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Gates Got Origins Of ‘N-Word’ Wrong

From the archives of C-SPAN’s Booknotes:

Colored People by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

October 9, 1994

BRIAN LAMB: Henry Louis Gates Jr., author of "Colored People." Why the title?

HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.: Well, we were colored in the 1950s, and this is a book that attempts to recount what it was like of African descent in the United States between 1950 and roughly 1970. And partly it’s a book about names and naming, and not only the names that the race has given itself — colored people to Negro to black, ultimately to African-American — but also one’s own names. As you know, I talk about the names that were given to me at different points in my life and then finally, when I was 25, I took my father’s name…

LAMB: Before we go back and talk about the past, what are you doing now?

GATES: I’m the chairman of Afro-American Studies at Harvard and a professor of English.

LAMB: And how long have you been doing that?

GATES: This is the beginning of my fourth year…

LAMB: I didn’t do it, but if I had more time, I think I would have gone through and counted the number of times you used the word nigger in the book.

GATES: Quite a lot.

LAMB: What’s the point?

GATES: Well, I’m quoting people. I’m quoting my father, I’m quoting my uncles, I’m quoting sometimes my mother, the people I grew up with…

LAMB: Where did the word come from?

GATES: Well, it’s a debasement of negro, which is Spanish for black.

LAMB: Did you ever go and find the exact spot where that word started?

GATES: No, linguists have. They can trace it to the 17th century. And it’s, again, a debasement of negro or a debasement of Niger, N-I-G-E-R, like the Niger River, or nigars, N-I-G-A-R-S, the word which was used to describe the first 20 or so slaves who came to Jamestown in 1619…

You would perhaps think that the chairman of Afro-American Studies at Harvard who is also a professor of English would have thought to look up the etymology of the word in the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary.

Here it is:

Which, in turn, leads us to:

So let’s review.

Professor Gates got the century wrong when the word first appeared. (The OED traces it to the 16th century, rather than the 17th.)

And Mr. Gates also got the spelling wrong for the mention of the first slaves sold in Jamestown. (The OED quotes Captains Smith as spelling it “Negars.”)

What a scholar!

Indeed, given Mr. Gates’ obvious penchant for the N-Word, you would think he would have at least gotten its history right.

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, July 26th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

26 Responses to “Gates Got Origins Of ‘N-Word’ Wrong”

  1. Liberals Make Great Speedbumps says:

    The OED is whitey’s book, chock full of whitey’s lies! It’s the Tricknology of the Enemy!

  2. 1republicanscientist says:

    gates may have gotten the N word wrong, but he unmistakingly exemplifies TOOL

  3. Liberals Demise says:

    Alas ………. the mind “IS” a terrible thing to waste, eh Mr. Gates?

  4. bill says:

    The obvious problem is your analysis pre-dates American times. Sigh.

    The truth and Democrats are like the cross to a vampire.

  5. proreason says:

    Mr. Gates is a dual-scholar, an expert in English Literature as well as African-American studies.

    But Mark Steyn is a bit wary of his mastery of English Lit:

    “I confess I’ve been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. “It’s like Shakespeare’s ‘My love is like a red, red rose,'” he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.

    As it happens, “My luv’s like a red, red rose” was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. 16th century English playwright, 18th century Scottish poet:”

    Perfectly understandable how a dual expert might get a detail wrong in one of his specialties. Shakespeare is a white guy after all. He’s not really all that consequential.


    • Celina says:

      Oh yeah, it is clear to any thinking person how can go from “My love is like a red, red rose” to “Me so horny”. /sarc.

      This Gates character must be a real hit with the ladies.

    • VMAN says:

      The problem is Pro I believe there was a time when idiots like this were just pushed through the system and given degrees they didn’t earn or deserve. Why did this happen? I would say so that the pseudo intellectuals in our colleges could feel good about themselves giving morons like this a “leg up” because you know whitey had kept them down.

    • neocon mom says:

      Pro, I quoted this Steyn in a comment elsewhere. Didn’t see you post it here first. Honest.

