Nigga (//) 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. The word is pronounced the same as nigger in some dialects of English, including where common speech is non-rhotic. In rhotic dialects, nigga is pronounced //.
In practice, its use and meaning are heavily dependent on context. Presently, the word nigga is used more liberally among younger members of all races and ethnicities in the United States. In addition to African Americans, other ethnic groups have adopted the term as part of their vernacular.
There is conflicting popular opinion on whether there is any meaningful difference between nigga and nigger as a spoken term. Many people consider the terms to be equally pejorative, and the use of nigga both in and outside black communities remains controversial. 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" 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." The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a civil rights group, condemns use of both nigga and nigger.
Some African-Americans only consider nigga offensive when used by Americans of other races, its use outside a defined social group being an unwelcome cultural appropriation. Used by blacks, the term may indicate "solidarity or affection", 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.
Non-rhotic English-speakers, such as speakers of many British dialects and African American Vernacular English, pronounce "nigger" and "nigga" identically and 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:
- Niggaz Wit Attitudes (N.W.A)
- A Tribe Called Quest's "Sucka Nigga"
- Notorious B.I.G.'s "The Realest Niggaz"
- Jay-Z's "Jigga That Nigga" and "Nigga What, Nigga Who (Originator 99)"
- Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Niggas in Paris"
- DJ Khaled's "I Wish You Would"
- Snoop Dogg's "For All My Niggaz and Bitches"
- Nicki Minaj's "Lookin Ass"
- Kanye West's "All Day"
- YG's "My Nigga"
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). This is reflected in the term's wide use in modern American gang culture. According to a Texas Monthly article about Houston gangs, many Hispanic street gang members call each other niggah.
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." Tupac, who has been credited with legitimizing the term, said his song N.I.G.G.A. stood for "Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished."
Use in trademarks or brand names
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, 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." 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."
- Randall Kennedy. Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, Pantheon. 256 pp
- Jeremy Cooke. Racial slur banned in New York, BBC News, 1 March 2007
- Kevin Aldridge, Richelle Thompson and Earnest Winston. "The evolving N-word." The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 5, 2001.
- Kendra Pierre. 'Nigger,' 'Nigga' or Neither?, Meridia, May 1, 2006. Archived March 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- J. Douglas Allen-Taylor. New Word Order, Metro, April 9, 1998.
- Alex Alonso. Won’t You Please Be My Nigga: Double Standards with a Taboo Word[dead link], May 30, 2003.
- Smith. H. Lewis."Why The N-word Is Not Just Another Word." The Black Commentator. January 25, 2007. Issue 214. Retrieved 01-26-2007.
- Phil Middleton and David Pilgrim, "Nigger (the word), a brief history!." African American Registry. 2001. Retrieved 03-14-2007.
- Kevin Aldridge. Slurs often adopted by those they insult, The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 5, 2001.
- Darryl Fears. Jesse Jackson, Paul Mooney Call for End of N-Word, BET.com, November 27, 2006.
- Darryl Fears. Patent offense: Wayans’s hip-hop line, The Washington Post, March 15, 2006.
- Rogers Cadenhead. Actor Tries to Trademark 'N' Word, Wired, 23 February 2006.
- Skip Hollandsworth, Southwest Houston After Dark," Texas Monthly, December 2006
- "Interview with Tabitha Soren".
- Desiree Hunter (24 February 2007). "Racial slur takes center stage at Stillman". The Tuscaloosa News. Tuscaloosa, AL.
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 U.S.C. § 1052.
- 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.
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