Time to Take Back “Nigger”

Repost from the old site.

Some Black folks been busy lately trying to bury the word nigger once and for all – recent months have seen symbolic funerals and burials of the n-word by mainstream Black organizations. This movement probably stems from the OJ Simpson trial in the mid-1990’s, when n-word was substituted for nigger.

Nowadays, nigger is as taboo as can be.

Can you say, “That racist jerk called a Black man, ‘Nigger!’?”


Can we use the word nigger to describe the word widely used amongst Blacks themselves?


One may not use the word nigger under any circumstances.

This is strange.

First, it implies that nigger is either an obscenity or like one’s private parts, ok to be spoken or revealed in privacy but certainly not in public. But nigger is neither obscenity in word nor flesh.

Second, banning the word nigger implies that it is so horrible, and that Blacks are so sensitive, that even the sight or sound of the word will drive these oversensitive Black souls either to tears or to rage. Now, Blacks have never struck me as a cringing, hypersensitive race of inhibited crybabies.

The Black man can take an insult. Why not – we kept him in a cage for centuries, only let him out to be policed like an animal in an open air zoo for another 100 years, finally liberated him via bullets and water hoses 40 years ago, and oppression and discrimination yet linger.

Through it all, the Black man has stood up and taken it like a man. By implying that Black men can’t bear to see the word nigger without dissolving into wimpy tearfulness, we insult their masculinity and fortitudinous nature.

Now that we have settled the absurdity of killing, let alone burying, a word, let us see how we may resurrect the comatose patient.

Who should be allowed to use the word?

Obviously, Blacks will keep on using the word themselves, as is their right. Further, Blacks can decide how, where and why they use the word, if at all. It’s only fair to give Blacks ownership over this word, which is really their word.

Blacks are perfectly correct that Whites should not use this word, and don’t give us that phony, “Well, Blacks use it, so why can’t we?” nonsense.

Semantics is a subfield of Linguistics. In Semantics, we say that words mean whatever people who use them say they mean. End of story. Nigger has one set of meanings when Blacks use it and another set when Whites use it. That’s not Black hypocrisy; it’s the way humans use language.
Should racists be granted the right to use the word? No, they use it as a weapon to attack others.

I would like to request that we resurrect the word for journalistic and historical writing integrity. If a non-Black calls Blacks niggers, let’s write out the word. Forget this weasel-word n-word. We should have the right to say, “In the South 50 years ago, most Whites referred to Blacks as niggers.”

What are we accomplishing by refusing the write the evil word? Are we preventing its spread in society, sort of like a disease control agency?
Let’s let non-racist creative writers, journalists, social scientists, historians feel free to use the word, sparingly, like seasoning on food, as needed.
How about one more case? Why can’t we put the word nigger in the mouths of racists? Why can’t we refer to David “Send the niggers back to Africa” Duke? Or Newt “Cut the niggers off welfare” Gingrich? Or Philippe “I like to measure nigger penises” Rushton?

Let’s boil down some of these racist arguments just a bit and give them some nigger-seasoning.

Why do the same racists who love to rant about supposed Black genetic stupidity love to rave on about Black basketball skills? What’s the real message here? How about, “Niggers sure are good at basketball! They better be, cuz they sure ain’t got no brains!”

What’s the real message of the scientific racism that says that Blacks are genetically stupid, that this stupidity is irremediable by any environmental means, and that attacks any signs of Black intellectual progress (Like, for instance, this vile and wicked blog, recently referred in an New York Times piece by Amy Harmon as a “popular science blog”)? Isn’t it really, “God-damn, niggers are dumb!”

Why don’t we call the Murrays, Rushtons and Lynns the “Niggers sure are stupid!” academics? After all, that’s what they are selling, right?

Have you noticed that endless obsession that the media has with Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe – formerly Rhodesia – used to be run by virulently racist White criminals who were then evicted by a Black liberation movement.

Zimbabwe did all right for quite some time – in fact, throughout the 1980’s, it was regarded as a model of democracy, good governance, and multiracial harmony, and it weathered the African famines of the 1980’s quite well – until it started seizing the land of White farmers in the 1990’s. And why did it seize the land of the White farmers?

