Case of the Disappearing N-Word

This week in N-word news …

Look out, Mark Twain, an Alabama publisher is planning to release a new combined volume of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that replaces the N-word with the word “slave.” The book will also replace the word “Injun,” a derogatory term for Native Americans.

The N-word appears in the original Huck Finn 219 times. The use of it and other culturally offensive terms in Twain’s book has long been a source of controversy, with parents and activist groups having called for the removal of the book from required reading lists for more than 50 years.

In a Publishers Weekly interview with Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working on the new edition of Finn and Sawyer, Gribben explained that he didn’t want to whitewash the historical reality of race in the books, but that an adjustment in the language might be necessary to make the books more accessible to a 21st century audience. From the PW article:

“After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach [Tom Sawyer] and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.” Gribben became determined to offer an alternative for grade school classrooms and “general readers” that would allow them to appreciate and enjoy all the book has to offer. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” he said.