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‘Huckleberry Finn,’ Minus the N-Word

Posted on Jan 4, 2011

Huck Finn for the 21st century: Mark Twain’s writing will be tweaked a bit in NewSouth Books’ update.

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is about to get a major makeover in the form of a significant edit to be made in NewSouth Books’ edition of Mark Twain’s iconic novel. Specifically, the notorious n-word will be swapped out for “slave,” along with one other race-related alteration.  —KA

Entertainment Weekly:

The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun. The effort is spearheaded by Twain expert Alan Gribben, who says his PC-ified version is not an attempt to neuter the classic but rather to update it. “Race matters in these books,” Gribben told PW. “It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.”

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Gulam's avatar

By Gulam, January 7, 2011 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment

It does seem odd that anyone would bother to do this now.

I have several pre-teen children who come to see me nearly every day, and they
watch cartoons and play games on my old computers. From what I have seen and
heard there appear to be no limits at all on what can be said, aside from the
terrible n word of course.

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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, January 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm Link to this comment

Defacing a masterpiece with petty political correctness - it’s like putting fig leaves on all the naked Greek and Romanesque male statues. At best it’s silly - at worse barbaric. I’m waiting for them to censor Rap lyrics that abound with ‘n’ words and ‘f’ words and ‘b’ words- let’s hear that political outcry!

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By surfnow, January 7, 2011 at 8:42 am Link to this comment

By John Butler, January 6 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The act of changing an historic (no! not historical) text

You’re wrong Mr.Butler. Literature is as much an historical record as studying Renaissance painting is for understanding the influence the Catholic Church had on that period.

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By surfnow, January 7, 2011 at 8:27 am Link to this comment

Mark Twain was one of the first American writers to use the vernacular of the common man of the antebellum south . By doing so he left an important historical record as well as entertaining prose. To alter it for political correctness is as wrong and dangerous as censorship from the right.

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By javiorly, January 6, 2011 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment

This is about the word mulatto, from the Spanish mulato meaning mixture of black and white.

When they said the US was getting its first black president I wrote: This mulato will show that you can be a shitty president regardless of the color of your skin.
My point was that Obama is not a black man, he is a mixture and that is not the same experience. I know no better word to use.

Anyway I wrote this in a progressive site, Common Dreams, and got kicked out. I find that racist. I don’t have a problem with the word mulato at all. I don’t use it demeaningly nor did I do so with respect to Obama. The fact that Obama is a mulato is not demeaning, what he does is.

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By RichardKanePA, January 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm Link to this comment

There is a Book Black Like me about a White Northener disguising Himself as Black, going South and seeing little and the Black kid with him, being beat up by the others. Later he was sobbing in the Northerner’s arms but she is a Nigert-Blond.

Elsewhere I can’t comment on the Handicapped, disableed, phisically challenged without looking at the vary latest dictionary, to find out what the latest correct turm is.

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By John Butler, January 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The act of changing an historic (no! not historical) text is patronising. Patronising is for those who will not engage in full and objective debate: (My neighbour used to call potatoes spuds,I got over it). This is symptomatic on the state of debate. Hard times ahead, I fear.

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By Smudge Martens, January 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

Re: Gulam’ Comment:

Interesting observation it reminded me of the term half-caste,in which the Wikipedia entry also addressed mulatto.

“Half caste is a term used in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking parts of the world. An example is a child of black African and white European parentage. In Australia the term is thoroughly offensive, and was used in the past to describe Indigenous people of mixed racial parentage.

The term mulatto (from Spanish “Mulato”) has also been used for this particular mixture. Both terms are considered impolite and potentially offensive in the U.S., as the words have been used pejoratively in the past to ostracize and isolate the offspring of such unions.”

Unfortunately that opens the door to Rush Limbaugh’s infamous Half-rican American comments. Offense shuts one door and opens another. Words are only an expression of the underlying thoughts and values.

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Gulam's avatar

By Gulam, January 6, 2011 at 3:16 am Link to this comment

It seems strange indeed that ever since Obama appeared on my radar during
the early days of the last election I have never once seen or heard the word
“mulatto.”  According to Wikipedia, which gives a detailed account of that word’s
long and international use as simply a term meaning someone of mixed racial
ancestry or someone with parents of different races: “Although still in use, in
the last half century the term mulatto has fallen out of favor among some
people and may be considered offensive by some in the United States.”