Because land reform was a necessity, but Britain had quit funding the “willing buyer, willing seller” fake land reform that never really worked well anyway since so few White farmers were willing to sell land. 5,000 White farmers, a tiny percentage of the population, had almost all the good land, all stolen at gunpoint from Blacks decades earlier.

Meanwhile, Blacks had the worst land and only tiny plots of it anyway, such that they barely had rocks to eat.

They were overcrowded onto this crappy land, so it naturally started to erode. The racist Whites then derided the Blacks for “poor nigger farming methods.” The racists then blamed the livestock of the Blacks for the erosion, and stole 1 million head of “the niggers‘ (ill-disciplined) cattle”. The real cause of the land erosion was the racist feudal farming system.

After the willing seller, willing buyer game ended, it was replaced by a project whereby Zimbabwe tried to come up with money to buy out willing Whites. But an economic crisis occurred (caused by an IMF structural adjustment and the free marketization of the economy) during the 1990’s, and Zimbabwe lacked the cash to purchase White farms.

Whites weren’t selling anyway, and the Brits were backing them to the hilt. Angry Blacks who had fought in the liberation war began clamoring for the land to which they were entitled.

Mugabe, suffering a crisis of legitimacy at the time, gave into them. Hence, the “land invasions” began. The media rails about how “all of the land went to Mugabe’s cronies” – the message here: “Niggers are lying, cheating thieves”.

To some extent, this is true (that land went to cronies). Initially, the land reform was decentralized and handed over to local party officials, which was actually a good idea. Unfortunately, the local officials promptly turned it into a spoils system, just like the corrupt cronyism we see in every African country!

For some reason, the cronyism of Mugabe’s party was worse than that of the rest of Africa, which is ignored by the imperialist media. The important point here is that Mugabe was not really involved in this corruption. After a while of this, Mugabe got a hold of the process, and now most of the land is just going to poor Black farmers.

The next part of the media lie is that since all the land went to Mugabe’s buddies, the poor Black farmers crowded into the cities, where Mugabe promptly took them on in a fake urban renewal campaign called “Drive Out Trash,” which was really just a campaign to destroy the homes of his political opponents and render them homeless.

First of all, most of the land is now going to small Black farmers, so there is no need for landless Black farmers to crowd into the cities. This is why small rural farmers are one of Mugabe’s main support bases, the other being the Shona tribe, the largest tribe in the country.

Second of all, the unfortunately named “Drive Out Trash” campaign was really just an urban renewal campaign where horrible Black slums were destroyed to make way for 120,000 much better government housing units. The urban renewal campaign is going on right now and much nicer government homes are replacing squalid hovels. The urban renewal has been hampered by sanctions, though.

True, the land reform has been chaotic, as land reforms often are in the beginning, especially when too much land reform is done too quickly. The old system has been crushed, and the new one often has not yet gotten going yet. The result is sometimes one or more years of famine harvests.
But all this BS could have been prevented if Britain and the White farmers had gone along with a sane land reform program in the beginning.

At the same time, after Zimbabwe had been devastated by a decade of IMF-led imperialist looting combined with terrible droughts of the 1990’s, Mugabe logically told the IMF to go to Hell and refused to pay off his debts.

With the land invasions and the IMF nose-thumbing, all Hell broke loose in US and UK imperialist circles, especially in the former colonist, Britain, where the press went nuts and has never recovered. Devastating sanctions were quickly slammed on Zimbabwe. Foreign investment plummeted by 99%, and Zimbabwe was essentially locked out of the world banking system.

Even UNICEF is in on the brutal punishment – whereas in other African lands, AIDS sufferers get $74 per sufferer per year, Zimbabwe only gets $4 per sufferer per year from UNICEF. Then Mugabe, as AIDS devastated the land – the “dumb, murderous nigger Mugabe” – morphs into “genocidal nigger Communist Mugabe”. Really it’s just an AIDS epidemic devastating the country, as it is wrecking surrounding nations.

