The New York Times celebrates a cancellation

December 28, 2020 • 10:45 am

Let me get this straight at the outset: in my view, nobody should use the “n-word”, except perhaps in quoting its use in literature or for didactic reasons. Yes, black people use it as a term of fraternity or affection, but I learned from Grania that if the word is to disappear from use, everyone has to stop using it.  It’s almost as if Jews were allowed to call each other “kikes” and “Hebes” but other people weren’t. (We don’t do that.) But at the very least, white people have to stop using it in non-academic circumstances.

So I think that when 15 year old high-school student Mimi Groves of Leesburg, Virginia was filmed in a three-second video four years ago, saying “I can drive, n—–“, (she’d just gotten her learner’s permit), she should have kept her mouth shut. But she didn’t, and now is suffering the consequences. In my view, those consequences are completely disproportionate to this one statement, and yet the New York Times implicitly sees her as having got her just deserts, despite lacking any further evidence of racism in her behavior. In the piece below, it looks as if they’re celebrating her cancellation.

You can see what caused all the fuss at the beginning of this video, which shows what Groves said, with the offending word bleeped out:

As this article recounts (click on screenshot), one of Groves’s friends, a half black student named Jimmy Galligan—who was sick of racism in Leesburg—got hold of that video, held onto it, and waited until the time when making it public would do the most damage to Groves. Then he did the deed, and social media did the rest. The time was after Groves had been admitted to her dream college. Groves was first taken off the cheerleading squad at the University of Tennessee, and then the college asked her to withdraw. It was all because of those three seconds and that one word.

According to the article, both Leesburg and Galligan’s and Groves’s high school were permeated with racism attitudes, and, this being Virginia, I have no reason to doubt that. Galligan, frustrated with the racism and his futile attempts to alleviate it, decided to use the video of Groves as a form of punishment, even though the two were friendly:

The slur, [Galligan] said, was regularly hurled in classrooms and hallways throughout his years in the Loudoun County school district. He had brought the issue up to teachers and administrators but, much to his anger and frustration, his complaints had gone nowhere.

So he held on to the video, which was sent to him by a friend, and made a decision that would ricochet across Leesburg, Va., a town named for an ancestor of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee and whose school system had fought an order to desegregate for more than a decade after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.

“I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” Mr. Galligan, 18, whose mother is Black and father is white, said of the classmate who uttered the slur, Mimi Groves. He tucked the video away, deciding to post it publicly when the time was right.

The time was when Groves had decided where she wanted to go to college: the University of Tennessee (UT).  Galligan then shared the Snapchat video to several social media platforms even though by that time Groves was making statements in favor of Black Lives Matter.  And by that time she’d been admitted to UT and had apparently also made its famous cheerleading team (a dream of hers), even though she hadn’t started going there yet. The story continues with the now-familiar social media mobbing.

The next month, as protests were sweeping the nation after the police killing of George Floyd, Ms. Groves, in a public Instagram post, urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. [JAC: Note that this is before she knew that the video was spreading.]

“You have the audacity to post this, after saying the N-word,” responded someone whom Ms. Groves said she did not know.

Her alarm at the stranger’s comment turned to panic as friends began calling, directing her to the source of a brewing social media furor. Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.

And she was cancelled; or rather, kicked off the cheerleading team and then had her offer of admission to UT rescinded:

The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students and the public.

“They’re angry, and they want to see some action,” an admissions official told Ms. Groves and her family, according to a recording of the emotional call reviewed by The New York Times.

Ms. Groves was among many incoming freshmen across the country whose admissions offers were revoked by at least a dozen universities after videos emerged on social media of them using racist language.

The rest of the article is devoted to describing the atmosphere of racism in the Leesburg schools, which does seems pretty dire and reprehensible. The n-word was used often, and black students were disciplined disproportionately.  The NYT describes this atmosphere in detail, and one can’t help but feel that the racism of Leesburg, not of Mimi Groves, is the real subject of the article. That’s fine, except that Groves’s rescinded offer, for using one word in a three-second video, is characterized as “retribution” for that racism. There’s no other record of Groves’s behaving or speaking in a racist way; she is serving as the scapegoat for the whole atmosphere of racism in Leesburg. And yet the NYT says things like this, which seem gratuitous:

Ms. Groves, who just turned 19, lives with her parents and two siblings in a predominantly white and affluent gated community built around a golf course.