For Americans the word mulatto may well have associations with a shameful
past, but English language still needs a generic word for those with parents of
different races. If that term is judged to be racist and loaded it is the word
police who have the problem. Even if the concept of race itself is of limited
value, we use the terms “white” and “black” all the time, which tends to
reinforce the silly notion that people can be accurately classified that way. Does
it not seem odd that the most obvious and accurate word in the English
language to describe the President’s racial heritage is never never used at all by
anyone? I find it hard to believe that this is simply because everyone has
become so very thoughtful of his feelings.

If that word were used often regarding Obama, this alone would have gone a
long way toward rehabilitating a useful word. Mulatto accurately describes a
huge and growing portion of the US population. Why is the English word for
those people automatically negative, when the word and the condition it
describes has not always been considered negative in other lands. While I
would applaud any attempt to move America beyond racism, these word
prohibitions seem more like some form of denial, denial of the fact that Barak
Obama may be a lot of things, but a black American is not one of them, either
culturally or genetically. Those who keep referring to him as “black” are going
to seem just as strange, negative, and dated in 125 years as Twain’s dialogue
seems today, and just as bigoted in their own way as those who call him a

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LostHills's avatar

By LostHills, January 6, 2011 at 12:44 am Link to this comment

I’m with Lenny Bruce on this subject…....

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By Nicho, January 5, 2011 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Can we now assume that, once this is done, all works written by African-
American writers will be similarly cleansed to remove all references to
“honkey,” “cracker,” and “whitey.”

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, January 5, 2011 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment

Krystal, Racist Leefeller here, thanks for making me feel guilty especially for being white, now I feel so bad, I will buy your edited Huck Finn version and burn my old N word version, (yes N word, I cannot help my bigitoed self, I just feel so guilty)  we need to go around and take all those old N word versions out and burn the living hell out of em!

Instead of starting with Huck Finn a white mans classic,  I would preferably have started with something more recent, written by morons, for instance how about the newer alleged great works written by Sarah Palin or George Bush,.... you know those humor novels.

Now, I see our future covered with clouds of toxic fumes coming from burning all those millions of Barns & Noble Nooks and Amazon Kimble’s!

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By Smudge Martens, January 5, 2011 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy

This courageous work should be a required read in every high school.

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By rend, January 5, 2011 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

gerard: perhaps you are writing from Europe, just a heads up, “Oriental” is a no no here in
the States.

Or perhaps we have embraced the imperial aspirations of our European forefathers, but in
that case we are still mixed up as the sun rises in the East over Europe, not the West of

Anyway, best like the rest of us,, modulate your language for the times. It’s Asians.

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By Maani, January 5, 2011 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

More historical revisionism in the name of political correctness.  How quaint.

“He who controls the present, controls the past.  He who controls the past, controls the future.” George Orwell, 1984.


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By thethirdman, January 5, 2011 at 11:23 am Link to this comment


I was just trying to be sarcastic.  No offense given.  Just a poor stab at humor on my part.  Sorry.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, January 5, 2011 at 11:07 am Link to this comment

After seeing all the whining about Mr. Fishes last cartoon, me believes our country may be done for.

I read words I find offensive all the time, but in the context of a novel story they provide the feeling or set a mood. Mark Twains use of the N word set a tone of of the times and provided a foundation to the story. These are my memories of Huck Finn, having not read Huck Finn for many years.  I remember the N word in Huck Finn (and it bothered me then as it does now), but I suspect the N word used by Twain was a standard word used with acceptance back then to categorize and show separation of peoples for the times.

Today the N word is used as a demeaning word interned to hurt.  Back in Twains time in society the N word was used as the word “boy’.

I find the N word offensive and unacceptable in public or in casual conversation. But not in Mark Twains work.

My dad was and still is a classic example of a bigot. As a little kid, I found his regular use of the N word most troubling.  Though as a little kid, I did not even know the words bigotry or racism. Even so,  I was uncomfortable and found something wrong with my dads use of the N word, he used the word like my grandmother used the word jew and my great uncle an old sea captain used the word Chinaman.  In all cases my bigoted relatives used these words in some sort of negative context seemingly unhappy with or demeaning to the targeted subjects.