The land invasions were a predictable mess, and a few Whites were killed.
These deaths have been insanely blown out of proportion by a leering media. In Britain, the media fairly screams “White genocide!” You can imagine the clamor on White Nationalist sites. In truth, a whole nine White farmers have been killed over an eight-year period. The death of one White farmer yields vastly more breathless Western prose than the deaths of 30 Zimbabwean Blacks might.

Another media obsession is “Mugabe the dictator.” Mugabe is authoritarian, but as such folks go, he is pretty lightweight. The opposition leaders regularly give interviews in which they call for armed struggle against Mugabe’s regime or invasion by imperialist countries. It is amazing how this “evil dictator” allows those who call for his very head to speak out and run free.

The West has funded the opposition, which has little support, for years now. The opposition is totally tied to imperialism and pushes an extreme free market program that is not only the last thing that Zimbabwe needs right now but is the very thing that caused so many problems for the nation in the 1990’s.

The opposition has led a number of violent campaigns, and some of their leadership has been arrested and beaten. The Western media has gone nuts over these minor transgressions.

The opposition has also historically allied at various with the White farmers in Zimbabwe, White apartheid supporters in South Africa, and the vicious, apartheid-supported RENAMO guerrillas in Mozambique. Obviously, they are rejected by the vast majority of Zimbabweans.

The main opposition party was clearly involved in a coup attempt that tried to kill Mugabe in alliance with UK imperialism, but a court of the Mugabe “dictatorship” somehow refused to convict the plotters.

Truth is that the opposition is essentially run and funded by UK and US imperialism. Zimbabwe sees the UK and US as enemy nations, and in fact they are. As such, I would argue that the opposition are in effect traitors and spies for openly working the enemies of the nation. Mugabe is too kind. I am amazed he even lets the opposition walk around free at all.
Mugabe the “dictator” has held several elections, which are now monitored by international monitors, and monitors have upheld all of the results. At the same time, opposition protests caused the “dictator” Mugabe to cancel several proposed Constitutional amendments.

The sanctions are the cause of almost all of the economic decline and ruin that the country has suffered since 1999. There is no a priori reason to suggest that Zimbabwe should be the most devastated country in Africa. The nasty racist suggestion is: “Niggers can’t run a country.”

In particular, the suggestion is worse: “Niggers are so stupid and childlike that they are incapable of running a country and quickly destroy any country given to them. Look at Zimbabwe. It was doing great when the nigger children had White grown-ups to take care of them. Then they threw Whitey out and tried to run it by themselves, and look what happened.”

The sneaky riff: “Niggers destroy any country they run. The only way that nigger countries can succeed is if the niggers are colonized by superior Whites.” The particularly nasty aspect of this vicious line is that it both supports White colonialism and White apartheid at the same time.

Another line is taken by many “race realists” such as the noxious crowd over at GNXP.

It is interesting that these “race realists” are almost always from the more “superior” races and rarely from the more “inferior” races.

Anyway, these folks take the objectively racist line that the chaos in Zimbabwe is because…”niggers are too stupid to run a country!” IQ scores in Africa are then used to prove that idiocy is what is killing Zimbabwean Blacks.

It is true that, as James Watson noted, IQ scores in Africa are markedly low. These IQ scores are valid. However, IQ scores in Zimbabwe are about 67, which is precisely the African average.

The other African nations, despite their low IQ’s, seem to muddle along, and at least are not experiencing Zimbabwean disaster. Minus crippling sanctions, Zimbabwe would be expected to muddle along about as well as any African nation.

Another problem is that much of the chaos in Zimbabwe is being caused by one of the worst AIDS problems on Earth. This is conflated by imperialism’s media to mean “socialist Mugabe is slaughtering his people.” Truth is it’s mostly AIDS that is killing them, not Mugabe, and there is not much Mugabe can do about AIDS anyway.

Blacks did not destroy Zimbabwe – sanctions did. Zimbabwe was doing fine on its own for 19 years until it started grabbing the White farms. De facto White Supremacist countries like the US and UK then went nuts, slammed devastating sanctions on Zimbabwe, and it’s been screaming in the ruins ever since.

