Oh, Lauren Collins of the always-interesting New Yorker magazine. It's not the most exciting assignment, I am sure, to write a review of an exposé book (infamous celeb vulturess Kitty Kelley vs. Oprah Winfrey this time) that seems to expose very little about its subject. But, when you complain that Kelley makes clumsy racial references in her book, you then have in your review a sentence referring to Winfrey that begins, "Among other niggling sins..."


1599 (implied in niggling), possibly from a Scand. source (cf. Norw. dial. nigla "be busy with trifles"), perhaps related to source of niggard.


nig·gard·ly [ níggərdlee ]

adjective (comparative nig·gard·li·er, superlative nig·gard·li·est)

1. not generous: very reluctant to give or spend anything

2. small or inadequate: very small or inadequate in quantity


in stingy way: in a miserly or stingy way

nig·gard·li·ness noun

Word Usage

Though the etymology of niggardly and niggard remains subject to debate, these words probably have a Scandinavian origin not associated historically with the origin of the offensive word Negro and its related offensive racist slurs, which are derived ultimately from Latin. Niggardly, then, is in no way a racial slur. However, the fact that the word sounds as if it might be one is reason to consider context very carefully before using it.

Mine won't be the only eyes that dead-stop on that word, Scandinavian etymology or not.