Is Groves a racist? I wouldn’t call her one despite the use of that word four years ago. For she has no history of racism, and was taught to despite the attitude. Would a racist put up a post asking people to support Black Lives Matter?

Here’s some more from the article:

On a recent day, [Mimi] sat outside on the deck with her mother, Marsha Groves, who described how the entire family had struggled with the consequences of the very public shaming.

“It honestly disgusts me that those words would come out of my mouth,” Mimi Groves said of her video. “How can you convince somebody that has never met you and the only thing they’ve ever seen of you is that three-second clip?”

Ms. Groves said racial slurs and hate speech were not tolerated by her parents, who had warned their children to never post anything online that they would not say in person or want their parents and teachers to read.

But there’s no stopping the mob. I emphasize again that Mimi Groves used a racial slur, and should not have. But should she have suffered the loss of a college admission four years later? It was not as if her whole life had been an act of racism.

More:

Once the video went viral, the backlash was swift, and relentless. A photograph of Ms. Groves, captioned with a racial slur, also began circulating online, but she and her parents say someone else wrote it to further tarnish her reputation. On social media, people tagged the University of Tennessee and its cheer team, demanding her admission be rescinded. Some threatened her with physical violence if she came to the university campus. The next day, local media outlets in Virginia and Tennessee published articles about the uproar.

. . .The day after the video went viral, Ms. Groves tried to defend herself in tense calls with the university. But the athletics department swiftly removed Ms. Groves from the cheer team. And then came the call in which admissions officials began trying to persuade her to withdraw, saying they feared she would not feel comfortable on campus.

The university declined to comment about Ms. Groves beyond a statement it issued on Twitter in June, in which officials said they took seriously complaints about racist behavior.

Ms. Groves’s parents, who said their daughter was being targeted by a social media “mob” for a mistake she made as an adolescent, urged university officials to assess her character by speaking with her high school and cheer coaches. Instead, admissions officials gave her an ultimatum: withdraw or the university would rescind her offer of admission.

“We just needed it to stop, so we withdrew her,” said Mrs. Groves, adding that the entire experience had “vaporized” 12 years of her daughter’s hard work. “They rushed to judgment and unfortunately it’s going to affect her for the rest of her life.”

Now Groves goes to a community college online in California, and yes, her life has been severely affected. I suspect that’s exactly what Mr. Galligan wanted, and why he waited to release the video when it could do maximum damage to Groves.

My take: Groves spoke thoughtlessly, but showed no other evidence of racism, and even apologized before the video became public. Galligan could have discussed it with her personally, which is the way I would handle it if someone called me a “kike”.  And the University of Tennessee could have simply asked Groves to issue a public apology, mirroring the one described below, without kicking her out of the school. More from the article: 

One of Ms. Groves’s friends, who is Black, said Ms. Groves had personally apologized for the video long before it went viral. Once it did in June, the friend defended Ms. Groves online, prompting criticism from strangers and fellow students. “We’re supposed to educate people,” she wrote in a Snapchat post, “not ruin their lives all because you want to feel a sense of empowerment.”

For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

I’m sorry, but although Galligan certainly experienced offensive behavior because he’s half black, his behavior towards Groves was not admirable. He did what Cancel Culture dictates: rather than fix the situation by talking with his friend, he decided to ruin her life. As Mimi’s friend said, “We’re supposed to educate people, not ruin their lives. . ” Had Groves shown a pattern of racist behavior throughout high school, that would be another thing—but she didn’t. There is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation, and that time was before Galligan released his video. He is not a person I admire, though I sympathize with the racism he experienced.