Viewed in this light, cheat sheet version of the destruction of Zimbabwe ends up as a (deliberate or not) White racist plot-scam to make Blacks look like genocidal incompetent children that need White adults to take care of them. I do not think imperialism intended the message to come out that way, but that’s how it came across.

Even worse, the line is: “Look! Niggers are so stupid and incompetent they can’t even grow food!” Black people grow food all over Africa and have been growing food for centuries. They don’t necessarily grown enough of it to feed their countries, but they do ok.

Africans are resourceful and hardy folks; humans have been there for 120,000 years, and they haven’t gone extinct yet. Fire and tools came out of Africa, and 73,000 years ago, when a volcano killed almost all humans on Earth, only a small band of 600 or so survived and kept the human race going.

Guess where the holdouts were? Africa, near Mount Kilimanjaro. Afterward, these Africans underwent extreme evolutionary changes called the Great Leap Forward, probably invented art and language, and exploded out of Africa to colonize the entire planet.

Yet these same folks are so stupid they can’t even grow food! Come on.
There is yet one more snarky and wicked riff running through this whole imperialist aggression. It’s a lesson to the niggers in South Africa. It says, “Listen up, South African niggers! Look at Zimbabwe! This is what will happen to you if you try to do a land reform with those White farmers in your country! We will destroy you just like we did Zimbabwe! Don’t even think about it, niggers!”

Now, South Africa, which we will deal with below, desperately needs a land reform. 50,000 White farmers occupy 80% of the nation’s farmland. Millions of small Black farmers either scratch in the dirt like chickens or gave up the plow for a teeming urban hovel. Crowded onto poor land, small Black farmers have created an ecological catastrophe by deforestation. The resulting erosion has created huge gullies and dust storms.

In the end, there is no reason why Zimbabwe should not at least be able to do just as well as the rest of the Africa. Zimbabwe is a disaster not because it is run by Blacks but because economic warfare has been declared on it.

Now let’s look at South Africa. Yes, the crime rate is very high. But it is in general much higher than the rest of Black Africa. Now why is that?

The racist line is: “Niggers are animals and criminals. They murder, rape and steal anything in their path, and their innate criminality destroys any country. They especially like to prey on White people because they are so hateful and racist towards Whites. And they love to rape White women because their own nigger women are so damn ugly. Look at South Africa, and peer into the heart of the nigger criminal beast.”

But South Africa is anomalous. Decades of criminal White apartheid against Blacks built up mountains of hate and resentment amongst impoverished Blacks who seethed with rage as the Whites lived in luxury while Blacks wallowed in miserable slums.

The insane gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa and the Black face of the poor combined with the White face of the rich insures racial-based redistributionist crime, often violent crime, for the foreseeable future. Barring South Africa’s unusual circumstances, we should not expect its crime rate to be much worse than the rest of Black Africa’s.

Once again, the nasty subtext: “Niggers need apartheid. The nigger can’t make it on his own. He’s an animal and he needs the White man’s paternalistic boot on his neck in order to survive and not destroy himself and his land.” As in Zimbabwe, it’s yet another argument to bring back settler-colonial apartheid and White rule.

Let’s take a look at another “race realist” obsession: Haiti. Haiti is said to be “the only Black country in the Americas,” and it is rightly described as a devastated place. The subtext: “There is only one nigger country in the Americas, and they have of course destroyed it.” But this is not the case.
First of all, most of the Caribbean islands are primarily Black or mulatto, including Cuba. A number of these islands are still colonies, but others are not. And while Dominica, Jamaica, and Grenada have plenty of problems, they are not Haiti by a long shot.

The reasons Haiti is a wreck is due to its ultra-reactionary mulatto ruling class that has confiscated almost all of the wealth of the land since independence, in cooperation with frankly White racist White countries like France, the US, and Canada.

The elite have the army and cops, and they have been slaughtering the people to keep their feudal stranglehold over the place for 100 years now.
France is still furious about independence in 1804, when Black slaves, under Desallines, rose up and killed all 25,000 White French slavers and their families on the islands. To this day, 200 years later, White racist France demands reparations for this admittedly bloody episode.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, the revolution was quickly usurped by a bunch of fake revolutionaries, who ended up turning it on its head and putting a version of the old system back in.

