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The N-Word, The B-Word, and Rihanna

Posted: 12/30/11 11:53 AM ET

A Dutch magazine claims to have used highly offensive terminology to refer to Rihanna in an affectionate manner. Oh really? Lots of people are offended and rightfully so. The two words, the "N-word" and "bitch," share similarities when it comes to their evolution. Both are derogatory terms and both refer to very specific demographic groups. The "N word" has roots as old as our nation, while the root's of the derogatory term "bitch" are even older.

The "N-word" was first used in Colonial America by John Rolfe to refer to the African slaves being shipped over to the colonies. It was derived from "negro," the Spanish/ Portuguese word for "black." According to journalist Clifton Johnson in 1904, the word was used to refer to blacks in the South and was chosen primarily for it's derogatory value, being considered more offensive than the term "colored," another term commonly used to refer to people of African descent at the time. "Bitch" too has highly offensive roots. The profane usage of the term began in the 14th century and "suggested high sexual desire in a woman, comparable to a dog in heat." The word "bitch" is still somewhat socially acceptable in modern day conversation, but that doesn't make it any less offensive. (Source Wikipedia)

Both groups, African-Americans and women, have tried to revitalize these terms by neutralizing their offensiveness. Variations of the "N-Word" are commonly used in music and conversation, as an attempt to turn something hateful and offensive into something benign.

The word "bitch" is another example of this. Women took the word and tried to turn it into something good. They tried to transform it into something that wasn't derogatory, but more so representative of a strong willed and assertive female who doesn't take crap from anyone. Does anyone really believe that the modern revitalization of either term makes their usage socially acceptable or even tolerable?

There is a lot more to these words than can be described in words. They are hateful and offensive terms but the context in which they are typically used takes it to another level of wrong. Both terms can be considered fighting words, and transcend regular insults. Both words, though different in context, are the same in emotion. Both words are used to assert dominance and superiority over the intended target.

Though people have tried to transform these hurtful and offensive words into something good, there are still plenty of people who use them in the fashion in which they were first intended: as insults to hurt others. It seems to me that neither of these words will ever be acceptable no matter how much we pretend to be over the words' historically derogatory connotations. What do you think?

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