I’m not the only one who feels that the NYT doesn’t see anything wrong with this incident. By going into the racism of the entire town, describing Grave’s home as “in a predominantly white community”, and detailing incidents in local schools that did not involves Groves, it make Groves implicitly complicit in the racism.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines “reckoning” this way (the only definition relevant to the use above):

6. The settlement of accounts or differences between parties; the settling of scores or grievances; an instance of this.

Were scores really “settled”? Did Groves receive her just deserts for using that word in 2016? Why choose a headline like that?

Well, you can judge for yourself.  As for me, I think that Galligan behaved very poorly in trying to ruin somebody’s life, and that the New York Times thinks that that’s just fine. Here are two people who agree with me (I wouldn’t call Galligan a “psychopath”; that word is too strong):

Scott Greenfield has a blog post about it, linked in his tweet below.

Two things that Cancel Culture needs—besides engaging with ideas rather than trying to destroy people—are some compassion and a sense of proportionality. And if you don’t think that Cancel Culture exists, you’re sorely mistaken, for that’s what took down Mimi Groves.

81 thoughts on “The New York Times celebrates a cancellation

    1. Maybe but that does not, I am sure you’ll agree, liberate others to use it. What SHOULD happen is s general education of pupils that this term & others related, are unacceptable.

      I assume this girl was a teenager at the time? The sins of youth are that the mind is not yet fully formed as it is in one’s early 20s. Broadly we should be more tolerant of those youths who commit crimes, & encourage them to mature with better education of society.

      Finally, surely it is not the business of the college what she did BEFORE she was there? They accept people as they find them. Is what she did an actual crime, or just a thoughtless moment?

      The young man who has so effectively destroyed her life, does not have the excuse of youth, having waited & planned this. He could have done it when it happened. If she were a horrible person, who had harmed him, then maybe we could find some reason for this.

      Publicising this says more about him than her.

  1. And will Mr Galligan lose the chance of a dream job in the future when recruiters find evidence of his willingness to make someone else suffer?

    What goes around, comes around, unless people decline to board the cancellation express.

  2. Cancelling the girl clearly is not going to solve the problem of racism, in fact, it will likely make the white people in that community more defensive and resistant. The punishment is disproportional to the offense. This is the consequence of cancel culture, it just makes things worse.

    I don’t, however, see the article as celebrating the cancelling. It describes what happened, and quotes all parties involved. Nowhere do I see a statement or even an implication that what happened was appropriate. It properly leaves those judgements up to the reader.

    1. Yeah … I came across the article yesterday … I too read it as neutral. I even thought it had elements of sympathy for both sides.

      I would have to reread it … I got the sense the article coming down on the side it being a disproportionate response..

      Another thought … my beef with what happened is not so much with what the young man did, but with the righteous people who cried for retribution and the weak kneed administration who implemented it.

  3. My late wife (who was ‘black/coloured’) regularly used the words “Kaffer” and “Hotnot” (two words at least as offensive, if not more so, than the “n.. word” in the US).
    When I told her she should not use those words, that they are offensive and might get her into trouble, she replied: I can use those words, but if you use them, yes, you will go to jail! Hahaha!

    1. Reminds me of Van Dee Merwe, two kaffirs and a bakkie type jokes, where poor old Van is the butt.

      And of course the word originates from Arabic pejorative for non-muslims.

  4. … one of Groves’s friends … got hold of that video, held onto it, and waited until the time when making it public would do the most damage to Groves.

    Jesus, reckon we don’t have to wonder which high-school kid in Leesburg didn’t have Dionne Warwick et al.’s “That’s What Friends Are For” on his playlist senior year.

  5. Reprehensible behavoir, Mr. Galligan! It probably will follow you in hurtful ways. A planned destruction of someone’s reputation waiting over four years when the most hurt could be done.

      1. He strikes me as disgusting and petty, spiteful in a small-minded way, willfully targeting the harmless because REAL targets are much more difficult. I hope that lawsuits are filed by Groves’s family against the University, possibly against the social media outlets involved (why not? they have deep pockets) and against Galligan himself. They should find a very clever, very ambitious, highly skilled litigator and start returning fire against the cancel culture.

