Dropping the N-Bomb

The trouble with automatic translations is that sometimes you end up with the wrong word. Oops! An honest mistake, and easy enough to fix. It’s not like it was deliberate.

I remember clearly when I learned the n-word. I was a precocious reader and I’d grabbed Huckleberry Finn way before I was old enough to understand it. I must have been about eleven or twelve. I didn’t know what it meant, and I didn’t know it was a bad word. I told my mom about the plot and the characters, and described them as they’d been described in the book. She set me straight pretty quick. I also learned the word “derogatory” that day.

This is similar to the story of how I learned to pronounce the word “genre” — I’d only ever seen it written down, so I just guessed at how to say it. I would have been in junior high, I guess… right in the middle of my science-fiction obsession. I think I pronounced it jenn-air, like the appliances. In front of my parents and a dinner party of their friends. Everyone laughed. I still feel a twinge of sympathy when people mispronounce that word, although it doesn’t stop me from laughing at them.

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