Mark Twain must be turning over in his grave

Mark Twain enjoying the writer's life

In 1888, Mark Twain wrote that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. He chose his words carefully. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said.

Now, NewSouth Books in Alabama has decided to help him out a bit. The publisher is issuing a combined volume of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in which the word “nigger” is being replaced with the word “slave.” Enough already.

The word is heinous, and no person of goodwill would use it today except in a discussion of racism and how it has manifested itself over time. But if we start changing literature, and we start changing the historical record, we run the risk of forgetting the long, ugly history of racism. We run the risk of saying, in small ways, that things weren’t really so bad. We lose evidence that can be used to help stop us when we start backsliding into unacceptable behavior. And in this case, we gravely harm the work of a great American writer.

NewSouth Books is a small fish, and the press run on this edition is only 7,500 copies. But these ideas sometimes take wing. Let’s stop this one before it takes off.

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2 Responses to Mark Twain must be turning over in his grave

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  2. Glynn says:

    I think Twain would have had great fun with the kind of thinking that assumes this is an improvement. Yes, I think he would have had great fun.

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