by Chris Bodenner

Linguist John McWhorter jumps into the historical record and finds that the ironic, in-group use of "nigger" is nothing new:

The reason one might feel that one has been hearing the black use of the N-word “lately” is because one has heard rap only “lately,” and because only “lately” has there been a regular string of black stand-up comedy shows on television and black comedy films. Before all this, the same stuff was going on, just unrecorded – i.e. in spoken language, always thriving, be it on the streets of Detroit or Kiryas Joel.

He also debunks the idea that Yiddish is dying:

The problem is a notion that a language doesn’t really exist unless it is thriving on the page. But that is, frankly, an illusion due to the invention of print just several centuries ago. There are about 6000 languages in the world, and only about 200 are written in any real way. That is, there are 5800 languages that are only spoken – and yet tell their speakers that the languages they learn on their mommies’ knee are not “real”!

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.