        1. I have a hypothesis which is that a wrong thing about society will have its retribution, and that what starts to swing the pendulum in that direction is often a single triggering event. So we have seen the pendulum swing regarding gay rights, MeToo, and BLM.

          Cancel Culture against the completely harmless should have its day of retribution, and maybe this event, if it gains continued media traction, will be the beginning of it. Who knows?

  6. During the sixties I became friends with a neighbour who happened to be a sergeant USAF, black and a Muslim. Being Greek, Caucasian and an atheist -though baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church- meant absolutely zero in our having time together, sometimes at parties of both “cultures” .
    During our chats the n-word was uttered by both without blinking an eye-lid. Am I to be outed as a racist? I have purged any reference to race- ugly word and non scientific-, gender, religion, or sexual preference from my social thinking. Probably Mr. Galligan grows into a non-bigot with age and education.

      1. Irrelevant … I think

        A new word we will replace the sentiment (for some) that the N-word supposedly espouses.

        We are trying to eliminate thought crimes here, not a particular literary style.

    1. Things have changed! Generally for the better. But there was a time in the ’70s when the n-word was seen on television (SNL, for example) and in the movies. Always applied to be ‘edgy’, by an actor who was a Bad Guy, and Bad Guys lose. I feel that was a means to get the word to lose its power. Things have changed.

  7. Interesting also that Galligan’s father, a white police officer, used the same slur and was admonished (but not canceled) by his son. I wonder if the father’s career as a (mildly? moderately?) racist cop was far more damaging to society than Ms. Groves’ three second video….

    1. Makes sense it would be in northern Va. Wasn’t Arlington Cemetery, just across the Potomac from DC, established on Bobby Lee’s old home spread? And his command during the Civil War was of the Army of Northern Virginia.

  8. Ms. Groves’ anonymous friend nails the whole psychology of cancel culture perfectly: “ We’re supposed to educate people,” she wrote in a Snapchat post, “not ruin their lives all because you
    want to feel a sense of empowerment
    .” [My italics.]

    The “empowerment” enabled by mob campaigns on tiktok, snapchat, and twitter is, of course, wholly artificial. It damages the lives of a few scapegoats, without having the slightest effect on the actual power structure of the country. Maybe that is why the boardroom and the administrative office find this whole tendency innocuous, if not positively agreeable. As to the real possibility that campaigns like this actually exacerbate racism, well, that is never considered for the obvious reason: the purpose of the campaign is not to affect the psychology of racism, but to give the campaigners a cheap thrill.

  9. Interesting that on a website with mostly atheist and skeptic commenters, several people commenting on this post expressed the notion that ‘karma’ or some similar supernatural principle will bring comeuppance and just desserts. Balderdash. That’s magical thinking.

    1. It is, though I think the intuition that there’s some cosmic justice in the universe is magical thinking that dies hard.

      For some reason, when I read this story, first thing popped into my head was this lyric:

      Look out kid
      It’s somethin’ you did
      God knows when
      But you’re doing it again
      You better duck down the alley way
      Lookin’ for a new friend

    2. “Karma” is one of those deepity-words with two interpretations. There’s the supernatural one, in which the universe itself balances or harmonizes morality or justice. And then there’s the reasonable one which involves natural consequences. If you get a reputation for holding grudges or hitting people when they’re down, people who know that may deliberately do the same to you. Not magical.

  10. The fact that Black people often use the n-word is going to make it impossible to eliminate it from the language. Many of us imagine that when we stop treating people differently according to skin color, then we can regard racism as cured. Having different word usage rules based on skin color is anathema to that vision of racial harmony.

    Cancelling someone’s college admission based on their use of the n-word betrays the meaning of college. After all, the main reason a college exists is to teach students. Are they really saying that they can’t teach Mimi Groves how not to be a racist and to have better manners? Or are they saying that lack of racist attitude is a principal admission criterion which she fails to meet?

  11. The article notes that “Mr. Galligan thinks a lot about race, and the implications of racial slurs. He said his father was often the only white person at maternal family gatherings, where ‘the N-word is a term that is thrown around sometimes’ by Black relatives.” I’d be interested in knowing what Mr. Galligan has done to punish those Black relatives.

