I have seen a photo on the Internet of a customer filling a large empty jug from a soda fountain at a fast food restaurant. It had caption that someone is "gonna nig". What does "nig" mean?

Among general reference sources:

  • It's not in Cambridge or OxfordDictionaries at all.
  • There's no verb meaning in the Wiktionary entry.
  • I couldn't view its definition in Merriam-Webster because of the paywall.
  • The only verb definition in Dictionary.com lists it as a synonym for "nidge", a term used in masonry that makes no sense in context.
  • "Nig" as a noun is a clipped racial slur (as seen at YourDictionary and at TheFreeDictionary, which mirrors a Wikipedia disambiguation page).

Is this related to "renege"? Or if it's a verbing of the clipped racial slur, what meaning is implied?

  • 7
    Why is this downvoted? If you don't know what a word means, you don't know. It's a very reasonable question.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 18:20
  • 3
    @Mitch: Admittedly, my downvote was partly because I find the usage being queried offensive. But it was mainly because the meaning is blindingly obvious looking at any of the first five results returned by googling "gonna nig", which to me means OP made no real effort to find an answer elsewhere. In fact, it now seems from OP's related meta post that he already knew the meaning, but apparently he wanted the meaning "documented" here on ELU. If I could, I'd vote to delete it. Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 22:16
  • 11
    @FumbleFingers I totally disagree with your attitude. As long as the OP is not trolling, taboo words and their nuances, however reprehensible they are, are totally within our domain.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 22:50
  • 3
    @Mitch: Clearly my position here is minority one. But I now see OP himself obviously knew the answer, since he's actually answered his own question. So I can't for the life of me see why you (and the 4 people who upvoted your first comment) think you can justify it on the grounds that some people (particularly, by implication, the querent) don't know the word. I'm all for professional dictionaries including words like "cunt", but the reasons for doing something like that are completely different. But if others want this question kept there's nothing I can do about it. Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 22:59
  • 8
    @FumbleFingers it is my understanding that users are permitted and encouraged to answer their own questions, not a bad thing considering no one else had really attempted to. Although I do share your distaste on its use, is that a good enough reason to criticise the OP-s question?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 7:30

4 Answers 4


Not that long ago I asked a question about 19th century north American slang which contained the following

... Bob, be honest, never take a man's trick wot don't belong to you, nor clip cards, nor nig, for then you can't look your man in the face, and when that's the case there's no fun in the game...

The excerpt is dated 1858, and none of the users who posted answers suggested that the expression nig was racist, nor a back formation of the term nigger; in fact there is not a single comment in the entire page that implies otherwise. Obviously in the OP's question the term nig is used in a derisive, and highly racist fashion but the origins of nig is far older than the OP's question and answer might suggest.

Robusto posted the following comment explaining the possible meaning of the term used in that context, which I reproduce verbatim

Also, I believe nig is a shortening of the word renege, which means to trump a card instead of following suit when you still have a card of the led suit in your hand. For example, if someone led hearts and you had a heart you would be required to play a heart. If you trumped the trick instead (which is permissible only if you are out of the led suit), and were later caught at the subterfuge, you would be said to have reneged. Saying "don't nig" is another way of saying "don't cheat." – Robusto Dec 11 '14 at 13:06

From The Century Dictionary online (courtesy of Eric Kowall) the verb nig is defined

nig (nig), v. i. nig to be stingy; be niggardly. "It is better to healpe the mother and mistresss of thy country with thy goods and body than by witholding thy handle, and nigging, to make her not hable to kepe out thine ennemy?" Alymer (1559).

  • 3
    Your answer is etymologically interesting, Mari-Lou A, but I can't help thinking that it's beside the point in the context of the quotation that the OP cites. If we were discussing a caption that read "Honkies gonna honk," we might very well note that the verb honk is unrelated to the noun honky. But the point of the attempted witticism in the quotation is not to bring an unrelated verb into play, it seems to me, but to repeat a truncated form of the racial slur honky as a verb. That, I think, is ultimately what's going on with the caption in the OP's question as well.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 7:25
  • @SvenYargs but the question is What does the verb nig means? And my answer shows that as a verb it has historical origins and negative connotations. Grammatically speaking, nig in "gonna nig" appears and behaves like a verb. I agree with the OP's answer but it seems several users do not, and have downvoted his answer. What could the possible motivation be then?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 9:44
  • @SvenYargs There's a small chance that it isn't beside the point. The caption might have been a pun on the derivation from "nigger" and that from "renege" or "niggard". But I'll admit, from the amount of racism I've seen on the Internet, that the chance is slim. Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 18:32
  • @Mari-Lou A - I just encountered the question, attendant controversy, and your answer and felt compelled to add an answer of my own. Hope you find this of interest.
    – user98990
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 0:02
  • It's a very thorough and well-researched answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 0:20

