Tete de Negre

You may have seen that a large granite boulder on the University of Wisconsin campus will shortly be either buried or destroyed because it insults students of color.  The boulder, a glacial erratic, is officially known as Chamberlain Rock, in honor of the glaciologist and former university president Thomas Chrowder Chamberlain; but it was once (one time, not at one time) referred to by the English equivalent of the words in my title (hereafter NH), and must therefore be abominated and destroyed.

The appellation NH has in fact been used to name quite a number of things, either because they were black and bulbous, or because they were of a woolly texture, or woolly on top.  Until around 1960, Texans called the wildflower known as the Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) a NH because its central florets are bulbous and black.*  A similar analogy gave rise to the name of the bonbon long (although not lately) known to Europeans as a tete de nigre or negerkopf.  Old dressmakers’ catalogues frequently mention a sort of raised-nap fabric called NH, and the name has been given to more than one dome-topped mountain, or mountain capped with a carpet of brushy vegetation.  I first heard the word (with mild embarrassment) in my undergraduate course on periglacial environments (in 1974), where I was told that the grass-tufted tussocks that naturally form on an arctic tundra are called NH’s, and that a tract dominated by these tufted tussocks is called a NH meadow.

Other things were called NH’s simply because of they were of a dark brown color.  NH tobacco was, for instance, a pipe or chewing tobacco that was dark and strong.  Rich black soil was in some places called NH.  So it was called, for instance, in the narrow river bottoms of northern California.**

Large boulders were also called NH’s, but such boulders were properly black or dark grey in color.

It is certainly possible that some people called large stones NH’s because they believed both were unintelligent, but I am unable to find an example of the phrase NH used with the same significance as the Yiddish phrase goyishe kop.  The Dictionary of International Slurs*** defines the Yiddish slur as follows:

“‘Gentile head.’ A dunce, bonehead.  It may be noted that the Gentiles referred to here were peasants, but the Jewish folk mind denies far-sighted, sensitive intelligence, understanding, and brilliance even to highly trained and distinguished non-Jews.  Thus A goy bleibt a goy (‘A Gentle remains a Gentile’) is usually said in disappointment or mild disgust at the intransigent.”

The same book defines NH (along with many other N words) as,

(1) A black boulder. (2) The main dome at the head of a boiler.

Unlike goyishe kop, NH did not mean stupid.

 * * * * *

It appears that Chamberlain Rock was referred to as a NH in one newspaper article in 1925.  I am now inclined to think that the author of this article was a sloppy journalist who thought that NH was a colorful synonym for boulder, and that he either did not know or did not care that this particular boulder was not the right color.  Because Chamberlain Rock was not black, or dome-like, or of a woolly texture, or woolly on top, the journalist’s sloppy solecism did not catch on.  Indeed, it seems to have been altogether forgotten until this year’s “racial reckoning” recalled it from the Lethean land of forgotten metaphors.

It is extraordinary to watch a proud old university yield to the argument that mental anguish is caused by a rock because one man once misnamed that rock with an inaccurate epithet that would not have been an obvious ethnic slur, even if the epithet had been accurate.†  That Chamberlain Rock will be banished from the face of the earth for the crime of lèse-majesté is a truly impressive display of cultural power.

Next summer I will be sure to cut down every Black Eyed Susan I see.

*) Gussie Mae Birdsong, Texas Wildflowers (1957).
**) Wilson Hamilton, The New Empire (1886)
***) A. A. Roback, A Dictionary of International Slurs (1949)
†) I mean obvious to the man who used it.  The word NH was used by men who eschewed the word N into the 1970s.  The professor who taught me that the tufted tussocks of the arctic are called NH’s would not have used the word N.

9 thoughts on “Tete de Negre

      • That’s right. I travel to Mexico or did before Covid. I plan to be back next year. I would suggest a lot more work will need to be done if they think the culture will turn-over [there] to BLM or any other so-motivated movement. Socialism already has a grasp on culture there. I guess we’re all watching and curious about how culture is being influenced directionally nowadays. Our influences are quite eclectic it seems.

  1. My few encounters with the word have been where it was applied to large rock that did not want to be moved, so in my mind NH became a synonym for obstinate. Further, if you don’t agree with me then you are being obstinate and stupid, because if you were smart you would agree with me. Hence, being obstinate means stupid.

    • I had a sense that usage would be out there, but I didn’t find a printed example in a couple of hours’ searching. The word N was used as a general purpose curse, essentially equivalent to bastard or SOB, so it is not hard to see how NH became a generic name for ponderous objects of all sorts.

  2. As a huge fan of many Rudbeckia species, I read this article with much alarm. Heaven forbid that the nasty orcs ever come for my Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’! Steve Sailer commented on this idiocy a few days ago, remarking how third world bush superstitions have begun affecting grown-up decisions in these sad United States.

    While we must resist such barbarism, it might at times be a clever strategy to weaponize nigger-headedness in order to remove cultural pollution from the land. While many have long considered Le Corbusier a fascist and Nazi sympathizer, that hasn’t done much to rid cities of his legacy. Maybe, we can uncover a triggering phrase, lost in dusty notes, wherein the architect once referred to a jarring triangular extension as un nez d’youtre (“a kike nose”). We can then rally to have the sinescroti in authority affirm some committee measure to demolish this hate in stone and remove its suffocating miasma from our urban blight.

    You don’t like cell-phone towers cluttering the horizon? Well, some say that Aryan engineers occasionally refer to them as katwa poles. (Who says that? It doesn’t matter — people are suffering; we don’t have time for details!) Problem solved — let the inflamed hordes raze Verizon’s minarets from the countryside. Yet, it’s difficult to get our masters animated enough to assuage Mohammedan honor unless they fear that their throats might start getting slit. So, we might somehow have to implicate pbuh blasphemy . . . involve Jews in a rumor involving the prophet; Hindus’ slurs don’t tend to rile them readily enough.

    One doesn’t have to work on Madison Avenue to craft a tale about the KKK, smartphones, and sodomites. We could spin such yarns weekly and task Vox and Slate with distribution.

    Why should we let the left monopolize the manipulation of thin-skinned, psychologically fragile Persons of Otherness in order to ignore reason and bypass normal review and decision processes? It’s a fully sustainable, ever renewing resource of power, given the catamite gatekeepers of our institutions.

    Lastly, I’d suggest something devious to silence the cacophonous, thumping echoes of “rap,” but I believe that no fabrication could suffice to convert the lost where obvious truth has failed. If they do not recoil from abundant ethnic slurs and the worst stereotypes, neither will they be persuaded, though they have seen Oprahesque exposés on R. Kelly.

    • This is a good plan except for the part where “we” object. The quickest way to have something torn down is to declare it part of our heritage. So we should praise brutalist architecture and watch it disappear.

  3. Pingback: Tete de Negre | Reaction Times

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