    1. “A nasty, self-centered weasel” is winning in a landslide. Of course, the poll options, including “A social-justice warrior who fought back against racism,” are not mutually exclusive: Galligan could be both. Thinking about the Venn diagram.

  12. No advance in racial justice was gained from this.

    Yes, this article really upset me when I read it yesterday. The resistance to the cancellation movement needs to rise up ASAP.

    It’s very frustrating that the NYT does not allow comments on most of their opinion pieces. So cowardly.

    I am trying to allow Mr. Galligan some leeway as a youth, and I did not learn enough about his experiences from the article. But it is very sad he is so lost and bent on “action” even against someone he’s never met.

    Ms. Groves will be bitter for the rest of her life.

    I offer no consideration for the mob. Simply despicable behavior.

    1. At the risk of over-commenting on this post (no disrespect meant for da roolz), commenting was enabled on that NYT article.

      Notably, the “NYT Picks” (chosen by an editor) are mostly comments that emphasized systemic racism, defended Galligan, and castigated those who criticize him. OTOH, the top-rated “Reader Picks” are mostly critical of Galligan’s reprehensible behaviour.

      This seems to be a common pattern: NYT readers and commenters (and subscribers) are liberal but much less woke than the Times editorial stance.

      Agree with the rest of your comment.

      1. NYTimes has made a fortune of Trump and its stock has more than quadrupled since 2016. He is gone now. So, What will keep the cash flowing?

    2. > It’s very frustrating that the NYT does not allow comments on most of their opinion pieces. So cowardly.

      Even if they do, they most likely censor a lot of comments that they disagree with. Newspapers typically do that. You end up with a biased sample of an echo chamber. Still, it’s much better than in the old days where you had to write letters to the editor and ordinary people had almost no voice.

      1. From what I can see, the NYT only censors comments with profanity or that simply flame others in the discussion. I see lots of contrary opinions posted.

  13. I read this article yesterday. I am disgusted by the school administration and the lack of consideration or proportionality. Having been a teacher of middle school through high school students, thoughtless and careless language usage is something they do. They are not mature. And also, I would not want Mr. Galligan anywhere around me. Wh he did was planned, cruel and unnecessary.

  14. One motivation for disproportionate punishment could be Galligan’s sense that slavery and discrimination have been so hurtful to blacks, that no punishment would be too much. Crazy, though, to put all that on a young person who is only peripherally involved. Indirectly, Galligan is retaliating against the dominant culture since everyone else feels bad about this too.

  15. This incident could have first amendment implications. The Supreme Court is considering taking a case out of Pennsylvania where a public school suspended a student for a year from the cheerleading squad because of certain things she said on social media. This case does not appear to have racial implications. Per the NYT: “The student sued the school district, winning a sweeping victory in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia. The court said the First Amendment did not allow public schools to punish students for speech outside school grounds.” The Third Circuit’s decision differs from that of other circuits. Hence, if the Court decides to take the case, it can issue a definitive ruling. If it should rule in favor of the Pennsylvania student, Ms. Groves may have grounds to sue the University of Tennessee.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/28/us/supreme-court-schools-free-speech.html?algo=bandit-all-surfaces&fellback=false&imp_id=767357680&req_id=776980264&surface=most-popular&variant=0_bandit-all-surfaces

    1. ” . . . a public school suspended a student for a year from the cheerleading squad because of certain things she said on social media.”

      Which primarily involved the use of the (ubiquitously-uttered) F-bomb. SCOTUS may have to weigh the F-bomb and N-word on the Scales of Justice. (Will both be plainly written in court transcripts and uttered in the courtroom?)

  16. I’ve heard more references to the n word in the last few years than ever in my 60 odd years. With many young white people enjoying rap music is it surprising that the n word is gaining wider casual usage, and perhaps having less gravitas than it used to?

  17. I’m reminded of Carl Jung’s urging us to come to know our dark side in order to better understand ourselves. There’s lots of darkness in this NYT article.

  18. Yeah, ummm. If he wasn’t collecting kompromat and stalking social media profiles before, he certainly will be after the high of being lauded by the Times for it.

