Senator Under Fire For Saying “Niggardly”

    March 16, 2012
    Mike Tuttle
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Once again, someone is getting in trouble for using the word “niggardly”.

On Thursday, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) used the word in response to a question about spending for veterans. He said, in part:

“Of course we’re falling short,” he said. “There are people, as you know Matt, in this Congress who will always send a blank check when it comes to spending money on defense or war, but are a little more niggardly, if you will, on spending money on the actual veterans when they come home. And that means we don’t greet them well enough in terms of getting them the right testing when they’re back in Coshocton, Cleveland or Lima, Ohio.”

What is that word? What does it mean? Where does it come from?

From Dictionary.com:

nig·gard·ly [nig-erd-lee] (adjective)
1. reluctant to give or spend; stingy; miserly.
2. meanly or ungenerously small or scanty: a niggardly tip to a waiter.

So, did someone invent this word because they thought black people were tight-fisted? No. It has absolutely nothing to do with race.

From EtymologyOnline:

mid-14c., nygart, of uncertain origin. The suffix suggests French origin (cf. -ard), but the root word is probably related to O.N. hnøggr “stingy,” from P.Gmc. *khnauwjaz (cf. Swed. njugg “close, careful,” Ger. genau “precise, exact”), and to O.E. hneaw “stingy, niggardly,” which did not survive in Middle English.

There have been people who have gotten into trouble for using the word, assailed by people who did not know better. In 1999, David Howard, an aid to Mayor Anthony Williams in Washington, DC resigned after coming under fire for using the word. His resignation was accepted. The mayor was later shown the meaning and etymology of the word and realized he had been misinformed by a bunch of offended sophomores. He rehired Howard and apologized.

In 2002, A fourth-grade teacher in North Carolina was formally reprimanded by the school when an African-American parent was offended by her use of the word in class. A formal letter was placed in the teachers file, accusing her of not being sensitive to the diverse school population and directing her to not use the word again. The student was moved to another class. The teacher was forced to apologize to the parent for teaching her students a perfectly innocent English word with no racial connotations. Hundreds of people around the country wrote in to her defense.

Let’s contrast this word with another. What about the slang term “gyp”? As in “to gyp someone out of money”. This term actually does come from the word “gypsy” and would be understandably offensive for a teacher, government worker or U.S. Senator from Ohio to use. “Niggardly” may be an old-sounding word. But, it is not remotely racist.

  • Kaitara

    Given the current political climate, with all the political correctness, I can only think that this was a deliberate racist act, and I am NOT the one to use the race card. With the Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, controversy going, and the fact that this word, until now I have never heard, this is NOT a word that is used daily if at all in the past 100 years. This word had to be picked out and used for this purpose, thinking he could get away with it because he was a democrat, like all the rest have been getting away with. Don’t even go there with Maher is a comedian, the Wiki says he is also a Political Commentator, so he is just like Rush, only Maher has never apologized, and never will. And Liberal Democratic women will flock to the misogynist and defend him, for money of course, so who are the prostitutes now? Maher offends ALL women, no politics involved. So this is why I believe that this guy, is a racist, and was trying to get by with a suposed, “excusable” word. People keep saying, well it’s in the dictionary. Well, I checked online at Merriam-Webster, yes it is in the dictionary, but so are Bitc%, Cun(, Tw@t, Slut and Prostitute. Doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use them.

  • pete conlon

    All the words he could of used. cumon? RESIGN NOW! RACIST RACIST RACIST(Wow I sound like a Democrat)

  • Niggardly Joe

    To the first comment: We say niggardly every day here at Harvard. It’s an educated man’s word.