About This Site

Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
(What are figures of speech?)
Ask Figaro a question!

This form does not yet contain any fields.

    « Bondage and Figuring | Main | Now, Scoot! »

    It’s Alive!


    Quote:  “Die, N-word.  We don’t want to see you around here no more.”  Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

    Figure of Speech:  tabooism, a form of circumlocution.  From the Tongan tabu, meaning “forbidden.”

    At the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s national convention, horses drew a carriage with a pine casket.  Inside the casket was the anthropomorphically embalmed word “nigger.”

    Did Figaro just offend you?  Forgive him; he has a reason.

    The word “nigger” didn’t become a bad word in America until the nineteenth century, when it took on pejorative connotations.  Derived from the Latin niger, meaning “black,”  it allows Figaro to demonstrate a perfect tabooism — a word or phrase that substitutes for a forbidden word.  Figaro devised the term “tabooism” himself, because circumlocution is too broad to describe the phenomenon.

    A circumlocution (or periphrasis, as Figaro’s Greek homeys called it) swaps an unpleasant word or phrase with a description.  (Bodily waste for doo-doo, significant other for “guy I’m shacking up with”.)  A tabooism does the same thing, except that it substitutes only for words imbued with scary powers:  Adonai for Yahwehgee for Jesus, He Who Must Not Be Named for Voldemort, and the F-word for, well, you know.

    Of course, one of the best ways to give a taboo more power is to ban it. By burying the N-word, the NAACP may actually turn it into one of the Figuratively Undead.


    Snappy Answer:  “S’up, person of color?”

    PrintView Printer Friendly Version

    EmailEmail Article to Friend

    Reader Comments (5)

    I guess next they need to bury the 'color' in naacp.
    July 9, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersathish jetty
    Or "People," at least. In over-sensitive ears, "people" implies a monolithic, stereotypical group. "Persons" implies individuals. Of, um, color.
    July 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    That totally made me laugh!
    July 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMartha
    let's hope that the naacp doesn't think it's actually buried racism, too. unless by bury they simply intend to hide it from view.
    July 10, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteryaman
    In the NAACP's defense, they're not just addressing white people. Whites often use "nigger" in knuckleheaded imitation of black performers.
    July 10, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro

    PostPost a New Comment

    Enter your information below to add a new comment.

    My response is on my own website »
    Author Email (optional):
    Author URL (optional):
    All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.