  19. “According to the article, both Leesburg and Galligan’s and Groves’s high school were permeated with racism attitudes, and, this being Virginia, I have no reason to doubt that.”

    On Twitter, Wilfred Reilly has stated that he does not believe Galligan’s account of widespread use of the word (and we’re talking about only 4 years ago, in an era when everyone has a phone that can record video). I don’t trust either Galligan or the NYT on such claims — but then I don’t live in America. Is there any hard evidence to support the claims? What do others, nearer there than I am, think?

    1. Having lived just a few miles from Leesburg, I left Loudoun county 6 years ago when I retired and moved to a very rural county in NW North Carolina. Loudoun County where Leesburg is located is a very upscale and diverse community. Never once in all the years I lived there did I ever hear the N word uttered by black or white (or Hispanic or Asian). I seriously doubt that the characterization pictured by the Times article about the ubiquitous use of that word in Loudoun schools has any validity. Unfortunately can’t say the same about my new hometown. My first trip to the hardware store revealed the 80 something owner going on about the n*ggers doing this or that. I was next in line and threw my plumbing supplies on the counter and walked out. Lowe’s had what I needed.

  20. It is ridiculous to punish someone who used a rude/racist term at age 15 four years later. Especially since there is no corroborating evidence that she actually is a ‘white supremacist’ or so. And even more especially since the punishment is ruining a life. All sense of proportion is lost here.
    Mr Galligan appears to be an unconscionable and petty cad.

  21. I’ve been looking forward to Jerry’s take on this article since it came out on Saturday. The event fulfills four of Rauch’s six criteria for identifying a case of cancellation: it’s punitive, deplatforming, grandstanding, and organized.

  22. Jerry wrote:

    I emphasize again that Mimi Groves used a racial slur, and should not have.

    But did she even use a racial slur? Linguist John McWhorter asserts that there are two N-words, n—ger and nigga. The first is a racial slur; the second, a term of affection used among some Black people. McWhorter did a podcast episode on it, subtitled, “Like gangster and gangsta, n—er [which he spells out] and nigga have become two distinct words.”

    Not that one’s intent matters in cancel culture, but which word did Mimi Groves mean? I don’t know the context of the video clip nor can we hear her pronunciation, so I don’t think we can know for certain. But it seems to me that getting a driver’s license is not something one would likely make a racist comment about. On the other hand, an exuberant 15-year-old girl might have thought it cool to throw in a little black vernacular.

  23. Have any of you listened to rap music, which is now essentially the world’s musical lingua franca? That offensive term is used incessantly and I understand that non-blacks, if singing along, are to go silence or purse their lips when the word comes up. Protocol.

    I am trying to think of another popular art style where similar things occur. Maybe that’s where she got the term from or at least didn’t understand the code from giving its ubiquity.

    The NYTimes article is filled with assertions but it rarely tells us who was using what words (something that Scott Greenfield points out.). Seems like a self-congratulatory hit and run piece from the newspaper that now prints sentences like this as fact:

    https://twitter.com/LevineJonathan/status/1342145346269573121

  24. She was 15, and she was not pragmatically using the word as a racial slur but as a colloquial (if politically incorrect) affectionate appellation for a friend. To publicly crucify her for this 4 years later, with real consequences for her life, is not antiracism, it’s fascism or something akin to fundamentalist religion.
    I wouldn’t even call it cancel culture. She’s not being attacked for expressing an opinion, but for pronouncing once, years ago, a taboo word that only the priestly caste (in this case, black people) may utter.

  25. Even though John McWhorter is a sharp guy, this just seems ridiculous. Next he’ll be telling us that white people have a speech impediment that prevents them from pronouncing “nigga” properly. Or that it is ok to use swear words in polite society as long as you mispronounce them, perhaps raising your index finger as a visual signal that you are doing so purposefully.

