niggerhead

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English[edit]

Niggerheads (isolated parts of coral reef), North West Island, Queensland, Australia, ca. 1931
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Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

From nigger +‎ head, reflecting a supposed resemblance to a black person's head.

Noun[edit]

niggerhead (plural niggerheads)

  1. (nautical, dated, now offensive) A bollard made from an old cannon.
  2. (geology, archaic, colloquial, now offensive) A geode.
  3. (now offensive) A coneflower.
  4. (now offensive) An isolated part of a coral reef.
    • 1989, Rachel Louise Carson, Jeffrey S. Levinton, The Sea Around Us, page 135:
      Landward is the almost unbroken wall of submerged reefs where the big niggerhead corals send their solid bulks up to within a fathom or two of the surface.
  5. (US, Alaska, dated, now offensive) A tussock (clump of plant material), found on tundra.
    • 1912, Appalachia, volume 12, page 51:
      These plants fill the interstices between the grasses and tiny shrubs that make the outer, fuller form of the niggerhead.
    • 1991, Peter A. Coates, The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Controversy, page 108,
      Responsible in large part for the difficulties of movement to which the geologists referred were tussocks, still known as “niggerheads” in the 1930s. The “niggerhead,” according to Bob Marshall, “among the gifts of nature, ranks as the most cursed. []
    • 2004, James Campbell, The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness, page 65,
      Much of the land is tundra, a mass of spongy, waterlogged clumps of sphagnum moss called tussock, muskeg, hummock, or in the vernacular of old-time Alaskans “niggerheads.”
    • 2006, Kit Cain, Flying The Yukon's Bush, page 30,
      From the air, the bright green grassy floor of the tundra looks as smooth as a golf course fairway, but a closer inspection reveals peaty tussocks of crabgrass called niggerheads spaced just far enough apart for a foot to twist clumsily between. Walking on the frost-formed niggerheads is very much akin to walking across a gymnasium floor covered by thousands of glued-in-place softballs.
    • 2012, Otis Hammonds, As the Hawks... Free of Earth's Bounds, Xlibris, unnumbered page,
      This sloshing was compounded by the fact we were unable to keep in step with each other due to the many and various sized niggerheads (hard tussocks in tundra) that would attempt to roll from under us as if one was stepping on balls ranging in size from softballs to basketballs, with each step if unable (most of the time we could not) to avoid.