I read this weird post at digby’s about how the woman making the “Don’t re-nig” stickers said that the dictionary said the word just refers to a lazy person and has no racial connotation. I’d never heard that before so I went to Webster’s.
The listed definitions all have to do with race, but the comments include quite a few people saying that they’re shocked – shocked! – to find out that the word has a racial connotation. They all say they remember when the dictionary only said that word meant “lazy.” They usually complain about how they can’t use it but you-know-which-people can, so I can take a guess as to what kind of person they are.
Maybe this is a regional thing, but I had never heard anyone use that word in a non-racial context.