The Euphemism Treadmill

I ran a story in this week’s issue in part to provoke. Before my editorializing here’s the story, from the 19 June 2011 issue:

The Euphemism Treadmill

The Austin (Texas) Parks Foundation, which sponsors the annual “Keep Austin Weird” festival, shows summer movies in city parks. But they canceled the showing of Napoleon Dynamite because it contained an “offensive word” that “a number of people” objected to. “We didn’t recall that this word was used” in the PG-rated film, the Foundation said in its cancellation notice, “and we did not mean to offend anyone.” The Foundation refused to say what the word was, but the local newspaper noted it’s “not too hard guess what’s causing the trouble here” and included it in its report: “retarded”. (RC/Austin American Statesman) …If the newspaper is willing to print it, how offensive is it?

The Slippery Slope

The “euphemism treadmill” refers to how some words inevitably march down a “treadmill” path. For example what was called “shell shock” in WWI became “battle fatigue” in WWII, “operational exhaustion” in the Korean war, and “PTSD” in Vietnam.

Napoleon Dynamite posterOr how “lame” became “crippled” became “handicapped” became “disabled” became “physically challenged” became “differently abled” — the latter term now going out of favor.

And of course, how medical words like “idiot” and “retarded” became “mentally challenged” then “intellectually disabled” then “special” — and now “special” is going out of favor (isn’t that special?!)

Taking It Back

Yes, people use words to hurt others. But I love how gays, for instance, took back such “hurtful” words by embracing “queer” and other perceived pejoratives. Making words like “retarded” and “queer” taboo just gives them more power to hurt. Embracing them takes that hurtful power away.

I, myself, went through three surgeries and a full year of physical therapy (and then several years of waiting) for me to be able to walk without pain after an accident. In the old days, they’d say I’m “partly lame” or “partially crippled.”

But to me, “crippled” isn’t a physical state, it’s a state of mind. And while I may be (as the State of California ruled) 16.5% “permanently disabled,” I’m far from “crippled.” So yeah, some will bristle a bit when they first read “The Euphemism Treadmill” story, but maybe this will give you some more to chew on before reacting.

Take the hurtful words back.

(Nods to linguist Steven Pinker for the term.)

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101 Comments on “The Euphemism Treadmill

  1. “Making words like ‘retarded’ and ‘queer’ taboo just give them more power to hurt. Embracing them takes that hurtful power away.”

    George Fox, centuries ago, knew this. George had persuaded a few folks to worship according to their own feelings. Some of these folks “quaked” during their enthusiastic worship.

    Other people started calling them Quakers.

    When asked, what should they do about being so called, George said that they should accept the name. Let others call you what they will. Use their name for you if it helps you to talk with them.

  2. I hear you 100% there. I was in an accident in 1999 — I was T-boned on my motorcycle by a woman driving a full size Mercury station wagon, who was attempting to make an illegal left turn across a divided expressway — and 12 years later, I still can’t walk without my left foot breaking open and bleeding. (I’m due for another attempt to at least partially fix it very soon now.) Between that and PTSD, according to the Social Security Administration I am 100% disabled. It was very hard to learn to accept that.

    There is a difference between “disabled” and “crippled”. I can do most things as well as anyone else. I can still do many of them better than most. There’s just … some things I can’t do at all. Run, for example, or jump or squat. My injuries are disabling. They are not crippling.

    But I am not “physically challenged” or “differently abled” or any of that whining, bed-wetting crap.

    I think where I’m going with this is that political correctness, in its ceaseless quest to sanitize anything, anywhere that might somehow, for any reason, possibly offend someone, somewhere, ends up flattening all distinctions and degrees, and rendering EVERYTHING trite and trivial. Actually acknowledging that some people have difficulties to overcome or that some people are treated unfairly becomes lost in the headlong rush to find the most inoffensive, bloodless, colorless, neutral, mealy-mouthed words to talk about them in.

    Do you know what I think the real goal of political correctness is? I think it’s to make it impossible to speak meaningfully AT ALL about any subject that bothers, offends, alarms or frightens the mavens of political correctness. It is thought control through censorship. They are trying to excise concepts with which they are not comfortable from the language, and replace them with meaningless mouth noises that can be nodded at with deep, deep concern and then dismissed from their thoughts.

    Political correctness and zero tolerance are two sides of the same coin. They are just different kinds of moral and intellectual cowardice.

    I’m with you, brother. And who is it that can’t stand the word “crippled” or “disabled”? People who aren’t. How nice for them, but I don’t need their patronizing attitudes. If you see someone needs help carrying something, help them! (or at least offer). It doesn’t matter if they’re “disabled” or perfectly fine: if they need help, help them. Is that too difficult? But spare me their pity, and I’ll spare them mine — for having to live with their tiny little brains and hearts. Maybe. -rc

  3. One hurtful phrase and its demise that I have always treasured is the insult “Yankee Doodle,” which the British used to insult the revolutionaries, as someone who was less than intelligent, less than cultured, less than human. And then the revolutionaries turned it around and beat them with it.

  4. Regarding the evolution of descriptive labels, the one I find most frustrating, aggravating, and mind boggling is how being on the public dole, i.e. “welfare,” evolved into programs that are referred to collectively as “entitlement.” Not only is welfare no longer stigmatized, it’s fully embraced by one of the political parties, both political parties are afraid to touch them, and we’ve created a population that for many years hasn’t even thought about providing for their own retirement, instead letting the government take care of that for them.

  5. Would the “N” word (I think they are Afro-Americans now…but I can’t keep up) fall into this category. After all isn’t negro just a reference to the color brown? Or am I mis-informed?

