HomeCampusChinese word gets USC Prof Greg Patton put on leave

Chinese word gets USC Prof Greg Patton put on leave

The University of Southern California removed business professor Greg Patton from the classroom after he made a point of using a Chinese word that some says sounds like the “N” word in English, the International Business Times reports.

Patton teaches clinical business communication at USC’s Marshall School of Business. Administrators asked him to withdraw from the classroom and replaced him with a substitute after a group of Black MBA students say his multiple use of the Chinese word showed “negligence and disregard.”

In an email obtained by the National Review, the students wrote “It is an uneasy feeling allowing him to have the power over our grades. We would rather not take his course than to endure the emotional exhaustion of carrying on with an instructor that disregards cultural diversity and sensitivities and by extension creates an unwelcome environment for us Black students.”

Greg Patton reportedly was lecturing about the use of filler words in various languages, including Chinese.

“In China the common word is ‘that, that that that,’ so in China it might be ‘nega, nega, nega, nega,'” Patton said in class, according to Reason. “So there’s different words you’ll hear in different cultures, but they’re vocal disfluencies.”

USC explained its decision in a statement released to Reason.

“Recently, a USC faculty member during class used a Chinese word that sounds similar to a racial slur in English. We acknowledge the historical, cultural and harmful impact of racist language,” the statement read.

USC’s described Patton’s removal from the classroom as a “short term pause,” and confirmed another professor is temporarily stepping in.

“No matter what way you look at this, the word was said multiple times today in three different instances and has deeply affected us, the MBA students said in their letter. “In light of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the recent and continued collective protests and social awakening across the nation, we cannot let this stand.”

“It was confirmed that the pronunciation of this word is much different than what Professor Patton described in class,” the students wrote. “The word is most commonly used with a pause in between both syllables. In addition, we have lived abroad in China and have taken Chinese language courses at several colleges and this phrase, clearly and precisely before instruction is always identified as a phonetic homonym and a racial derogatory term, and should be carefully used, especially in the context of speaking Chinese within the social context of the United States.”

Patton acknowledged in a letter that he failed  “to realize all the many different additional ways that a particular example may be heard across audiences members based on their own lived experiences.

“Given the difference in sounds, accent, context and language, I did not connect this in the moment to any English words and certainly not any racial slur,” Greg Patton wrote.

You can hear him say the word in this zoom recording.

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According to the National Review, Black MBA students who sat in on the lecture say it left them


  1. We need an effective petition to unequivocally support Prof. Patton. ANY sanctions whatsoever leveled against Patton over this preposterous misunderstanding are baseless and unacceptable.

    • I second that. This is pure collective narcissism on the part of those Black MBA students. It’s like in their heads. There is the only language in the world, and that’s the American English language. Ironically it’s beginning to sound like Jim from Huck Finn. What’s next? Chinese can’t say “nega” or “naga”(Meaning “this” or “that”) from their 3 thousand year old language now? Koreans can’t say “Nega” (meaning “you”) now?

      • I wonder if we could start a Change.org petition. This seems so silly and really! In Los Angeles Black and African American students should be more sensitive to Asian American concerns. If they want Asian Americans and White people to be sensitive to African American and Black concerns, then they need to reciprocate!

        I am NOT Chinese, but I have studied Mandarin Chinese and I am now studying Korean.

  2. First time I learn this was on a business trip to China with my American colleague. He pointed out why I kept saying that word. That was the first time I realized the similarity on their pronounciation. Regarding the professor’s pronunciation, he was doing a good job and was very close to Chinese people and better than most American’s people speaking Chinese.

    A similar story is that I had a cubicle mate in my office, and his name is Zak. Zak’s pronounciation is close to Chinese people saying “this”. One day I hanged up my phone to a Chinese colleague. Zak asked me why we were talking about him. I was completely confused, and then he said you have kept mentioning Zak in your conversation. “This” is not as bad as “that”.

  3. I have lived in China 6 1/2 years and the words “nega” and “jega” mean “that“ and “this” respectively, absolutely nothing to do with race and colour. It is a sad day when a respected professor is suspended for disseminating a behavioural difference that MBA students who communicate with Chinese business people need to be aware of. The students need to get off their soapbox, study harder and stop whining.

  4. It reminds me of an incident that happened a number of years ago in in a city government office in Washington DC. A white management official was speaking to a group of employees about budget issues and used the word “n*ggardly” in his remarks. Because the idiots in the audience didn’t know what the word meant, they thought he was using a racial slur. He ended up resigning. Sad but true.

    • I once used the word in a high school essay and the teacher crossed it out with a question mark. The message-some words are obsolete, and despite the intent, if it can be misinterpreted, as a communicator who’s main goal should be communicate, you shouldn’t use it. I feel the same way about chink in the armor. The user may not have intended to offend, but why risk it? The phrase is obsolete and shouldn’t be used. While the professor didn’t intend to offend, he did. We need to be sensitive to that in the same way we would hope others would be sensitive to any offense we might take if someone were to use “chink in the armor.”

  5. If you are cooking and are then distracted by a delivery or neighbour coming to the door and then a fire starts in your kitchen you have done no wrong. On other hand if you decide to set your kitchen on fire by say leaving a pan with hot oil and some food on the gas you are an arsonist. My opinion is that this man had no racially evil intent and was thinking of a Chinese word when he was speaking. If people are upset then an apology for accidentally touching a nerve should suffice. The response was over the top and now Chinese people are upset too.
    Once in Glasgow Scotland, a native Spanish language assistant was faced with a rowdy class so she called out Ya Basta which in Spanish sounds like one thing but in Glasgow sounds very rude. Are the native Americans who know Spanish upset by The Lone Ranger being referred to a kemo sabe and his native sidekick as tonto?

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