Tag Archives: euphemism

T-word, N-word

28 Nov

I’ve never been very comfortable using the word ‘teuchter’, mostly because I wasn’t sure of the derivation and I couldn’t be sure whether or not it was offensive, and if so exactly how offensive it is.

In general if I’m going to give offense, I refer to know in advance how offensive I’m going to be and I never like to give offence on a racial, sectarian or cultural basis, because I’d rather personalise my insults. It is, after all, the thought that counts.

The term ‘teuchter’, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a term used to refer to a Highland Scot, and specifically a Gaelic speaker. Normally I prefer the term ‘Gael’, because I know that it’s reasonably polite. The corresponding word ‘sassenach’ refers to a Lowland Scot and specifically a native English speaker. So far as I’m concerned it is not a word used by Scots to designate the English, but many people seem to use the term in this way, and it seems to have become the ‘official’ version.

The situation is confused a little by the fact that Gaels sometimes refer to themselves, and each other, as ‘teuchters’. But as we all know a term may be acceptable if its applied by a member of the group it refers to, but may be completely unacceptable when it’s used by an outsider.

Some time ago I was working with a Gael. He was from Benbecula and he grew up speaking Gaelic. He only learned his English when he started going to school, although you would never have known that from speaking to him, you would have thought that English was his first language.

When  I asked him about the word, he told me that he had no idea where it came from and that he didn’t generally find it insulting or offensive. His attitude was quite sensible. For him, it all depended on how the term was used. If it was just used as a term of reference, or as a joke, he didn’t mind. He was only bothered if the term was used in an aggressive or abusive manner.

Further research has led me to believe that the word is actually derogatory in its origins, so I think I’ll continue to avoid it.

Incidently, I was watching an item in the news about the execution of an African-American man. I don’t know what he was convicted of, or whether or not he was guilty.

The thing that really struck me was that in amongst the various people protesting outside the jail, either for or against the death penalty there was a contingent from the Ku Klux Klan. They were all dressed up in their regalia and carrying various placards, one of which read ‘Burn N-word Burn’.

Whatever you think of the death penalty, and whatever the circumstances of this particular case, I think you have to deplore the sentiment, but I was puzzled about the way they had written it out. (One assumes they can spell the word ‘nigger’. Of all the words in the English lexicon, they must know this one).

So the reason they used the euphemism ‘N-word’, is probably quite mundane, something to do with legal penalties for displaying the word in public, or maybe some concern that their placard might have been pixellated if the word was written out, I don’t know.

Having said this, the idea that the Ku Klux Klan chose not to write the word ‘nigger’ on their placard in case they gave offense to the African-American community struck me as being just too precious to give up.