    • Negro actually means ‘black’, as in the color, in Spanish and Portuguese, derived from the Latin word niger. That was slurred (speech-wise) into nigra, and thence to the ugly term most of us avoid and abhor. Because it is used to injure and diminish.

  6. Ah, geez, if we refuse to show any film that has any word in it that might offend someone, then that will include every single film ever made, including the most G-rated Disney films you could find. What a bunch of retards!

    A person CHOOSES to be offended. One cannot control the actions or words of another, but one CAN choose a reaction to it. To claim otherwise is to acknowledge no human intelligence; just brainless response to stimuli. And to stupidly follow others in what we “should” find offensive reinforces that lack of intelligence. You know, like retards.

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanore Roosevelt

    • An edited version of “Blazing Saddles” will air from 8:00 to 8:07 PM.

      Remember when “racist” television was popular? “All In The Family”, “Sanford and Son”, and “The Jeffersons” were hilarious because most of us saw the folly.

      I strongly suspect that political correctness is merely masked projection.

      Sorry to say Mike won’t reply: he apparently died in around 2014. He was a faithful reader and commenter here. -rc

      • Blazing Saddles is the most anti-racist racist movie. One of the white actors was uncomfortable about using the N-word. Richard Pryor (who was one of the writers) told him it was OK in the context. The movie *explicitly* pokes fun at racism.

        Personally, I *love* the movie. I *cannot* watch the bawderized TV version — they cut out all of the best parts, including the fart sounds in the campfire scene.

        You won’t be surprised to learn it’s one of my favorites of all time. -rc

  7. “any of that whining, bed-wetting crap.” Hold on, pal. Self-definition is important. It is far from “whiny, bed-wetting crap.”

    I know why the terms keep changing. Because well-meaning people do not seem to understand that changing the name of something won’t change the negative attitude of those who use the name as a pejorative. Some people can walk up to me and call me a dyke and I’ll laugh. Others might do that and get a good slap in the mouth. It’s all in tone of voice.

    So what do I think of censoring “Napoleon Dynamite”? :: eye roll :: The Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech, not freedom from being offended. If you don’t like the book/movie/play/song, turn it off or put it down but don’t go around telling me I shouldn’t listen, read or watch. If I do and I’m offended, that is my problem.

  8. It seems to me pc terminology is the worst kind of dishonesty. You’re having to tapdance around terminology to say something that can be said with one word, and in that dance you lose a lot of the meaning. When a word is invented for no other reason than to be rude and hurtful I could see wanting to eliminate it (I wouldn’t do it, it’s like burning books, but I could understand it). But these terms are all replacements for useful terminology that is deemed unacceptable for whatever reason.

    The evolution of shell shock is understandable since the phrase refers to something that you can suffer whether you’ve been “shelled” or in a war. I myself suffer from PTSD and I’ve never been in a war. The word retard however was initially defined as “slow”. That’s it. People didn’t like the word retard, so it became something that sounded much prettier, less stressful. Unfortunately this bleeding heart generation cannot seem to recognize the fact that sometimes awful things happen and the best thing to do is face them and deal, not try to make them sound prettier. If they would put even half the efforts into DOING something (not just donating money) that they do in bitching about what word is used they’d probably accomplish a lot more.

    It doesn’t matter if I’m going deaf or have become hearing challenged, because in the end I still have to face the fact that I will not hear anymore and all the pretty words in the world won’t change it.

  9. Robert of Alabama raises an interesting point about ‘welfare’ which is (he argues) being softened to ‘entitlement’.

    Of course, it could be argued that here in Australia the reverse has happened … what was “Social Security” (that is, security provided by society as a “safety-net” has become known by the American term — “welfare” — a much more pejorative term.

    All of which tends to both reinforce and contradict Randy’s initial post.

    I would argue that words DO have power. And what some call ‘political correctness’ others call ‘good manners’.

    It’s “good manners” when you decide to keep the words to yourself. It’s not when you demand others change their words to suit you. I think Lucy in Texas hit it on the head: “people do not seem to understand that changing the name of something won’t change the negative attitude of those who use the name as a pejorative” — to which I’ll simply add “and vice versa.” -rc

    • I’m 71 and in my youth kids used “retarded” to insult each other. I seem to remember that parents of retarded kids were offended and it morphed into “special”.

      A few years ago I was replacing a ceiling fan for a divorced neighbor and her 10 year old twin boys were arguing about something. One called the other “special” with “that” tone of voice and it almost turned into a fist fight.

      People who want to sanitize the language aren’t accomplishing much in my opinion. The new word quickly takes on the same definition/meaning of the replaced word. They have just made communication more difficult.

      And I feel sorry for everyone who gets offended so easily. But, there is also a political movement involved where they are trying to manipulate and control everyone else. Read the book 1984 and look around at what is going on today.

  10. When I first met my wife, I proudly identified myself as a geek (still do) and she expressed shock at that, and doesn’t seem to like it when I refer to my tech-obsessing, Star Trek-loving, super-smart friends as “geek”s too (despite us having bandied about the terms amongst ourselves since before I met her).

    She looks at it from the perspective that when she was growing up (the 1960s), “geek” was seen as an insult, it’s definitely not what you call the “cool” kids in school. I can understand, I grew up in a similar time frame as her, and got “geek” hurled at me (insultingly) more times than I care to count. But I never stopped wearing it as a badge of pride, then or now. “Someone who likes computers” or “someone who is a fan of sci-fi” or even “trivia fan” doesn’t quite define me as clearly and fully as “geek” does. And of course now, as opposed to then, being a “geek” is quite desirable and popular (bolstering my belief that I was born too early). My wife, despite not having a geeky bone in her body, is now somewhat warming up to the term, and has started to lovingly introduce me to others with that term.

