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niggardly

March 23, 2009

Saturday evening, my husband and I decide to enjoy a rare night out: Dinner at our favorite little hole-in-the-wall diner. There aren’t many of those in San Antonio anymore—at least not in areas of town considered safe for straight-arrow types like us.

Usually, this diner offers excellent service to complement the food, but someone must have strapped the waiters’ aprons on a little too tight. The service is curt and negligent at best Saturday night.

I’ve always been a very loyal customer, offering my allegiance to business owners who deserve my continued patronage. I don’t abide poor service because it demonstrates an inherent lack of respect for the customer—not to mention the customer’s hard-earned dough.

So after the meal, as my face is beginning to turn red with irritation, my husband pulls his wallet from his jeans pocket and starts counting out what we owe. I notice that the total amount of cash he places on the table is seven dollars more than our meal, which costs $19.45.

We’re excellent tippers because we both understand the back-breaking labor endured by wait staff, but I don’t believe in rewarding bad behavior. I say, “Honey, I wouldn’t give that waiter more than a dollar.”

“That’s awful!” Hubby says.

“No, what was awful was the service. Put six bucks back in your wallet.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

[Continue childish schoolyard back-and-forth debate.]

Finally, Hubby says: “Sam, I’m not going to look niggardly by leaving a five percent tip.”

It just so happens that our waiter, an African American kid of about 20, is standing next to the table when my husband says the last line, and he does a double take. “What’d you say?” he asks, his shoulders squaring and his chest puffing out.

My husband looks up at him in confusion. “I was talking to my wife.”

“Yeah, I heard what you said and I don’t need your fuckin’ tip.”

Hubby and I stare at one another, astonished. “Doesn’t he know what ‘niggardly’ means?” he asks.

For those of you who don’t know, niggardly means stingy or cheap, and is not in any way a racial epithet. I did some research after the diner incident, and apparently there are a few African American groups who have tried to create negative connotations around the word ‘niggardly’, something I don’t understand.

Why create offense where none is met? My husband was referring to HIMSELF, for God’s sake, and he is quite possibly the least bigoted man on the planet.

We learn something new about people every day, and I guess we writers have to be increasingly careful how we use words—even harmless ones like ‘niggardly’.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2009 1:05 pm

    Eeesh, what an awkward ending to your evening. I’m not surprised, though, that the kid didn’t know what ‘niggardly’ means, it’s not a word that gets used much these days. We old folks ( 😉 ) still know it, but the vocabularies of most kids these days are pretty limited.

    • May 14, 2017 10:39 pm

      Ennlnhtegiig the world, one helpful article at a time.

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