There were a group of light-skinned Blacks who were often freed slaves and had allied with the White slaveowners. These Blacks quickly wormed their way into power, installed feudal brutality over the wretched masses, and it’s been that way ever since. One more stolen revolution. Now this Haitian ruling class, in collaboration with imperialism, continues to keep Haiti under the boot.

Aristide was elected with 92% of the vote (despite fervent meddling by the comically-named US National Endowment for Democracy – NED) and a mandate to redistribute things a bit – a tiny bit, mind you.

He tried to raise the abysmal minimum wage, gave a million kids a lunch a day (probably their only meal) and built more schools in eight years than had been built in the previous 200. The people experienced real, tangible gains under Aristide, the best they had seen in two centuries.

For these crimes, imperialism (the US, France, and Canada) destroyed Aristide and forced him to leave with a gun at his head. The imperialist operation may as well have been called Operation Enduring Sweatshop.

The only solution for Haiti is armed revolution. The army of the ruling class needs to be overthrown. Then the ruling class themselves need to be informed of the new program and encouraged to go along.

Those that do not need to be arrested, and then either thrown in prison or re-education camps, kicked out of the country, or as a last resort for some of the most bloodthirsty and criminal Duvalierists and Tonton Macoutes, shot. Their hands are dripping with blood anyway, so it’s not like innocent people would be persecuted or killed.

A dictatorship of the proletariat may be necessary for a while, or at least a democracy with a well-armed revolutionary army, police and citizenry. This is one thing Hugo Chavez has right – arm the people and revolutionize the military.

Until that happens, Haiti will continue to be Hell on Earth.

When racists use arguments like these against Blacks and Black nations, they are not really talking of Blacks or Black countries. We give them too much credit when we say they are talking about Black people or nations – they are not – they are talking about niggers and nigger countries. Let’s shove the n-word in their mouth, leave it there for all to see, force them to eat it, and make them tell us what it tastes like.

Admittedly, we are taking some risks with this approach, namely the risk of legitimizing the term nigger. But most sane people already understand the difference between Blacks’ use of the word and Whites’ use of it. I don’t see why we can’t extend things a bit.

Note: Inspiration for this post came in part from a Michael Eric Dyson show on the radio. Dyson is a brilliant and gifted Black academic (though a bit too lenient on rap culture). Check out this great book, The Micheal Eric Dyson Reader, for more.

This guy is one smart dude and he will get your brain moving! A bit hard to read, but a lot of my readers can handle him, I think. Awesome stuff. I wish all these racist and White nationalist idiots who rant on about how stupid Black people are could read this most challenging Black scholar.

Thanks also to the outrageous Black blog Look at This Nigger for additional humor and inspiration along the same theme.


Elich, Gregory. Zimbabwe and Pan-African Liberation.
Elich, Gregory. The Battle over Zimbabwe’s Future.
Elich, Gregory. Zimbabwe’s Fight for Justice.
Gowans, Stephen. Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the “Politics of Naming”.
Gowans, Stephen. Zimbabwe’s Lonely Fight for Justice.

Tiki-Tiki Has 250 Words?