    But the whole situation reminds me of how even innocuous words (like “geek” for example) causes people to take offence. (For the record, I’ve never met one died-in-the-suspenders true geek who has once taken offence to that term.)

    Well, “geek” originally (in the 1800s) meant “fool,” and later was applied to “A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.” Language does evolve. -rc

  11. What I’m still trying to come to terms with is the people that get offended by a label on someone else’s behalf and request (or demand) that we substitute a PC label.

    For a (made-up) example: “Don’t call him ‘blind’! He’s ‘visually challenged.”

    Yeah, maybe, but he’s not deaf, and if the label “blind” bothers him, I’m sure he’ll let me know.

  12. I agree with your anti-PC position. But PTSD is a bad example of “euphemism creep” because of developments in understanding this malady since the extensive study of Viet Nam veterans and continued study to this day. Sure, while some soldiers with “shell shock”, “battle fatigue”, and “operational exhaustion” were undoubtedly suffering from PTSD, the term itself is a proper diagnostic category defined by the DSM-IVr. That diagnostic standard (see for example, this page) . It occurs concurrent with neuroendrocrine changes which can potentiate other physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms.

    When applied by a professional, the diagnosis properly entitles a person to medical, psychological, and psychiatric treatment. The term PTSD itself resulted from an effort to be more precise and therefore, more helpful, not in an effort to be politically correct, although I’m certain that there are those who use it with the latter goal in mind.

    While PTSD might be more clinically accurate, my understanding is that many veterans bristled at the terms “shell shock” and “battle fatigue”. For those wondering, the DSM is the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”. The 5th edition is due out in 2013. -rc

  13. I was doing a demonstration on handicapped accessible gardening at our county fair a few years ago. A guy with a cane and guide dog came up to the booth, and I started explaining all of the tips and tools available for “people with a vision disability.” After I said that phrase twice, he said, “You know, it’s really OK to call us ‘blind’.”

    Yep. It’s mostly just us “normal” or “average” people that have a problem with these words.

  14. Ray and Larry: I’ve noticed that myself. It was someone else who got upset when someone yelled “hey deafie”. I told her it was fine, I couldn’t hear them anyway. LOL Anyhow, it really just goes to show how stupid he was, YELLING at a DEAF person, like all of a sudden I’d somehow know he was talking to me because he said it LOUDER and specified “deafie”. LOL

    To me it feels more offensive that “normal” people try to stand up for me. If I need it, I’m quite capable of doing it myself. I don’t need a protector or someone to speak for me. And nine times out of ten, if you’re speaking FOR me, you’re probably wrong.

    To be quite honest, I really don’t care what you call me, just don’t ignore me or talk around me. I get far more upset with how I’m treated than I do what I’m called.

  15. This reminds me of an incident that occurred when I was a college student. I was working as an office temp during Summer break for a non-profit advocacy group for children with learning disabilities, both physical and psychological. Although most of the mass mailings were still being cut on stencils and run off a mimeograph, the typewriter itself was electric and capable of rudimentary word processing and formatting.

    Guess where it decided to hyphenate the phrase “Developmental Center”?

    The Euphemism Treadmill really is a road to nowhere. 😉

  16. A George Carlin noted, “if PTSD was still called shell shock, maybe some of the people who have it would get the help they need.” Soft language creates soft minds and soft people.

  17. I thought of some other taglines:

    Winner, hands down, in Keeping Austin Weird.

    Is there a Keeping Austin annoyingly PC contest?

  18. I used to agree with the majority of people responding to this “euphemism creep”. I believed that offense was offered in the way the terms were used but that the terms could be used without offensiveness. I also believed that people chose to be offended where no offense was intended.

    Then I got a link to a gentleman named Dave Hingsburger’s blog. Dave’s blog has won a bunch of awards in Canada, and I was intrigued to see what he could have to say that so many Cananadians would find interesting. Dave works in Canada as a disabled, gay man whose current job is to teach other disabled (mentally and physically) about their rights to have their caregivers be respectful. As I’ve read his blog, I’ve really come to feel that the words can be hurtful even when unintended because of all the people who have used the term offensively. In other words, the words we use carry a history with them. While it is important to not fall prey to the whole Politically Correct Speach virus, it is equally important to be aware of the history of the words we use.

    Nowadays, most people wouldn’t dream of using terms like “nigger” or “spic” or “wop” even though they were just as clearly defined as “idiot” and “retard” were. Just because the medical profession used the terms doesn’t make them ok to use. After all, the medical profession for years thought that if someone’s brain was imperfect, they couldn’t feel pain. The medical profession has figured out their error with regard to pain and they should figure out their error with regard to “idiot” and “retard”.

    I ordinarily don’t promote one person’s blog on another person’s, but Dave’s blog is very much on point about this issue. I enjoy reading all the posts but this one about the baby boomers requesting “age friendly” environments for their walkers and scooters rather than the “accessibility” that the disabled have been advocating for years gives you a sense of his feelings about “ephemism treadmill”:

  19. For Joe – Wisconsin:

    Just FYI: I think the term now is “African-American”.

    Second; If I remember correctly, “negro” means “black”, not brown.

    Third; The “N” word is not derived from negro. It is a corruption of “Niger” (long “I”), a river in Africa (there’s now a country by that name as well).

  20. I used to teach this self help group, before I lost my hearing, about co-dependency. Co-dependency is not related only to a family situation, I’ve noticed that there we have become a co-dependent society. Allowing our feelings to be dictated by the behavior of others. So in order to spare our feelings we try to dictate to others what’s allowable.

