. ^ Smith, H. Lewis (25 January 2007). "Why the N-word Is Not Just Another Word". The Black Commentator (214). Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  8. ^ Middleton, Phil; Pilgrim, David (2001). "Nigger (the word), a brief history". African American Registry. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  9. ^ Aldridge, Kevin (5 August 2001). "Slurs often adopted by those they insult". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Archived from the original on 2013-01-11.
  10. ^ Fears, Darryl (27 November 2006). "Jesse Jackson, Paul Mooney Call for End of N-Word". Archived from the original on 30 March 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  11. ^ a b Fears, Darryl (15 March 2006). "Patent offense: Wayans's hip-hop line". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Cadenhead, Rogers (23 February 2006). "Actor Tries to Trademark 'N' Word". Wired. CondéNet Inc. Archived from the original on 12 February 2007. Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  13. ^ Shakur, Tupac (27 October 1995). "2Pac interview with Tabitha Soren" (Interview). Interviewed by Tabitha Soren. MTV – via
  14. ^ Hunter, Desiree (24 February 2007). "Racial slur takes center stage at Stillman". The Tuscaloosa News. Tuscaloosa, AL. Archived from the original on 9 February 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2018. Rapper Tupac Shakur was credited with legitimizing the term "nigga" when he came out with the song 'N.I.G.G.A.', which he said stood for 'Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished'.
  15. ^ Mullin, Joe (19 June 2017). "Supreme Court rules: Offensive trademarks must be allowed". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  16. ^ 15 U.S.C. § 1052.
  17. ^ Anten, Todd (1 March 2006). "Self-Disparaging Trademarks and Social Change: Factoring the Reappropriation of Slurs into Section 2(A) of the Lanham Act" (PDF). Columbia Law Review. 106: 338. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 July 2011.

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