  6. Sharps Rifle says:

    Why does it not surprise me that a “professor” at Harvard Diploma Mill for Elites is too intellectually lazy and morally bankrupt to actually bother to research the facts of one of his asinine assumptions?

    My always limited esteem for the “Ivy League” has declined to the point where I would liken those schools to fourth-rate community colleges with an educational mission of indoctrinating the wealthy in Marxism and self-loathing. Gates is a prime example of how worthless those pitiful excuses for “universities” are. It defies belief that a truly intelligent man such as Theodore Roosevelt could have graduated from Harvard.

    How debased those schools truly have become.

    • Petronius says:

      Sharps: “an educational mission of indoctrinating the wealthy in Marxism and self-loathing.”

      Spot on.

      The English Puritans who settled in the New World feared the loss of their cultural heritage, and they were industrious in founding public schools and colleges such as Harvard to conserve this heritage. But today these schools no longer encourage an appreciation of Western culture and values. Rather, they actively find ways to turn the minds of our children––even our very young children––away from their heritage.

      According to the ISI catalogue “Choosing the Right College” (2008-9), Harvard is known for “a faculty that consists of the cream skimmed off the best universities in the world,” research and library facilities that are second to none, and a highly selective admissions process. But Harvard is also known for “its destructive love affair with leftist politics, curricular laxity, and the anti-Western cult of ‘diversity.’”

      The multicultural studies departments (e.g., African and African-American studies taught by Gates) as well as religion, social studies, and language departments are “heavily infused by postmodern ideology.” One professor says the social studies department “indoctrinates the best of the students with multiculturalism.” One alumnus calls the classics department “ideologically obsessed and useless” and thoroughly politicized. One senior professor says “many departments, especially in the humanities, are very politicized. There are a number of egregiously bad courses.”

      There is a strong pro-gays bias and intolerance of straight attitudes at Harvard. “Undergraduates face a gamut of gender-neutral language requirements, sexual harassment policies, humorless affirmative-action and sex tutorials, and sensitivity training sessions.” Affirmative action is heavily overdone to the point that it creates stress.

      Gates did not make David Horowitz’s list of the 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. “The Professors” (2006). But it was probably not for want of trying.

    • Colonel1961 says:

      Indoctrination in marxism (minuscule ‘m’) is tantamount to treason. May they all rot in their own economically perverted hell…

    • bronzeprofessor says:

      Petronius, Speaking of David Horowitz, I read One PArty Classroom, which just came out this year.

      (I don’t like Horowitz that much, because I think he oversimplifies things, but he does offer a lot of good data.)

      In One Party Classroom, Horowitz summarizes several studies of political affiliations in the academy. If you include business schools and all vocational schools, then the faculty nationwide is liberal by a ratio of about 4 to 1 (roughly 80% leftist). But if you look strictly at the humanities and social sciences, the ratio rises to about 10:1 (about 92-93% leftist.)

      At elite schools like Harvard, however, the imbalance is most extreme. Researches looked through the faculty at Harvard, Brown, Columbia, and Princeton and were unable to find one single humanities or social sciences professor who was registered Republican or otherwise identifiable as conservative. Two schools that had a healthier balance were Stanford and Northwestern, each wtih the L:R ratio approaching 4:1. I have to go back and check on the specific numbers.

      In my field, English, I have met 4 other conservative literature professors. Mind you, I belong to the MLA, which has about 30,000 members. I think even the studies Horowitz quoted understated the imbalance in favor of the Left.

      My view, however, is that Horowitz makes the situation worse because he doesn’t offer much support to conservative academics. There are some of us in the university system. It’s worth it to nurture us sometimes, instead of just condemning the whole of academia for the imbalance we struggle to counteract each day.

