The new version of Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary was given to the niece of attorney Roy Miller from Macon, Georgia, about Christmastime in 1993. When Miller visited his 13-year-old niece in March the next year, he noticed she seemed “sad” and “depressed.” She informed him that she no longer needed the dictionary.
Attorney Roy Miller was surprised by her mood change, knowing how pleased she was when she first got the dictionary from a grocery store in Macon, Georgia, and he was determined to find out why. His niece expressed her dissatisfaction with the N-word.
“nigger n. A negro or member of some dark-skinned people; a vulgar and offensive term,” according to the Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (See Negro).
“When I read the definition, I was outraged. I immediately realized that the old definition that applied the N-word to any race had changed,” Miller said.
“The change only gave a description, not a definition. It merely suggested to the reader that if you don’t know what a Nigger is, just look at a Negro or dark-skinned person, and you’ll find out.”
“This definition could never apply to an innocent Black child,” he continued. “The term ‘nigger’ had belittled and confused my niece, causing her to question her identity. I asked myself how Funk & Wagnalls could justify in its 1993 edition that whatever nasty and offensive things that niggers are supposedly known to do could only apply to a Negro or dark-skinned person (including an innocent Black child).”
Miller went on to ask some of his Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian friends what they think of the term, and they all concluded that it is “degrading.” On March 17, 1994, the Black attorney wrote to Funk & Wagnall, explaining that the term should be deleted. He explained how the word has a negative effect on children, not only Black children but also children of all races.
“Why confuse a child of any color with this definition? Children are pure at heart and not responsible for bad relationships of the past. No child should ever have to wonder whether or not he or she is a nigger,” the attorney later explained his position.
Leon L. Bram, Vice President & Editorial Director of Funk & Wagnall, responded in a letter dated March 31, 1994, announcing that the term will be removed from all future printings. “Mr. Miller, your niece, is fortunate in having an uncle as concerned and caring as you,” he wrote.
Miller, a professional solo R&B and gospel recording artist, made headlines that year not for his songs but for his success in having the infamous N-word insult removed from a major dictionary. His achievement was included in the May 1994 edition of Macon, GA.
The N-word is considered the “filthiest” and “dirtiest” word in the English language. It can be traced back to slavery in history.
In 2020, the BBC quoted Kehinde Andrews, a professor of black studies at Birmingham City University, saying, “It’s really tied into the idea that African people aren’t really human beings.”
“They were more like an animal than a human being, a beast of burden could be bought and sold, could be thrown overboard ships, and literally had no rights.
“So, when the N-word is used, that’s essentially what it’s used for.”