"Nig" here is a back-formation from a word that is currently considered very offensive. It means "to behave in accord with negative stereotypes of black people."

A back-formation is a word produced by starting with a word whose form suggests a derivation but which was not produced through that derivation and then running the derivation in reverse. One might start with a word whose end looks like a suffix and chop off the suffix. For example, a "hater" is one who hates, formed from "hate" plus "-er", which means one who does something. But "lase" (to emit coherent light) and "tase" (to incapacitate with an electrical weapon) are back-formations from "laser" and "Taser", interpreting them as "lase" and "tase" plus the suffix "-er". In fact, "laser" and "Taser" are acronyms, with the "er" standing for "emission of radiation" and "electric rifle" respectively.

One might assume that "nig" is a back-formation from "renege", which according to Wiktionary can pronounced like "re-nig". "Renege" means to break a promise, and filling a jug from a self-service soda fountain certainly breaks the implied promise that the customer made to the restaurant to fill only the cup that the customer bought.

But if the photo is the same one I found through a web search, it says "niggers gonna nig". Here, "niggers" is an offensive term for people of sub-Saharan African descent, who are more politely called "black people". The term "nigger" ultimately comes from Latin niger, meaning the color black, via Spanish and Portuguese negro. The term originates from pre-1860s black slavery in the United States and the subsequent pre-1960s "Jim Crow" segregation laws and reflects attitudes toward black people that were prevalent in those eras.

The photo's caption appears to be a snowclone of "haters gonna hate", an idiom meaning that hostile remarks from people predisposed to such remarks are inevitable. Thus "niggers gonna nig" means two things: first, that behavior associated with negative stereotypes of black people is inevitable; and second, that black people are predisposed to such misbehavior. One such misbehavior is stealing (see sources at "Criminal stereotype of African Americans" on Wikipedia), and filling a jug when one paid for a cup might be considered stealing. In any case, in our present culture, people who assert that such a predisposition exists are called racist.

  • 1
    Clear and sensible.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jan 3, 2015 at 16:43
  • One such misbehavior is stealing I think you could do with finding a source for this, else it sounds rather like your own opinion. References/attribution for your other definitions is pretty much a requirement in answers, see meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/5196/71783
    – Frank
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 8:58
  • 4
    Renege is not pronounced like ‘re-nig’ by any native speaker I’ve ever heard say the word. It is pronounced [ɹɨˈnεɪɡ], not [ɹɨˈnɪɡ] (i.e., ‘re-neyg’, not ‘re-nig’, with the same difference in vowel quality as between ‘hate’ and ‘hit’—and you wouldn’t consider “Haters gonna hit”). Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 15:06
  • 1
    I have to say, despite some of the claims in the comments to the question, it was not at all clear to me what the verb 'nig' was supposed to mean. I googled it and saw the numerous unpleasant websites, which made it clear it's a highly derogatory term but didn't clarify the meaning for me (maybe I didn't read enough, but it got pretty sickening). But this is a good answer and made the meaning clear. Commented Jan 7, 2015 at 7:52
  • 1
    Contrary to the commentary, “Renig,” is pronounced ‘re-nig’ and not ‘re-neyg,’ by native AmE speakers from the working and under classes—-white and black—-without self-consciousness or irony. As was mentioned, renig is a term used in the card game, Spades—-how ironic is that—-a favored past-time of Black prisoners in the States and without etymological relation to the hateful ol mojo of Race, see my answer.
    – user98990
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 12:58

1.) Whether "nig" is a back-formation from the well-known racist term for American Black people, or branches off from that other pejorative, “niggardly,” what’s plain is that the mere utterance of the word so traumatizes many of us that—-unlike any other word I know—-even the linguists of EL&U have great difficulty extricating themselves sufficiently from a past we find deeply shameful to appreciate the extraordinary evolution that this word has undergone.

