Teacher: Okay class, that’s it for today. Oh, and one last thing. Never use the n-word.
Student: What’s the n-word?
Teacher: I’m not allowed to say.
Student: Huh?! Uh, can you at least tell us how it’s used?
Teacher: Sure. It’s the offensive word for black people.
Student: Oh, okay. But what is the offensive word for black people?
Teacher: Since you’re not supposed to use it, why would you want to know what it is?
Student: So we’ll know what other people mean by it when they use it.
Teacher: Well then, I guess you’re just going to have to listen for the words people use when referring to black people, and only to black people, take note of those being used in an offensive way, and then pick out the one starting with an n.
Student: Uh, couldn’t you just tell us?
Teacher: No, because the very uttering of its two syllables is offensive.
Student: You mean we’d be offended by the word even if we’d never heard it before?
Teacher: Well, no. But I’m worried you might repeat it.
Student: So could you teach us what it is if we promised never to repeat it?
Student: Okay, but to help us out here, can you use the two words, “the n-word”, in a sentence so we know what we should be listening for?
Teacher: I suppose. Okay, “Listen, the n-word, get to the back of the bus!”
Student: That doesn’t sound very offensive.
Teacher: It would if I replaced “the n-word” with the n-word.
Student: I see. But if everyone knows the real word the n-word stands for – well, everyone except us – why isn’t it just as offensive to say, “Listen, the n-word, get to the back of the bus!”?
Teacher: I suppose it is.
Student: So if “the n-word” is just as offensive as the n-word, aren’t you being offensive by telling us, “Never use the n-word!”?
Teacher: No, because I’m not using the n-word, I’m only mentioning it.
Student: So we’re allowed to mention the n-word, just as long as we don’t use it?
Student: So then we could also mention the real word the n-word stands for, just as long as we don’t use it, right?
Teacher: I suppose.
Student: Good. Then being careful to mention it rather than use it, can you please tell us what real word the n-word stands for?
Teacher: Not if I want to keep my job.
Student: My friends were right. English is a very hard language to learn.