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I was watching two movies (Selma and The Help). Both are set in the USA South, in the 1960s. I noticed the whites sometimes said "nigra" (rather than the more familiar "nigger").

Did people in the South actually say "nigra"? If so, was it just in the South? When was this word used (I don't think it's used any more anywhere)?

And was it simply a slightly less derogatory version version of "nigger"?

(In both movies, the word "nigger" was also used occasionally, so it doesn't seem like "nigra" was merely the production studios' way of avoiding the word "nigger".)

closed as off-topic by Pieter Geerkens, axsvl77, Kobunite, Mark C. Wallace, Tom Au Aug 15 '16 at 14:51

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  • I have not seen any of them; maybe it was used in relation to a woman? Latin adjectives had different forms for femenine and masculine; the nominative of the latin word from which the expression was derived had the form niger for masculine and nigra for femenine. latindictionary.wikidot.com/adjective:niger – SJuan76 Aug 15 '16 at 2:48
  • @SJuan76: I don't think so. In Selma, it was used in these sentences, where it didn't seem gender-specific: "King, you know you are a complete fraud and a liability to all nigras." "We will not tolerate a bunch of nigra agitators attempting to orchestrate a disturbance in this state." "How in Christ's sake does Malcolm X slip into my state, meet with the wife of the other one, and give an actual speech to these nigras who are already riled up enough?" – Kenny LJ Aug 15 '16 at 2:53
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this topic deals with regional pronunciation of the English Language, and belongs on that site rather than History. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 15 '16 at 3:14
  • This was the pronunciation used by LBJ until in the 1960's he learned to say "Nigro" instead. – Mike Aug 15 '16 at 13:39
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    Maybe english (dot) stackexchange (dot) com is the place for this question. – Michael Hardy Aug 15 '16 at 19:47
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According to the June 2016 Oxford English Dictionary Online, it is a colloquial term for "Negro":

U.S. colloq. and regional (chiefly south.). Usu. offensive. Origin: A variant or alteration of another lexical item. Etymon: Negro n. Etymology: Representing a colloquial pronunciation of Negro n.

The OED also has it being squarely a 20th century term, arising in the early century and not being seen much after the 1960s. I grew up in the South in the 1980s and never heard it, although I did hear other derogatory language.

It was definitely not any less derogatory than other racist terms.

  • As a frequent denizen of the English Language and Usage site, I'll say that over there I have developed a strong dislike for dictionary quote authority answers, because dictionaries, even the OED, just can't capture nuance of meaning very well (or worse, they can be flat out wrong). This is a pretty good example of that. "Nigra" is just a heavily accented version of the N word. I've never heard it used in a context that was merely trying to be innocently descriptive. Its possible that you did hear it in your youth, but just thought the n-word was being used. – T.E.D. Aug 15 '16 at 13:54
  • (not downvoting, because your last sentence touches on the OED's inadequacy here) – T.E.D. Aug 15 '16 at 14:04
  • @T.E.D. I completely agree re the limitations of dictionary, especially a general one. I do think it's a distinct word, however, but that only really comes from books. I'm happy to edit or delete the answer. – rougon Aug 15 '16 at 16:37

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