In sports terms, the N-word is the comeback word of the year.
ESPN's "Outside the Lines" devoted an hour to the subject the other day. The NFL is pondering a rule that would penalize use of the word on the field.
The issue is being debated on talk shows, in saloons and at dinner tables. Some think the word is playful and others think it's despicable.
One prevailing theory is that a white man like me isn't qualified to have an emotion or express an opinion on the N-word.
Sorry, we might not all live in the same community but we all do live in the same world, which is why people of all races can commemorate Black History Month together.
The divide over the N-word is said to be generational. Maybe it is because if anyone of any color utters it in my company I'm offended as an older man.
The N-word insults my sensibilities because of the black people I associated with during my formative years in the 1950s and 1960s, a different time in a different place with a different perspective.
First I think of the older black man who washed storefront windows when I was 5 or 6 years old in Logan Square.
When he finished up, we sat on the steps down to my father's grocery store and he educated me on the great black boxers of the day like Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Wolcott, Sandy Saddler and Sugar Ray Robinson.
I cringe at the N-word all these years later because he probably wouldn't appreciate its increasing use.
Then there was the young black man nicknamed Pork Chop who was my work partner in a paperback book warehouse at 26th and Pulaski.
I was a kid who just finished my freshman year of college and Pork Chop could have messed with me in what was his space. Instead he taught me the tricks of surviving on that job.
I cringe at the N-word because Pork Chop probably wouldn't appreciate hearing it so much now.
Then there was a middle-aged black man named Charlie, whom I worked with in the sanitation department at Sara Lee bakeries after my junior year of college.
The room, the only one not air-conditioned in the building, was diabolically hot, but Charlie provided me with tips on how to survive.
Charlie probably wouldn't appreciate the N-word being blurted so cavalierly these days.
I can't think of any of my black acquaintances in college, in the Army or anywhere else back then who would have tolerated the N-word.
Put "boy" in that category, too.
In basic training a black drill sergeant -- about 6-feet-4, 240 pounds with a waist slimmer than mine -- would test the composure of black recruits by calling them "boy."
Ever since, I avoid referring to anyone older than high school age, white or black, as "boy."
Back to the N-word: I don't recall the proud black workingmen I mentioned above ever uttering it and don't think they would have let anyone call them that in any context.
The window-washing boxing aficionado entered and exited my life shortly before Brown v. Board of Education, Pork Chop right around the time the Voting Rights Act was passed, and Charlie about when urban unrest began to explode.
Maybe it's good that younger blacks and whites today are unencumbered enough by the past to use the N-word in NFL locker rooms, on the street, anywhere.
Hopefully they'll understand why an older white guy still is encumbered enough by the past to cringe at some of the things that people of all races call each other these days.
Some of us still can remember the 1950s and '60s.