Repost from the old site.
Forget it.
Via Marilyn Vos Savant in Parade Magazine, we are told that Tiki-Tiki, otherwise known as Sranan Togo, a creole with 100,000 native speakers and many more second languages speakers on Suriname, has the smallest vocabulary of any known language – with only 250 words. This claim is credulously repeated elsewhere on the Net.
It is true that Internet dictionaries of Tiki-Tiki do show few words, possibly as few as several hundred. The SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) page says that Sranan Togo has maybe 3,000-4,000 words, as opposed to hundreds of thousands of words for major world languages (Vos Savant notes that English has the largest vocabulary at 250,000).
Many of those English words are neologisms, that is, new words that are being created on the fly, especially on places like the Internet. I actually think that English has more than 250,000 words, but I can’t prove it. As slang and whatnot proliferates in a widely spoken language, it gets pretty darn hard to count up all the words, much less write them all down.
There are other ways to create words, so it is not really so true to say that certain languages have low vocabularies. For instance, many languages spoken by small tribes have an almost endless productive variety of features for word production. In some (or perhaps many) such languages, roots can be manipulated almost endlessly to create new words to describe just about anything.
Nouns can turn into adjectives, adverbs and verbs and verbs can turn into nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Adding morphological particles onto existing roots creates a process whereby one root could possibly create up to 1000 or so new words if one is creative enough.
This potential is lost in much of the nonsense about “primitive” versus “advanced” languages, a distinction that hardly exists anyway. The truth is that the most insanely maddening languages on Earth, languages so crazy that brilliant linguists are still trying to figure them out, are spoken in general by the world’s most primitive and backwards peoples.
As a language gets bigger and used more by a civilization, it gets stupidified more and more as it loses its complexity. The reason is that people need to be on time and earn a paycheck. They need to say things quickly, make the sale or hang up the cellphone, and get to work on time.
In a more primitive situation, people are hunter-gatherers or they are laid-back agriculturalists who just take it easy and tend their fields all day. Despite blatherings of IQ theorists, even primitive humans are highly intelligent beings. We can prove this by looking at the insanely brilliant languages they have constructed all by their own selves.
We think that people get bored in these primitive settings, as their high intellect is not stimulated enough. One of the things these tribes do to stimulate their high intelligence is to play games with languages. This is why you such wildly complicated languages in such places. Much of this complexity is superfluous (noun markers, case endings, etc.) and can easily be jettisoned if one wishes to become a multitasking metrosexual.
Anyway, I did some quick research on Sranan Togo and found this paper. Creoles are intensively studied by linguists for a variety of reasons. As part of this paper, the authors used a German-language dictionary of Early Sranan Togo, Neger-Englisches Wörterbuch , completed in 1783 by Christian Ludwig Schumann. This dictionary contains 2,391 types and 17,731 tokens.
Types and tokens are often used in creole literature because it gets hard to figure out what exactly is a word in a creole language. Types and tokens is a semantic distinction derived from philosophy. Briefly, a type is a generic and a token is a specific instance of that generic. For instance, tree would be a type and maple tree would be a token. Waterfall would be a type and Vernal Falls would be a token. Man would be a type and Jesus would be a token.
So in 1783, an early version of this creole already had 20,122 words. It must only have increased its vocabulary since then. I’m calling bullshit on this 250 words line.
A creole is different from a pidgin. A pidgin is often created by immigrants to a new country where none of them understand each other.
Early immigrants to Hawaii created some pidgins. Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiians, Koreans, etc. were all thrown together on sugar and pineapple plantations and no one could understand each other. English was the main language. The immigrants took English, I believe, and then layered onto it parts of their native languages and finally created a pidgin that they could all understand.
A pidgin is a mess, since it is a language made by adults, and due to brain constraints, adults cannot create a functional language out of thin air on the fly. The pidgin is then spoken to the adults’ kids, who pick it up as a first language. But kids are little language-creating genius machines, and they somehow take this messed-up pidgin and transform into a full-fledged language, a creole, by expanding it in a variety of important ways.
The creole is then transmitted to kids again, and soon the pidgin dies and everyone is speaking creole. It took some time for us to figure out what was really going on here, but we are pretty confident that kids are indeed expanding the pidgin and turning it into a creole. A guy named Derek Bickerton at the University of Hawaii has done some great work in this area.
I actually bought and tried to read Bickerton’s Language and Species, but I only got 40% of the way through it. Some of this stuff gets pretty intense. I don’t want to say ponderous, but pretty soon you have the book down on the desk and both of your hands are wrapped over your head Praying Mantis-like, bent down over the book, as you try to suck the concepts into your humiliated mind.
In Suriname, actually formerly Dutch Guyana, Sranan Togo is the mother tongue of some 100,000 descendants of former slaves brought to the country. It has also become a lingua franca for other ethnicities in the place, including speakers of Hindustani, Amerindian, Javanese, Dutch, and Chinese tongues.
Like all of the Guyanas, there is quite a fine mess of ethnicities in Suriname, and I think they have been breeding together for a while such that race is becoming a bit of an afterthought.
As another aside, although Vos Savant, in addition to being a hottie, is quite brilliant and is even smarter than I am, it is not true that she has the highest IQ on Earth, or that her IQ is 220 or whatever. She got that score at age 10 or so. There are others who have gotten sky high scores at that age.
At a young age, IQ is computed by looking at how the young person’s mind compares to older peoples minds. In adults, we do not compute it that way, and adult scores are never as high as the same kids’ score. In Vos Savant and other extremely high-IQ kids, their IQ’s have seen considerable regression in adulthood, but they are still sky-high.
Glad to see she’s getting a paycheck just by being smart. Wish I could.


