OXFORD, England - Editors at the Oxford Dictionary of English worked late into the night all weekend to determine definitively what "N" word former Seinfeld actor Michael Richards said during a performance last Friday.
Richards, who played Kramer in the hit television show Seinfeld, was reportedly performing last Friday night when hecklers in the audience got him angry and Richards let loose a three-minute tirade.
He reportedly used the "N" word several times, saying "throw that 'N' word out" and "they're going to arrest me for calling a black man an 'N' word."
Richards dropped his microphone and walked off stage at the end of the tirade, but returned the next night for an incident, presumably meaning "N" word, free show.
The Los Angeles Police Department, responding to a complaint by someone in the audience who claimed not to be one of the alleged hecklers, contacted experts at Oxford Dictionaries for assistance in determining if a crime had been committed.
The transcript of Richards' stand-up show at the Laugh Factory club in Los Angeles only gave them clues, said OED editor in chief, Giles Gillingsworth.
OED linguists say the minimal context to the usage that they have been given has made the task difficult. A statistician with OED, Nigel Breckford, points out that the Oxford English corpus has over one billion words listed.
"Of course, we can start with the fact that we were given the first letter, which is extremely helpful, as that reduces the suspects to approximately 40,000,000 words," said Breckford. "We can also tell from the little bit of context that the word is a noun, but since over half of the words in the English language are nouns this only reduces the potential pool to 20,000,000."
"For the twelve linguists on the project that is still almost two million words each," said Breckford.
Jerry Seinfeld, who issued a statement calling the performance a "mistake," made one comment the investigators found helpful, saying he thought Richards' comments were "extremely offensive."
Still, there's lots of work to be done by hand. "Even with a computer sifting on 'offensive' terms, we are left with tens of thousands for each worker. It's going to take a while," said Breckford.
At this point, said editor Gillingsworth, the leading candidate is "neddy," (a child's word for a donkey), "but we have our doubts because it is primarily of British origin and usage."
The LAPD was checking travel records for Richards to see how much time he may have spent in the British Isles.
Richards played Kramer on Seinfeld from 1989 to 1998. He also starred in 2000's The Michael Richards Show, which was cancelled after just one season as it should have been.
Copyright 2006 Douglas Salguod