    • Petronius says:

      Bronzeprof’r: You’re probably way ahead of me with this, but of course support for conservative academics always begins with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI):


      ISI published the college guide that I cited, with introduction by Walter E. Williams, prof’r of economics at George Mason Univ. in Virginia. Horowitz is one of the many speakers / scholar lecturers who are offered by ISI. The ISI guide rates Harvard and Stanford yellow, Brown and Columbia red, and Northwestern and Princeton green.

      You may also find this article helpful or at least of interest:


      And I have a hunch that you might like this blog:


    • bronzeprofessor says:

      Thanks for the resources! I am familiar with Williams.

      Well, the problem with Horowitz and many of the right-wing people on that lecture circuit is this: They usually connect with conservative student groups against the faculty of a given campus. His support often comes in the form of bashing our liberal colleagues, which then leaves us (the right-wing professors) stuck. We cannot in good faith goad students against other professors, nor do we want to close ranks with liberal colleagues against conservative scholars from outside who are agitating against us.

      In One Party Classroom, also, Horowitz gets too nasty, writing scathing personal attacks against helpless graduate students whose names turned up on his roster of leftist instructors. He bashes leftist professors by quoting outdated codes of academic conduct, and Horowitz often does not understand the research principles of the fields he is trying to deconstruct. One repeated mistake he makes is to claim that any professor who expresses a liberal opinion is violating academic codes and oppressing conservatives. But if that’s the case, am I not also in violation if I express a conservative view? Many subject areas are impossible to teach without introducing some liberal content, but Horowitz sometimes pretends that perfect political neutrality is possible or desirable.

      When I mean support for conservative professors, I mean there should be more research money for sabbaticals, grants, and conferences. That’s a tall order, and it’s tough because there isn’t a lot of conservative academic money. But I think it’s good to focus one’s efforts in that direction rather than always bashing liberals. Liberal-bashing starts to get tiresome and boring to everyone involved.

      Also, recruiting bright conservatives is one of my big priorities. Many right-wing students do not want to enter the academy, so they need prodding and help. It would be great, for instance, if groups like Young America’s Foundation focused not only on students but also on mentor-student pairings for their conferences and seminars. CPAC should offer discounts to professors who can bring entourages of students. Just some ideas.

      Sorry to write a novel, but I live with this tragedy every day at my job!

  7. Rusty Shackleford says:

    And to think, as I do on occasion, if the first black slave had never been transported to colonial soil….that Gates himself may have never been born. Born into the horrible suffering that would see him rise up to become a prominent highly paid scholar who, apparently, is not to be “messed with”; Who enjoys a lot more freedom than even I do, based on income alone. He even gets to engage in his favorite hobby, race baiting, unfettered using other people’s money. How cool is that?

    Oh, of course, it’s called “research” but….potato, po-tah-to. What are words, after all but useless things, except in the case when white people use them, then they are clearly of racist intent?

    Because, as we ALL know, the English language is a white people’s language and despite efforts of many linguistically talented blacks, it has remained relatively unchanged. Oh sure, it has evolved over hundreds of years but the basic design is still very much intact…I can read Shakespeare, after a fashion, and get what it means. Less historical works read little differently than something I might have read that was published a year ago.

    So Gates, I mean this in the most positive and polite way that I can when I say, “Go pound sand.”

  8. GetBackJack says:

    Golly, he’s as great a scholar as Ward Churchill!

    Then again, Ward wasn’t the Indian he touted he is so that gets me to wondering how black Gates is. I mean, his community of racists have clutched Barry Otero to their bosom as the black man of their dreams when Barry is actually a mulatto, so if they’re that confused it’s entirely possible that the chair of Harvard’s Black Studies ain’t …. black.

    How’re we to know? We’re not genuflected academics.

    • Liberals Demise says:

      In fact, Mr. Gates is a Halfrican-American himself. (1/2 white 1/2 black) So he and the “Black like me” Barry have talking points!

    • Rusty Shackleford says:

      Actually, Obama’s lineage is predominantly arab on his father’s side.

      Mr Lamb’s blog: http://kennethelamb.blogspot.com/2008/02/barak-obama-questions-about-ethnic.html

      See he’s not the “first african-american” anything. He’s our first ARAB president.

