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N-word - Guess at Origin

Posted by Bookworm on January 07, 2004

In Reply to: N-word posted by ESC on January 07, 2004

: : : I came across a new, darker take on the phrase "[n-word] in the woodpile." See the information in the last three paragraphs.

: : : N*GGER IN THE WOODPILE (OR FENCE) - "Some fact of considerable importance that is not disclosed; something suspicious or wrong; something rotten in Denmark. The sayings with 'fence' and 'woodpile' developed about the same time and about at the period 1840-50, when the 'Underground Railroad' was flourishing successfully. Evidence is slight, but because early uses of the expressions occurred in Northern states, it is presumable that they derived from actual instances of the surreptitious concealment of fugitive Negroes in their flight north through Ohio or Pennsylvania to Canada under piles of firewood or within hiding places in stone fences." From "Heavens to Betsy" (1955, Harper & Row) by Charles Earle Funk. A second reference agrees with the time period when this expression "appeared." ".[n-word] in the woodpile, a catch or hitch in a situation, a flaw, dates from 1852." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

: : : A third source, a novel, indicates that meaning has to do with a black person being killed and buried on a property:

: : : "One time I told Will (that) Fox Run was a beautiful place. He said, 'Don't let it fool you. All these places got a [n-word] in the woodpile.' I wasn't sure what he meant, though.' He tilted his head inquisitively, waiting for me to speak, as if somehow we were old friends.

: : : 'So Vidrine repeated a racist remark that confirms what you already knew,' Helen said in her office an hour later, 'Maybe a convict was killed on the LeJeune plantation fifty years ago. Or maybe not. We didn't find a body, bwana.'..." From "Last Car to Elysian Fields" by James Lee Burke (2003 Simon & Schuster, New York), Page 262.

: :
: : Hi ESC,

: : The stuff you've provided above is amazing. Howevever while I realise that 'nigger' is a derogatory word for a negro, which has since been extended to cover pretty well anyone with dark skin, but I'm a little surprised at your reticence to type the complete word. Is this a standard thing in the U.S.? The way you've typed it suggests that it's a profanity (noting that there is a fine line if any between a profanity and a racist statement).

: : Here in Aus we have a host of other derogatory terms for aboriginals, I'm afraid to say. They include boong, darkie, etc. etc. However, I'm not aware that anyone would shy away from spelling the word out if discussing the subject. Is it so taboo in America?

: : Further to that, the word 'nigger' sounds like an abhorration, or derivation of the original word 'negro'. As if it might have started out as say 'nigro', then distorted to become 'nigger'.

: : Is that how the word came about? Does anyone know?

: I wrote the word that way for the same reason we write L*tin. I didn't want to draw the type of people who would be googling the n-word. We did have a student researching it once. But I figure the vast majority are up to no good.

I always assumed is was a sick derivation of the African country Niger.