    It’s one thing for me to say “This offends me” and let the chips fall where they may and getting on with my day. It’s quite another to tell people “you must always behave x way so that I can be happy in case I show up”. If they apologize and don’t know (as many don’t, because how can they possibly know the things I deal with as a deaf person when they’ve never been deaf?) we move on, no feelings hurt and someone is now more aware. If they continue then I consider them like anyone who continues any obnoxious behavior, it’s not personal, they are an ass.

    If you try to remove offensive terminology, as was tried with “retarded” then people only use the new words to be offensive. We’ve evolved “retarded” what? 4 or 5 times? Each time people just use the new word or phrase offensively. Which word is it ok to use this week?

    Changing the language is not going to lessen the amount of asses out there. Words only have the power you allow them to have. If others want to give people that power they will beat you into the ground with those words. That’s your fault. You gave someone the power to beat you down with that.

    Words have a history, yes, but YOU hold the power, don’t give it over. The time to be offended is when the people who should know better act rude and inconsiderate. I got offended when a counselor for the deaf asked to talk to me on the phone….now that was offensive.

  21. My older brother was born with cerebral palsy. Growing up, he was referred to as “retarded”. WE in his family referred to him as retarded, but not in a negative way. The only time I saw my brother bothered by the word was riding bikes with him when we were children and a group of other kids pointed him out saying “hey, there’s that retard!” My dad was the boy-scout leader for handicapped boys, and I learned so much from that group. My dad made them work to be independent. And I learned that so many of them had real talent. But I stopped changing euphemisms at handicapped. He was, many are, but that doesn’t mean he was less of a person for it. Handicapped just means they have a physical or mental disability that the rest of us don’t have.

  22. This is nothing more than political correctness, that is a liberal being offended on behalf of another whether or not that other is actually offended. Like forcing schools to not use Native American tribe names for teams and mascots. Many actual tribes were proud to lend their names but the PC crowd wanted the use banned.

  23. It’s true that these days, “most people” don’t use terms like nigger or wop. But remember that some of those who DO, use them as a badge of pride. Among the gangbanger culture it’s a mark of pride to call each other ‘nigga’. “Yo, don’t be dissin’ mah niggaz!” (Although I’ll freely admit ‘gangsta’ culture bothers me, though not for this reason.) It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard people, particularly New Yorkers, identify as “seventh-generation wops”.

    The error of trying to ban terms like these is the idea that you can stop bigots — anti-black, anti-white, anti-gay, anti-asian, misogynists, misandrists — from being bigoted by banning the words they express their bigotry with. It doesn’t work. They’ll keep on being bigoted, and in many cases, they’ll resent the target of their bigotry more, because they feel they’re being unfairly persecuted for speaking what they think is simple truth. You can’t change the thinking of bigots by restricting the words they’re allowed to use. But sometimes, you can shame them into changing when they see how everyone shuns them for the things they say and do.

    Too often, as well, the outrage is hypocritical. For example, while the gangsta culture freely express how angry they are about actual or perceived discrimination against them for being black, they seldom hesitate to declare their own hatred for whitey. Likewise, feminists as a whole are rightly angry about behavior or language that discriminates against women, yet most of the militant feminists seem to think they have a perfect natural right to spew the most appalling hatred and vitriol against men. I have heard militant feminists decry actual or perceived oppression of women, decry the violent male culture, and then five minutes later talk in glowing terms about how when women discover a way to reproduce without men involved at all, all the men on the planet can be exterminated, and this will make the world a wonderful happy shiny place. Hello, it’s wrong to not hire a woman for a job she lacks the physical strength to do (and of course, this MUST be because she’s a woman, even if a man who lacked the physical strength for it wouldn’t get hired either), but it’s peace and love and feminine wisdom to exterminate half the human race? Haven’t we maybe lost a little bit of our sense of proportion here?

    One of the comments that really reinforces my original point, though, is the comment about “You know, it’s OK to call us blind.” Years ago, a friend was talking about this with respect to his father, who’s in worse shape physically than I am. His final comment on the subject was, “My dad isn’t ‘differently abled’. He isn’t ‘physically challenged’. Michael Jordan is ‘physically challenged’. My dad is FUCKING CRIPPLED. Stop trying to sugar-coat it.” This kind of political correctness is not for the benefit of the sufferers, it’s for the benefit of people who dislike the idea of other people suffering, but … not enough to actually do something positive to help.

    Let’s face it: We are imperfect people, and we live in an imperfect world, in an imperfect universe. Not only is this universe “not fair”, it doesn’t even have a concept of fairness. People hate. People discriminate. People suffer. Trying to sanitize the way we talk about these things into the blandest possible terms doesn’t do anything to fix them. it just helps to sweep them under the rug. When there’s a problem, there’s two things you can do: you can do something productive about the problem, or you can sanitize the language until you come up with a way to talk about the problem in terms that don’t make you feel uncomfortable, so that you can convince yourself you’ve done something — then all you’ve really done is make it harder to actually talk realistically about the issue.

    One final example to illustrate this: America Online at one time actively sponsored a forum for breast cancer survivors. Then someone at AOL decided one day that the word “breast” was offensive, and AOL started censoring it. So all the users of the AOL forum woke up one day and discovered that they had an AOL-sponsored support forum for their affliction … in which they could no longer talk about their affliction.


  24. For another example of how the changing perception of a word alters popular culture, look at West Side Story. When it was in its early years, Maria sang “…I fell pretty, and witty, and gay. And I pity anyone who isn’t me today.” Now she sings “…I feel pretty, and witty, and bright. And I pity anyone who isn’t me tonight.”