      And the telling excerpts from his research:
      I must pause very briefly to note usage of the word Negro in what follows: In all academic studies of race, the proper scientific word for the ethnic composition I discuss is Negro. For any who scream racist at its mention, I say take it up with the scientific community. It’s not my word, it’s theirs. I am using it in its proper scientific context.

      Why is the fact that Mr. Obama is only 6.25% African Negro not reported?

      Because to acknowledge it is to report this devastating truth about him: Mr. Obama is not legally African-American. It is impossible for him to be, in truth, America’s first African-American president.

      Federal law requires that to claim a minority status, you must be at least 1/8 of the descriptor, but for the sake of this article, I’ve converted it to a decimal fraction for easier comprehension. You must be at least 12.5% of the racial component you claim for minority status. Mr. Obama, claiming to be African-American, is half the legal threshold.

      Mr. Obama is 50% Caucasian, that from his mother. What those who want Mr. Obama to write history by becoming “America’s first African-American president” ignore is that his father was ethnically Arabic, with only 1 relative ethnically African Negro – a maternal great-grandparent (Sen. Obama’s great-great grandparent, thus the 6.25% ethnic contribution to the senator’s ethnic composition.).

      That means that Mr. Obama is 50% Caucasian from his mother’s side. He is 43.75% Arabic, and 6.25% African Negro from his father’s side.

      [end quote]

    • proreason says:

      “Actually, Obama’s lineage is predominantly arab on his father’s side”

      Isn’t that interesting.

      More indication that next to nothing has been publicized about the creature, and what has been publicized is lies.

      Another interesting tidbit from Rusty’s link is that he wasn’t the first “black (6.25%)” editor of the Harvard review either. A real black man preceded him by 60 years, but they change the name of the title, so he gets to lie about it.

    • Liberals Demise says:

      Very interesting, indeed!!
      Now if we could verify if our non Halfrican is indeed …….. American born!
      Yessireee …………… the clouds part and we do see something but it is not transparent enough to see through..

  9. MinnesotaRush says:

    “Skip and I are friends.” – b. o-blah-blah

    No wonder! They’re both racist phony’s!

  10. VMAN says:

    African-American? Does that mean if a “negro” that was born in England and moves to the US and becomes a citizen is an African-Englishman-American? And the whole “black” thing? I don’t believe I have ever seen someone whose skin is actually “black”. Very, very dark brown but not “black”. Colored really doesn’t describe a person either after all we are all some sort of color. Negro, I think, describes the race best just as Caucasian describes “honky”. I really thought the whole “Roots” thing was going to clear this up. I thought the that “African-Americans” would trace their origins back to a specific tribe or country in Africa and then it would be settled just like us “Whities” can trace our origins back to England or Italy or Germany or Poland or where ever. But alas it was not meant to be.

  11. GetBackJack says:

    L-D … well, I’ll be dipped.


    Bwa-hahahaha … omg that’s jive-larious!

  12. Colonel1961 says:

    I didn’t think I could feel any worse for my country. I really didn’t. But I now do. The cowardice on behalf of blacks (yes, blacks and some white liberals) – will be the downfall of this great nation. Until blacks look into the mirror and hold themselves accountable, e.g., drugs, out-of-wedlock births, misogyny, laziness, they will never progress an inch. And will continue to regress. Trillions of dollars have been wasted by white liberals to assuage their guilt, but it has only exacerbated the problem. American blacks: repent. And become a part of the dream. Please. Some have – and they are ashamed of their brothers, but the plurality can only see victimhood and bitterness, not opportunity and freedom. It’s not too late, but the lies of black America have to end. And end now.

    Steve: I apologize if this missive does not adhere to your posting caveats – please delete if you feel the need.

    p.s. an anecdote, re: Vernon Forrest: “He has a son, you know?” Gatti said about Forrest. “Someone is going to be raised without a father because somebody wanted to rob someone.” So sad. So sad…

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