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Last week a racist MP (notice that I have not put the adjective in speech marks) was suspended for using a racist expression (again, deliberately no speech marks). Almost every single racist expression, in common (if not public!) parlance, which relates to black people, comes from the slave-trade era. This fact encapsulates a fascinating, if somewhat Machiavellian, development in the use of language. Obviously things that could be shouted out in public, with impunity in 1977, or even 1997, cannot even be whispered in private, in 2017. How strange that one of our elected Parliamentarians did not realise this!

Of course there are other expressions, originating from the slave trade, which don’t transverse the N-word faux pas, but which somehow have managed to become accepted into ‘polite society’. For example the expression for confusing language, (‘mumbo jumbo’) comes from the 1730’s, when British explorers were confused by ceremonial chants and dances in Mandingo culture. Another example comes in the reference to the detail of a topic as being the ‘nitty-gritty’. That is apparently what slaves left behind in transporter ships. The expression ‘being sold down the river’ as a synonym for ‘betrayal’ hardly needs any explanation.  Thankfully, the days of the nursery rhyme ‘Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe’ where the N-word is used are gone forever. I think!

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