    Look at the “pro-choice” vs “pro-life” dialogue — if it can indeed be called dialogue. The opposing sides cannot agree on the meaning of the words used in their discourse.

    Language is indeed important, and is constantly changing.

  25. I’m a big fan of words. I do not believe there is such a thing as “bad” words per se, except when they are not used appropriately. For instance, you would want to say ass when you meant ass (donkey) unless, of course, you are referring to the ass’s ass. English is the most obtuse language on the planet.

    Yesterday I made a comment on the local newspaper’s website about a guy who had slapped his kid until the child’s lip was bleeding. I used the word “bloody” to describe the kids lip and the software said I couldn’t use it because it was an obscene word. Wow. Bloody hell!

    You know in the old days, if my car was running funny it might have been because the spark was retarded relative to the piston position. Now I don’t know what to think. Thank god for electronic ignition….

    I’m offended by your invocation of the deity! -rc

  26. My mother was part of B’ nai Brith Women in the 1970’s when they finally decided to embrace one aspect of women’s liberation: gender-neutral titles. She also used to be a newspaper reporter, so she found the substitute terms especially ludicrous. Instead of “the chairwoman will more address the committee”, it was now “the chair will address the table”. Sounds like something Walt Disney might show!

    Language evolves, no matter how much we fight it. There’s only one word that I really miss: “literally” has somehow become an exclamation, as in “when I saw that, I literally died!” Now there’s no longer a way to say that I’m not using slang, that I’m using the original meaning of a word… I’ll miss it.

  27. As a father of a beautiful daughter with down syndrome and a constant reader of your blog I am amazed to see you on that side of the fence. To say something is retarded is OK as long as it is used in that way. The problem comes in when someone calls someone else a Retard, that’s not cool because they are being hateful. Its just a matter of respect and class. Something being retarded is OK, calling each other Retard is hurtful and falls into the same area as the “N” word and all the other words that just hurt.

    I am the uncle of a young lady with Down Syndrome. -rc

  28. I agree, there’s manners and then there’s everyone leading everyone else in a big forced game of “remember and use the word of the week or else you’re offensive and wrong”.

    …and while we’re at it, honestly, I don’t care if all white people were racist bastards one, two hundred years ago and used the word with hostility: the word Oriental is a real word with a real definition, and that definition is “Of the East”. And the word Asian is A) no more authentic to them and their cultures than the former word, and B) infuriatingly non-specific.

    I will continue to use the word ‘oriental’ whenever I am talking about people (not just vases!) from The Orient, not about everyone from the continent of Asia, which includes more races, ethnicities and nationalities than I can count. Russians, Indians, Nepalese, Mongolians, Kazakhs, Greeks, Persians, just to name a few, are all Asians.

  29. I cringe whenever I hear someone in the media referring to “the N-word”. The result will be to make the use of the phrase “N-word” just as offensive as the word “nigger”, a word which I find highly offensive whether used pejoritively by non-blacks or as a term of familiarity by blacks. I find it ludicrous, though, that the word itself cannot even be spoken aloud in an enlightened discussion about the use of the word. Certainly it cannot be offensive in that context. Chuck Lorre, in a recent vanity card, made the same point about the use of “the F-word”. As George Carlin so rightly pointed out, “shoot is just shit with two ohs”.

    In a similar vein I think there is a vast difference between referring to a man as crippled and referring to him as a cripple. In the first case you are describing one aspect of that person; in the second case you are defining him.

  30. I have zero problem with the descriptive “retarded” as long as it is used appropriately. “Retarded” describes my adult daughter accurately. No further explantion concerning her level of functioning is needed as this somehow now-offensive word is immediately understood by most, if not all, adults who hear it. “Special”, “differently abled”, etc. are absolutely useless terms in my book. My daughter’s full diagnosis? Non-verbal, moderately mentally retarded, severely autistic female. Plain enough, right? Doctors didn’t want to “offend” me with the autism label so they tried to call it PDD-NOS, with mental delays and delayed verbal ability. I guess I’m one of those who hates to beat around the bush. Call it what it is so there is no misunderstanding.

  31. Someone once predicted that in the future, when someone says that a skier was challenged by the slope, it’ll mean that he broke his leg.

  32. The comments by Phil, in New Hampshire, about political correctness prompted me to write.

    I have been a folk dancer most of my life (I’m 62), and over a period of years there has been a movement by some to promote gender-free calls that don’t offend someone’s “orientation”. We’re talking about dancing, which in most cases has a traditionally male role and a traditionally female role. The ballroom community uses “lead” and “follow”, which works well, although a good “follow” leads their partner at times. But in Contra dance, an old New England form (couples facing across a long line of dancers, every other couple is “active”) that has spread across the country over the past 50 years, “lead” and “follow” isn’t really suitable, because you aren’t always in contact with your partner, and often are dancing with someone other than your partner. (In fact there is one dance, allegedly written by Lady Walpole, who despised her husband but found it socially necessary to dance with him, in which you never dance with your partner … so who’s leading whom?)

    Every gender-free venue has evolved their own way of calling (red arm bands and green arm bands; bare heads and hats, you name it, someone has probably tried it), as have many callers, but in my experience no calls have become universal, and many attempts make the call too long to fit the music. I have Gay friends who have been dancing longer than I have, and they teach dancing using “men” and “women” in their descriptions, because that’s the tradition, and from what I’ve discerned, they don’t find it offensive. We’re talking about a dance role, we’re not talking about whether someone is Gay or Straight, and quite frankly, I’m just as offended by attempts to avoid using gender, because they often disrupt the flow of the dance, which is what is really important.

