What Does Ni**er Mean?

The etymology of self-doubt.

Steve QJ
6 min readDec 23, 2022
Photo by Lucas Gouvêa on Unsplash

Growing up black taught my dad to doubt himself.

Even as a kid, I noticed how his lightly accented English lost its roundness when he spoke to strangers. How his pronunciation stiffened when he answered the phone. He wore his carefully managed eloquence like a suit of armour. A shield against accusations of inferiority.

So it’s not surprising that he was determined my sister and I would speak English well.

On Sunday afternoons, as penance for dragging us to church, he took us on long, aimless drives along narrow country roads. Bill Withers and Luther Vandross oozed from the speakers, bumpily devoured snacks stained our Sunday clothes, and in between games of “I spy” and “20 Questions”, he probed for chinks in our defences.

“How do you spell ‘onomatopoeia’?” he asked. “What does ‘audacity’ mean? Can you think of three synonyms for ‘erudite’?

He started us early enough that we thought of this as play.

But of course, being kids, we were more interested in the words he didn’t teach us.

From movies, we learned words that would help us verify whether someone spoke English or get snakes off our plane. With friends, we invented words that baffled our parents and irritated our teachers…



Steve QJ

Race. Politics. Culture. Sometimes other things. Almost always polite. Find more at https://steveqj.substack.com