Braun, Maria and Plag, Ingo. (2002). How Transparent is Creole Morphology? A Study of Early Sranan Word-Formation. University of Siegen, Germany. Yearbook of Morphology 2002. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Schumann, Christian Ludwig. (1783). Neger-Englisches Wörterbuch. Editio Tertia. Paramaribo.

Phrasal Verbs – A Nightmare for English Language Learners

Despite the idiot linguists who say that all languages are equally difficult or easy to learn, it’s clear that some languages are harder to learn than others. One of the maddening things about English is phrasal verbs – in most cases, foreigners never completely get the phrasal verbs and continue to have problems with them.

Let us look only at the preposition up combined with various verbs to form a dizzying array of phrasal verbs with widely varying meanings, meanings of which are not always clear and often have little to do with the base verb to which up has attached itself. I assume this list is by no means exhaustive, but I had to stop sometime.

Up combines to form 104 different phrasal verbs that has significantly different meanings from what one might expect. I did not include many phrasal verbs with up in which the meaning is fairly clear – buckle up, pack up, fill up, etc. Note that in many cases, the phrasal verb has more than one meaning and the meanings at times are quite variant. Feel free to add your own, if you can think of any!

Drink up and drink down mean roughly the same thing, as do slip up and slip down. Light up – to torch. Mess up, slip up – to fail.  Walk up, run up, creep up, crawl up, sneak up – various ways to approach s.t.. Cook up – to prepare a meal. Brush up – to go over a previously learned skill. Bone up – to study hard. Play up – to dramatize. Read up – to read intensively as in studying. Stay up – to not go to bed. Come up – to approach closely, to occur suddenly or to overflow. Patch up – to put together a broken thing or relationship.

Make up – to make amends, to apply cosmetics to one’s face or to invent a story. Burn up – burn completely or to be made very angry, burn down – reduce s.t. to ashes, like a structure. Turn up – to increase volume or to appear suddenly somewhere. Run up – to tally a big bill. Dry up – to dessicate. Take up – to develop a new skill, to bring something to a higher elevation, to cook something at a high heat to where it is assimilated. Blow up – to explode.

Dress up – to dress oneself in formal attire. Shake up – to upset a paradigm, to upset emotionally. Hit up – to visit someone casually or to ask for a favor or gift, usually small amounts of money. Wake up – to awaken. Stir up – stir rapidly, upset a calm surrounding or scene or upset a paradigm. Cheer up – to elevate one’s mood. Talk up – to try to convince someone of something by discussing it dramatically and intensively.

Chat up – to talk casually with a goal in mind, usually seduction or at least flirtation. Hang up – to place on a hanger or a wall, to end a phone call. Trip up – to stumble mentally over s.t. confusing. Mop up – to finish off the remains of an enemy army or finalize a military operation. Clean up – to make an area thoroughly tidy. Pick up – to grasp an object and lift it higher, to seduce someone sexually or to acquire a new skill, usually rapidly.

Put up – to hang, to tolerate, often grudgingly, or to put forward a new image. Tear up – to shred. Ring up – to telephone someone. Cut up – to shred or to make jokes, often of a slapstick variety. Meet up – to meet someone or a group for a get meeting or date of some sort. Start up – to initialize an engine or a program, to open a new business to go back to something that had been terminated previously, often a fight; a recrudescence. Crank up – elevate the volume.

