When news emerged earlier this month that Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford said he’d been called a racial epithet by an off-duty Leominster police officer before a minor league game in New Hampshire, reaction was swift. After an internal investigation, which turned up additional racist comments, the Leominster mayor fired the officer on Thursday.
But the epithet itself still has sports fans and commentators scratching their heads. Allegedly, the officer called Crawford, who is black, “Monday.” Monday? The day of the week? Is this really an insult, and one that has anything to do with race?
It turns out that the answer is yes—and that it is hardly the only secret ethnic or racial slur in English. Mild-mannered language has long provided cover for vitriolic speech, with everyday words pressed into service to lend a kind of plausible deniability. Such code words require shared recognition among the in-group, while, in principle, leaving the targets of the slurs unaware of the game. In fact, it’s only because the officer was breaking those implicit rules, and allegedly using a “secret” offensive term to address a sports celebrity, that he ended up in trouble—and that the coded use of “Monday” is suddenly out in the open.
After the “Monday” incident came to light in a postgame press conference with Crawford on July 5, local reporters scrambled to figure out the word’s hidden significance. “I can understand how it could become a put-down,” said Michael Holley, co-host of “The Big Show” on the Boston sports radio station WEEI. (Holley, who is black, has lived in Boston for 15 years.) “How did it become a racial slur?”
That remains mysterious. Certainly, the police officer didn’t invent this usage himself: On the Urban Dictionary website, which aggregates user-generated definitions of slang, one entry defines “Monday” as “Another way of saying [the N-word] without getting caught.” Another person even claims it “originated in Boston,” though other online commenters peg it to the East Coast more generally. Finally, a third definition offers an explanation of “Monday” as an insult, though no hint of why it would be connected to race: “Everybody hates Mondays,” the contributor writes.
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