Mark Twain used the word Chinaman in one of his works. Back in Twain’s time the N word was used to show a light of abuse and miss treatment towards peoples of difference. My great uncle who was an old sailing ship sailor and evidently a captain, used the word Chinaman like Mark Twain did in his novels.  I was just out of high-school then and I remember connecting my uncles Chinaman to my dads bigotry.

The word police are like the movie police and it really depends on who sets the standards?

Unacceptable and offensive to me is cussing, swearing and spiting unless I am doing it.

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By Jim Yell, January 5, 2011 at 10:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People who improve books by changing the language are ignorant fools. What else can one say.

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By bogi666, January 5, 2011 at 9:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I disagree. In other parts of the world, notably the Caribbean, Twain’s books are read for being the classics they are, although the N word means nothing there or in Africa and this cleansing is absurd as far as literature is concerned. Anyway, I’m glad I read Twain’s work when it was literature. Just why this change occurred is censorship. As for me I grew up in a household in which my mother never used the N word an my Dad used it once, to my recollection, and never in a derogatory sense, except for the fact that the N word is derogatory in its own right when used by whites.

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Not One More!'s avatar

By Not One More!, January 5, 2011 at 4:49 am Link to this comment

I wonder if Mr. Twain would use the ‘n’ word if he wrote it today? One part of me says no because I don’t think he was a hateful person, but he also did tell it like it was.

I hope that at least in the book’s forward they explain that they are substituting the word slave for the ‘n’ word.

I remember when they were going after Larry Flynt on pornography charges (Hustler Mens Magazine), and his defense was that what the US government did during the Vietnam war and other wars was much more unacceptable and offensice, and I agree.

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By James Harbour, January 5, 2011 at 3:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Don’t remove NIGGER from Twain’s work. (for Krystal’s comment)

Huck is a vulgar, stupid kid that doesn’t learn a damn thing about the evils he is witness to throughout the novel. 

The only decent thing that comes out of this is for white people.  They get to push a sick portion of their past further to the sidelines and don’t have to think about the ways that policies against African-Americans are still at work TODAY in Dr. Laura’s “post-racism” world.  They don’t have to confront that that word was employed so vilely in human history.  Bottom line, with this move, whites win, blacks lose.

Stop being a baby Krystal - obviously you’ve never read the book or your mind couldn’t conceptualize it.

It really depends on what you’re trying to take the word “fag” out of.  If you’re trying to take it out of a piece of fiction, just like cracker, fag, nigger, spic, chink, pol, jap, etc. etc., I’m going to lobby against it because it’s not REALITY to write novels exclusively about politically correct characters.

If it’s about whether or not the New York Times should call the President a “nigger” - then that is obviously the kind of situation where people justfully call for the self-censorship of the word.

You don’t think people read Huck-Finn as a satire of the south’s inability to learn anything or to grow up just like Huck?  I don’t know what school you grew up in - but there’s not much else you can read in that novel.

As for you Krystal, I think Twain put it best:

“Jim said bees wouldn’t sting idiots; but I didn’t believe that, because I had tried them lots of times myself, and they wouldn’t sting me.”

Freedom of speech means freedom of speech, censoring words is unacceptable.

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By Vince in WeHo, January 5, 2011 at 2:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In response to Krystal’s post, you seemed to have made the assumption that
not one poster on here stopped to consider the offensive nature of the word

I’m sorry you made that assumption, Krystal.

If there was a literary classic in the English cannon that used the word “faggot”
rather liberally in a manner which could be deemed derogatory, out of context
or not, as a gay man, I would be more offended by someone deciding to print
all future copies with a substituted word than the actual word itself.  But, I’m
not sure you would agree, as you have suggested that there is a scale we can
weigh the degree of offensiveness between the words “faggot” and “nigger.” 
But, essentially, that is subjective.

“However it is not read in the context today as the satire that it is concerning
white supremacy.”  So, we must appease those who lack critical faculties and
research skills?