    I support Gays in their struggle for identity, but sometimes “politically correct” just adds to the struggle … for all of us.

  33. I believe it is not the words, but the INTENT of the user of the words. It also involves how the receiver reacts.

    “If you take things personally, you will be offended for the rest of your life.” -Deepak Chopra

    George Carlin pointed out that it is how we percive the words and tried to eliminate the hate and fear of words with his “7 words.”

  34. “Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.”

    A story from five years ago offered my own definition of political correctness. -rc

  35. I was in a car accident in 97 that left me paralyzed from the chest down. I know the words “gimp,” “cripple,” “handicapped,” “disabled,” and a bunch of others. But it was reading an article about nine-year-old Tyler Malone that gave me one of my favorite quotes: “My motto is I’m not handicapped, I just can’t walk.”

    Take that, PC!

  36. Words ARE powerful, but only insomuch as they convey ideas, which is where the real power is. If I were to believe that words, themselves, could be offensive, then I wouldn’t understand how such offensive words are routinely bandied about among the ethnic groups purported to be offended by them.

    In a previous comment, I purposely used “retards” in a pejorative manner. Most people probably realized I was doing exactly that and refused to rise to the bait. For any of those who did rise to the bait and allow themselves to be offended, thank you for being so predictable and ceding the power to me to control your reactions.

    The best way to discourage the use of insults or “offensive words” is to ignore them. Eventually, if they want to be part of the group, they’ll modify their behavior. And if not, they’ll leave. A winner, either way. Think! Just like little children who’ve discovered they can get a reaction by reciting all the “dirty” words they’ve learned so far. If the adults gasp and admonish the kid, he chuckles because he’s become the center of attention. Ignore him, and the fun has been taken out of it.

    That only leaves the PC police, those who must demonstrate each and every time that they are right and you MUST understand that. They have their own problems because, let’s face it, they’re retards.

    “Do not think that you have to win, think rather that you do not have to lose.” ~ Master Gichin Funakoshi

  37. I don’t pay any attention to “retarded”, since most people aren’t aware of the “proper” euphemism. I take extreme umbrage, however, to the use of the word “retard” when the emphasis is on the first syllable.

  38. Another nice take on this is in Bill Veeck’s autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck”. He said he was not “handicapped” he was “crippled” (this was an earlier snapshot of the treadmill; for those who don’t remember him, Bill Veeck had a leg amputated). “Handicapped”, to him, implied a judgment that there were things he just couldn’t do. “Crippled” was an objective description of a man missing a leg.

    But, to expand the topic slightly, I have the same feeling towards what is apparently the currently approved usage of “he” and “she”. Reading articles or books where they arbitrarily change the indefinite pronoun because using “he” is sexist, is unnecessarily confusing. It is subgroup trying to dictate to all to remove a useful language feature for their own purposes.

    A similarity between these two cases is that much of the problem is in the hearer’s perception. On a discussion board where a woman was complaining that her daughter was getting the message that only men could be doctors, I suggested that she could start using the pronoun “he” to refer to women anytime their gender was not important (Aunt: she. (Female) doctor: he). This would mean that even when a stubborn dinosaur like me insists on using “he” as the indefinite 3rd person pronoun, the message her daughter would hear would also include women. The suggestion was flamed — it is apparently preferable for all speakers to change their habits than for those who care about the issue to change their usage.

  39. I am a Caucasian African. I went to school in England, and in 1960 went home for a holiday after three years away. I used the term “black” when talking about person of the dusky persuasion. My sister was Horrified! “You CAN’T call them THAT!” But at that time in England, such people were proud to describe themselves as that.

    *I* think it is sad that you Americans call it “Down Syndrome”, or, even worse, “down syndrome”, or worse still (see another posting above) simply as “down”, for that implies a “down” attitude. We Brits properly call it “Down’s Syndrome”. Wikipedia (American) tells us, “Down syndrome, or Down’s syndrome (primarily in the United Kingdom)… is named after John Langdon Down, the British physician who described the syndrome in 1866.

    I think the logic here is, Dr. Down didn’t have the syndrome. But indeed, not capitalizing the name is ignorant. -rc

    • The difference in the usage illustrates the importance of proper punctuation. I find it irksome at best that there’s a movement on to eliminate the use of the apostrophe because it’s no longer useful, or because so many people leave it out. In a fundamental way this argument is driven by laziness — Well we don’t want to force poor poor easily-hurt-feelinged young individuals to actually put in the time and effort to actually learn something. Which then leads to the argument that, Oh, we have to make our college curriculum less demanding because so many incoming students don’t know their basics and we don’t want to hurt these poor poor easily-hurt-feelinged young individuals.

      The result? A generation of young ignoramuses who feel good about themselves — just as long as you don’t do something to offend them.

  40. There’s a saying I really like, I hope this is accurate… “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So, I have no intention of consenting to be made to feel inferior due to my femaleness, my 70% “disabled”-ness, or anything else I’ve been dissed about. Nobody who talks to me like this will get my consent. Say it out loud, “I refuse to consent to your opinion of me”. Feels good, don’t it.

    Indeed! The quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt. -rc

  41. I lie somewhere in the middle on this matter. I, myself, am a faggot. I identify as queer. Clearly I have no problem with the use of those words, myself.

    But there are gay people who do, and around them, I am happy to moderate my language. Not because they’re censoring me, but because it is -polite- to use language that is less likely to generate offense or harm. While not all situations require politeness, and I can think of a good number of them that fair well require impoliteness, I see a lot of railing against PC as ‘But I WANNA say that word!’ edginess. Not saying that you are, Randy, frankly I’d call you fair well respectful, but I’ve found in my experience that three times of four, people railing against PC tend to be for that reason.