      1. McWhorter is just calling attention to a particular phenomenon which is quite common cross-linguistically. The word ‘prohibition’ is the nominalization of the verb ‘prohibit’ and is pronounced in the way suggested by the spelling. But the word which is spelled the same, except with the initial ‘p’ capitalized, used to describe a social era in American history when it was illegal to brew or distill alcoholic beverages for consumption, is commonly pronounced something like ‘pro-uh-bition’, with a glide from the first syllable dipthong to the second syllable schwa, with nary an ‘h’ in sight. Specialized uses of lexical items often wind up being distinguished from the standard forms by slight changes in pronunciation which are actually markers that what was originally a single lexical item has split into separate forms. There’s no question here of ‘mispronunciation’; what you have is a splitting of one form into two, with related but distinct senses, marked by a specific phonological difference. So far as these particular distinctions are concerned, McW is right on target.

  26. I wonder if anyone is keeping record of who the social media mobbers are. As someone who follows research in text analysis, it seems it should be straightforward to write code that searches twitter etc for expressions related to mobbing, and records who is responsible for it. It could develop a profile of mobbers- one timers, people who do it for years, severity, topics, etc.

    Especially useful would be tracking people who “out” others, and tracking their own history. See who is casting stones who shouldn’t be.

    That information might be made generally available. It could be useful when deciding, for instance, who to hire when you need someone you can trust and who will have your back.

    I wonder if Galligan will come to regret his acts? There is something self-righteously wicked about mobbing, like wearing white hoods. I look for the day when mobbing itself is regarded as cause for shame and blame.

  27. In addition to being an example of Cancel Culture, it strikes me that there’s likely a lot of underlying misogyny at work here via the “Karen” meme.

  28. You don’t have to be a linguist to observe that people pronounce the word differently when they mean it affectionately vs as an insult. That doesn’t make it two words. He might claim it does technically, that I don’t know or care about and is irrelevant to racism and language.

    1. You can not care because you aren’t a linguist but he is and you aren’t really well positioned to call him “ridiculous” on the subject.

    2. Apparently, it helps to be either a linguist or a lexicographer, because even the Merriam Webster dictionary has separate listings for the two words and, in their entry for nigga, comments on their divergence.

  29. The only question that matters to me here is, as an old white guy, whether I can say “nigga” (the nice word) to a black person. If they misunderstand, can I show them the relevant word in the dictionary, pointing out that I didn’t use the dreaded n-word? I’m not going to try. The linguistic opinion just doesn’t seem to help and is irrelevant to the conversation.

    1. Again, McWhorter doesn’t become ridiculous because he doesn’t satisfy the “only thing” you are interested in. He’s commenting from a position of professional expertise and you’re complaining that your needs aren’t being met. That’s not his job.

      1. It’s not a linguistic question so his linguistic opinion is irrelevant. Are you really suggesting that we can look to linguistics to help defuse racial tension? That’s the only conversation I’m having.

        Linguistics is not prescriptive but descriptive. The way words are used by a population drives linguistic description, not the other way around. It would be interesting if someday the two words diverge far enough in meaning, pronunciation, and spelling that use of one to insult is never confused with the other. I don’t envision that happening in my lifetime, if ever.

        1. “The way words are used by a population drives linguistic description, not the other way around.”

          I think you’re arguing against yourself.

  30. I didn’t get any sense at all that the NYT author was celebrating this woman being cancelled. If anything, it implied that the guy who shared this video was a petty troublemaker.

  31. The culture kids grow up with today is so different to ours years ago (I’m 50). Thank goodness all *our* mistakes weren’t preserved for all time and we didn’t feel the peer pressure to record and broadcast everything we did.

    Racial slurs weren’t my big errors but I did plenty of other stupid, regrettable dumb-ass crap which I’m glad was ultimately forgotten.*

    Surely this girl’s momentary lapse in manners and judgement shouldn’t haunt her forever or wreck her future.
    We live in very uncharitable times.

    D.A., J.D.
    NYC
    https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/06/10/photos-of-readers-93/
    *And strangely to this day they *still* haven’t found all the bodies. 😉

  32. She did nothing wrong. She was quoting a rap song and there are tens of thousands of black kids who say the exact same thing on social media. Enough of the double standards!

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