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By krystal, January 5, 2011 at 2:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have to question why white ppl are all up in arms about this, yet none will type out the words in their posts, headlines ect. I think there are underlying reasons as to why they think that history is suddenly being ‘rewritten’ in the removal of the n word. The books’ setting was in a time of oppression for blacks and other people of color and whites were revered as the heroes and examples of moral compass as much of the movies and media portray them today and everyone else of color is in some way inferior. However it is not read in the context today as the satire that it is concerning white supremacy.

The book has its racist implements without the word and there are just some sick people out there who don’t care so much for the fact that a classic is edited and it is an offensive word as they do as just seeing the word in print and being able to read/see it without being deemed a racist.

As a black person growing up in the south it doesn’t sit too well to have heard this word read a loud. if any of you rejecting the censored version would stop and think about why someone would take the time to entertain the thought of editing this, maybe you’d be willing to see the other side of the argument and make up your own minds rather than going off of what the news is telling you.

Flip on MSNBC visit huffington post(if you can do so without puking) People seem to be more up in arms about ppl using the word ‘fag’ to describe a homosexual person..and will go as far to make stupid PSAs against it..but when it comes to removing a derogatory and offensive word towards blacks…history is being ‘re-written’ things that make you go hmm…

Mark Twain’s use of the N word in HUCK FINN is a negative recognition of overt racism not an acceptance of it. If you racists like seeing the ‘n’ word just buy the original.

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By gerard, January 5, 2011 at 12:42 am Link to this comment

the third man:  No offense intended.  Dictionary:  gook, 3rd definition “disparaging of an Oriental”
Sorry.  I spent the Vietnam years in Japan and assign no negative characteristics whatsoever to Orientals. However, that lapse of time out of the States accounts for my language deficiency. Am related to Orentals by marriage amd fought the use of the word Japs.  The word I used didn’t have the same connotatins for me as for you. Nevertheless, sorry to offend.

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By Vince in WeHo, January 4, 2011 at 10:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Not a fan of the word, but not a fan of whitewashing history either.

Political correctness Fail.

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By Big B, January 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment

First it was texas and oklahoma re-writing the history books to suite their own “view” of the USA.

Now we are editing great american novels for the sake of our 21st century sensibilities. (ironic that you can’t say nigger or injun anymore, but it’s ok to blow up wedding parties and kindergartens with drone aircraft.

I can’t wait for the new Slaughterhouse Five without the word “motherfucker”, or “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” edited for drug content.(Jebus, it would be a mere pamphlet)

Where will it stop? Book burnings, jakboots and brown shirts I’ll wager.

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By thethirdman, January 4, 2011 at 8:29 pm Link to this comment


Your usage of the term gook is insensitive and has greatly offended me.  Please
revise your original statement so that I never again have to be exposed to
anything at all that could ever be construed in anyway to hurt someone’s feelings. 
I am not trying to neuter your language but rather to update it for the 21st

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By Catmoves, January 4, 2011 at 8:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

First of all, the word nigger as used by Twain was not a racial reflection, but a reflection of the times and life then extant.
Eliminating that word is violation of American life and literature. Twain wrote the truth, but it seems that NewSouthBooks are not interested in truth in fiction. If the title of that company truly represents the south (and I live there) then it is time for us to move to the north.
It’s hard for me to believe that the American people will allow censorship in this day and age.
I denigrated Germany’s censorship and Italy’s, when I was old enough. I learned, in school, of the evils of any kind of censorship and to what it can lead.
In order to be free, America must fight any and all censorship. Otherwise, friends, we are simply slaves of those people who are in power. History shows us that any past nation that allowed censorship sooner, not later, became a dictatorship and eventually became a nation that could not and would not protect its own citizens.
Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, again and again.
Those who stand for censorship are negating Abraham Lincoln’s remark about our being a nation of freedom.
Beware of those who want thought police.

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By gerard, January 4, 2011 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment

P-U-L-E-E-Z-E   L-O-U-E-E-Z-E !
  That I should live so long???  Huck bowlderized and the 19th century masterpiece made politically correct for the geeks and gooks of the 21st (who can’t read anyway!)

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By Wildeye, January 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

You cannot solve history’s problems by rewriting history.

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