2.) As correctly stated by the OP/Answerer/Editor(?), “Niggers Gonna Nig,” is a snowclone of “Haters Gonna Hate.” In order to snowclone the original the initial 2-syllable word “Haters” became “Niggas,” and the final single-syllable word, “Hate” became “Nig.” While some may claim that “nig” is a truncation of “nigger,” it has no currency in the US in that sense. “Nig,” as short for “nigger” is only used by closeted racists fearful of being overheard and thus outed, especially when scary Black people are within hearing range. Whereas, proud racists relish fully pronouncing the N-word and loudly proclaiming their vaunted ignorance a virtue before all.

3.) Additionally, though the text at the bottom of the picture in question reads, “Niggers Gonna Nig,” if you hover on that pic you’ll notice that the photo is actually tagged, “Niggas,” and not Niggers. This is not a quibbling distinction, for the two words have opposite meanings today. “Niggers” still means what everyone knows that it means. But, in a potent act of cultural hacking with deep political implications, while Massa slumbered serenely dreaming of empire, the black youth of America crept into his white house, stole the Massa’s forked-tongue, and liberated themselves from the hateful label that had shackled and diminished them for the last 500 years.

4.) Initially this hijacked term was reserved for Blacks. But words that truly resonate (for good or ill) always gain wide currency, and so over time the term came to be applied to any non-Caucasian peoples. As employed by the most progressive of today’s youth, however, “Nigga” or “Niggas,” is a term without racial bearing in many (not all) situations, applied to any person who is a victim of prejudice similar to that suffered by Blacks; to any person who is economically, politically, or socially disenfranchised. In other words, in the most liberal sense, “nigga” now means “true or real human; just plain folk; comrade; and even more which I don’t care to document right now. Wikipedia check-it-out gets pretty close but doesn’t go quite far enough.

5.) The graphic media that gave rise to this controversy was created by Sean C., an American Black from NYC with the brand, "Satisfies69". Sean C. acts as an agent provocateur who specializes in multimedia “shock-art” that is deliberately as iconoclastic as possible—-mocking all aspects of modern culture’s double-standards, violating all its taboos, and holding the funhouse mirror (as it were) up to society’s shadow-face. While at first blush Satisfies69’s work may strike one as the First Amendment’s worst nightmare, and merely vulgar or pornographic (and much of it is!), I find it highly doubtful the work is intended to be racist. Much of his work (I believe) is also socially and politically relevant and meant to deflate our pretensions and exorcize our "badder" devils.

6.) Contrary to the commentary, “Renig,” is pronounced ‘re-nig’ and not ‘re-neyg,’ by native AmE speakers from the working and under classes—-White and Black—-without self-consciousness or irony. As was mentioned, renig is a term used in the card game, Spades—-how ironic is that—-a favored past-time of the millions of White and Black inmates warehoused in the gulags of the United States, and again, is without etymological relation to that hateful ol' racial mojo.

  • @tepples - sorry I'm so late with this but I just encountered the question (and attendant controversy) and felt compelled to respond. Hope you find this edifying.
    – user98990
    Commented Jan 11, 2015 at 23:38
  • @FumbleFingers - Though I encountered this question too late (the OP had already accepted an answer), because I was neither satisfied with the premises of the question itself or any of the answers--some of which were just erroneous, while others were only partially correct--I felt compelled to add one of my own. I'm not soliciting votes, FF, but thought you might find my answer of interest. – Little Eva 36 mins ago edit
    – user98990
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 1:44

It should take all of five minutes of using Google to figure out. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Big%20Nig

Although it's not really pejorative, I can totally understand why someone would take offense to the term. I can also totally understand why they wouldn't, with similar racial slurs being echoed constantly in hardcore gangsta rap music.

Now here's some dorky kids from New Jersey playing around. http://www.angelfire.com/ult/bignig/

In the convenience store WaWa, an iced tea tumbler was offered that gave tremendous discounts on fountain drinks when given to the clerk. Because huge dudes involved in construction who "happen to be black" (thanks George Carlin!) would fill the damn things with a half gallon of "sweet tea," they became known in youth-slang as "big nigs."

Now whenever you see a kid rockin' a super big gulp you might remember the aforementioned internet meme.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.