    Yes, the euphemism treadmill gets kind of old sometimes, but I’ve found that one thing really tends to alleviate it: politeness. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. What word/phrase would you prefer I use?’.

    And as for why these terms might generate offense and harm? You may notice that the ones most vehemently opposed in society today tend to be referencing people most disadvantaged by today’s society. People often have the double-whammy of having their lives made more difficult, and then giving a side order of slur on top of it. That happens enough, and I’d imagine I’d be seriously tired of that word, and rightfully attribute it to people making my life more difficult. Or a more extreme example (but alas, still something that happens occasionally in today’s society), I’m not sure if I’d be willing to be so sanguine about ‘faggot’ if I’d been beaten up by people who called me a bunch of gay slurs as they beat me up.

    I agree with you: politeness is a wonderful attribute. What I object to is straight people demanding that you never call yourself a “faggot” because it “demeans” gay people — a class of person they don’t belong to. They demand the right to take offense for you, which I consider patronizing. “Don’t you dare call him ‘blind’!” is an outrage: the blind man can defend himself should he think that’s needed, thank you very much! He’s neither deaf nor mute nor, as the PC Police assume, incapable of speaking up. That kind of paternalism is much more offensive than a dictionary word that has been used properly. -rc

    • Polite? POLITE?? What means this word, “Polite”?

      As society has become more self-absorbed, more self-righteous, more easily offended, more hide-behind-anti-social-media cowardly, politeness has faded increasingly from public discourse.

      I observed a while ago that I can’t control your reaction to my behavior. I can only control my behavior. But that also means that I can’t control someone else’s behavior. And as public discourse has become increasingly coarse and impolite, society itself has begun to fall apart.

      Maybe instead of chortling with smirking amusement over Carlin’s “Seven Words” and Lenny Bruce’s provocative profanity, we might start considering that those acolytes of cultural degradation did their part to turn modern society into the coarse, uncultured thing it’s become.

  42. When I was 14 years old I got the first pair of glasses. I had been legally blind and now could see. I really found myself in a new world. Sure enough, some smart alek referred to me as four eyes. I laughed and said, “The better to keep my eye on you!” The gang laughed at her and that was the end of that. You cannot be hurt by words unless you let them do it to you. Anybody trying to make fun of you or hurt you is not worth a head of cabbage. Laugh at them.

    I am now retired and teaching my grandchildren to be kind to others and ignore those who parents are so bad they do not teach their children to be kind. And then we pray for them. So should you. Now, physical abuse is different. I was gifted with terrific strength in a tiny body. I have beaten up three muggers. I have no idea how or why. But physical abuse is not the same thing as verbal abuse. I repeat, do not let verbal abuse do more than momentarily annoy you. Laugh at them, it so annoys them. LOL

    • I’m nearly seventy, and I’m still hurting from the insults and teasing I was subjected to all through my school years.

      It’s easy to prate that you never let things get to you, but the majority of us don’t have the emotional strength needed to resist the bullying. As a matter of fact, I would argue that the very act of preaching that “Sticks and stones…” and “No one can hurt you without your permission” is itself a form of bullying. It’s isolating. Because, after all, if we’re supposed to simply laugh at the bullies, and smilingly tell them, “I’m too strong for you to hurt me, so HA!!” then what do you say to some girl who faces constant sexual harassment? Or the homosexuals who are continually harassed and bullied in school? Or the non-whites who are constantly subjected to racially-offensive comments? Or anyone who isn’t a member of the “correct” faith group, who is continually assured that God hates them, and they’re going to Hell, and they’re an enemy of Christianity, etc. etc. etc.

      The basic idea behind political correctness is that we should (must) respect one another. If the movement has been hijacked by power-hungry, party-line-spouting thugs, this doesn’t change the fact that we should be treating others with respect.

  43. I can commiserate with Amanda in Montclair, NJ after I was informed that it’s apparently no longer proper to refer to people who come from the Orient as “Oriental”. But what astonishes me more is the notion that people who are born with the medical condition known as dwarfism are now supposed to be referred to as “little people”. Who on earth decided that this term was preferable to “dwarf”? This is an odd case where the PC term is actually more offensive (at least to me) than the word it replaces. I, for one, would never want to be referred to as a “little person”.

  44. Now, Randy, even the deaf are capable of speaking up…they just need an interpreter! 😉 lol

    Paul, I do see what you mean, that many folks want to say the “offending” word and thus they whine. However, I’ve met just as many who don’t want to use the word but just feel they are being cut off from language. As a previous poster said (paraphrasing) “It’s bad when we can’t even have a discussion about the use of the word ‘nigger’.”

    I would personally LIKE people to stop cutting up the language. Honestly, it’s a lot easier to identify the racist if he’s the one standing out screaming “nigger” and it’s easier to identify the obnoxious when they are the ones standing out screaming “retard”. Don’t let them hide behind pretty words.

    On a related note, when I was a child this man was friends with my parents and we all called him “Dago”, he used to tell the dago shoe joke (whereever I go, dago). I didn’t know until jeez, almost adulthood, that it was a pejorative term referring to Italians (yes, he was Italian).

    Actually, quite a few deaf people can speak perfectly clearly. But they don’t necessarily hear people calling them “deaf”. -rc

  45. In these responses, I have read the words: gay, faggot, queer and dyke. Not once did I read “The LGBT community”.

    That offends this old Mick :>)

  46. How often do the people who go on “anti-euphemism rant” ask the people to whom the term supposedly affixes what they think? I know for a fact that all the dwarfs I know absolutly hate being called “little people”. Billy Barty doesn’t want to be called “little” anything. My friend Theona, the first dwarf friend my children had, was not a “little” anything. She was tiny in stature, but raised two sons who were over 6 ft tall.