Shoot up – to inject, usually illegal drugs, or to fire many projectiles into a place with a gun. Drum up – to charge someone with wrongdoing, usually criminal, usually by a state actor, usually for false reasons. Kiss up – to mend a relationship after a fight. Wait up – to ask other parties to wait for someone who is coming in a hurry. Whip up – to cook a meal quickly or for winds to blow wildly. Touch up – to apply the final aspects of a work nearly finished.

Suck up – to ingratiate oneself, often in an obsequious fashion. Stop up – to block the flow of liquids with some object(s). Suit up – to get dressed in a uniform, often for athletics. Pass up – to miss an opportunity, often a good one. Pop up – for s.t. to appear suddenly, often out of nowhere. Own up – to confess to one’s sins under pressure and reluctantly. Live up – to enjoy life. Lighten up – to reduce the downcast or hostile seriousness of the mood of a person or setting. Knock up – to impregnate. Beat up – to defeat someone thoroughly in a violent physical fight.

Listen up – imperative – to order someone to pay attention, often with threats of aggression if they don’t comply. Man up – to elevate oneself to manly behaviors when one is slacking and behaving in an unmanly fashion. Lock up – to lock securely, often locking various locks, or to imprison, or for an object or computer program to be frozen or jammed and unable to function. Mix up – to confuse, or to disarrange contents in a scattered fashion so that it does not resemble the original.

Measure up – in a competition, for an entity to match the competition. Mark up – to raise the price of s.t. Move up – to elevate the status of a person or entity in competition with other entities- to move up in the world. Hook up – to have a casual sexual encounter or to meet casually for a social encounter, often in a public place; also to connect together a mechanical devise or plug something in.

Hurry up – imperative, usually an order to quit delaying and join the general group or another person in some activity, often when they are leaving to go to another place. Face up – to quit avoiding your problems and meet them head on. End up – to arrive at some destination after a long winding, often convoluted journey either in space or in time. Clear up – for a storm to dissipate, for a rash to go away, for a confusing matter to become understandable.

Close up – to close, also to end business hours for a public business. Cheer up – to change from a downcast mood to a more positive one. Curl up – to rest in a curled body position, either alone or with another being. Crack up – to laugh, often heartily. Back up – to go in reverse, often in a vehicle, or to go back over something previously dealt with that was poorly understood in order to understand it better. Bruise up – to receive multiple bruises, often serious ones.

Break up – to break into various pieces, or to end a relationship, either personal or between entitles, also to split a large entity, like a large company or a state. Build up – to build intensively in an area, such as a town or city, from a previously less well-developed state. Buy up – to buy all or most all of something. Catch up – to reach a person or group that one had lagged behind earlier, or to take care of things, often hobbies, that had been put off by lack of time.

Do up – apply makeup to someone, often elaborately. Dream up – to imagine a creative notion, often an elaborate one. Drive up – to drive towards something, and then stop, or to raise the price of something by buying it intensively. Feel up – to grope someone sexually. Get up – to awaken or rise from a prone position. Give up – to surrender, in war or a contest, or to stop doing something trying or unpleasant that is yielding poor results, or to die, as in give up the ghost.

Grow up – to attain an age or maturity or to act like a mature person, often imperative. Hold up – to delay, to ask someone ahead of you to wait, often imperative, or to rob in a public place with a gun – He held up the liquor store. Keep up – to maintain on a par with the competition without falling behind. Lay up – to be sidelined due to illness or injury for a time. Let up – to ease off of someone or something, for a storm to dissipate, to stop attacking someone or s.t.

Pay up – to pay, usually a debt, often imperative to demand payment of a debt, to pay all of what one owes so you don’t owe anymore. Rise up – for an oppressed group to arouse and fight back against their oppressors. Run up – to spend a lot of money, often foolishly. Show up – to appear somewhere, often unexpectedly. Shut up – to silence, often imperative, fighting words. Sit up – to sit upright.

Speak up – to begin speaking after listening for a while, often imperative, a request for a silent person to say what they wish to say. Take up – to cohabit with someone – She has taken up with him. Think up – to conjure up a plan, often an elaborate or creative one. Throw up – to vomit. Bid up – to raise the price of something, usually at an auction, by calling out higher and higher bids. Be up – to be in a waking state after having slept. “I’ve been up for three hours.”


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