    Ask most people with dwarfism what they are, and they may give you a polysyllabic multi-word medical term for their condition, but more often (if they are feeling polite) they’ll respond with something like “a person, just like you” or “more polite than some people in this room!”

    Although Little People of America (a 501c providing information on various forms of dwarfism, and “safe” social interaction for members and those who qualify) still uses its original name, many members would like to change it if the hassle were not worth the effort.

    So, if you are referring to a dwarf, don’t let the term scare you out of using it … it is acceptable to dwarfs, and who else matters.

    We won’t be hearing from Billy Barty, since he died in 2000. But he was the founder of Little People of America. -rc

  47. Responding to “russell, in Beijing”;

    One of the problems English has in regard to gender language is that there is no gender-neutral or gender-interchangeable personal pronoun or regular noun (“it” is rarely used to describe a person other than a baby in the womb or one shortly after birth). Some have been suggested (I remember a short article suggesting “jhe”–pronounced “gee”, in the Reader’s Digest many years ago), but they never caught on.

    Having studied ancient Greek, I learned that there is a word for “man” that means ONLY a male (“aneer”, from one form of which we get “android”), but another one that could be gender-interchangeable (“anthropos”, from which we get “anthropology”) with the use of either the masculine or feminine definite article. English does not have this luxury. Prior to modern feminism, “man” served as both the generic word for person (such as in “mankind”) as well as the specific word for a male. Modern feminism attacked the use of “man” as sexist without offering a proper substitute (“human” is often used, as in “humankind”, but I suppose it can be debated whether it is a proper substitute or not).

    What we need are adequate, gender-neutral/gender-interchangeable (AND NOT PC words put together by committee!) nouns, pronouns & definite articles. That’s my take.

  48. As someone living in China for 20 years, I think the objection to words like “oriental” is that it encompasses a large number of very different groups into one package, which is probably not what is intended. Oriental includes Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Arabs, Tibetans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Mongols, Kazaks, and dozens more groups together. There are very few issues which can be reasonably discussed about such a large and diverse group, so using it is usually a marker of ignorance or carelessness by the speaker.

    With that in mind, how is “Asian” an improvement? -rc

  49. Now, THERE’s a thing, Angi from Texas!

    *I* always understood Dago to refer to a Spaniard! NEVER an Italian – they were Wops.

    Wikipedia sez:- (UK and Commonwealth) Refers to Italians, Spaniards, or Portuguese, possibly derived from the Spanish name, “Diego,”[58] or a corruption of the title Hidalgo (member of the Gentry, from Spanish > hijo de algo “son of someone [important]”). 2) (U.S.) An Italian or person of Italian descent.[59]

    Every day, something new…

  50. “Actually, quite a few deaf people can speak perfectly clearly. But they don’t necessarily hear people calling them ‘deaf’. -rc”

    No, but many of us can read your lips, Randy.

    That’s part of what I meant by “necessarily”. -rc

  51. What seems to be missing from all the hoopla is that the word “retarded” was uttered by a character in a movie.

    If we are to accurately depict reality in film, sometimes you have to let your characters speak like real people. If depictions of reality are sanitized, then we will forget that there are people in the world that aren’t like us, and we’ll get offended when someday we run into someone like that on the street.

    Why not learn from it instead?

  52. Probably the one term I find awkward and inaccurate is the racial moniker of _______ American — I believe that if you are born in America you are an American and the PC tool to not offend just increases the separation of the races and brings back segregation — by singling out the fact that they are not Americans they are _____ Americans. Also it makes the assumption in some cases that what they look like defines their origin — like African American is used to describe a black (or more accurately brown) person. But not all dark skinned people are of African descent. I also find it interesting that these terms are mostly used for those of obvious difference — a white man or woman regardless of descent would be called white, or American, with no other nationality attached. I just wish we (as a society) would grow up and accept each other — rather than find new ways to label each other. We all have our benefits and deficits, so how about we get together support and boost our benefits and help correct or offset the deficits and get on with a brighter way of life — and a brighter future?

    I know an African-American who has (naturally) bright-red hair. And she’s whiter than I am. Confuses the heck out of people who insist on applying labels. 🙂 -rc

    • I also object to the hyphenated American designation. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re American, you’re American. No other country has the hyphenation to my knowledge.

      • While working with a group of Koories (Australian Aboriginals) I developed a very good personal relationship with them, to the extent that one of them referred to me as a “White Prick” and I called him a “Black Bastard”, this could only happen when they and I realised that the important thing was mutual trust and affection. One thing that I certainly agree with is the term Ms. I and others don’t need to know a women’s marital state.

      • And if, as is true for most Americans, someone has ancestors from more than one nation, ethnicity, etc, how should they refer to themselves?

        My father’s family came from Sicily (and possibly Italy). My mom’s ancestors were from Eastern Europe (Prussia, Poland, Russia, Austria-Hungary, wherever). How shall I hyphenate my history?

        That’s why I prefer the term Mongrel-American. I’m also at least fifth-generation American-American on my mother’s side.

        I’m a British-Irish-Dane-American — or, as I prefer to say it, “American”. -rc

  53. I enjoy how consistent human beings are — if my group is being disparaged by a particular word, it’s Offensive, but if I’m the person who has to make a verbal accommodation, then it’s Those People Being Too Sensitive. The best was the fellow who was *gasp of horror* being inconvenienced while square-dancing by non-genderal calling. LOL. Now that’s tragedy.

    I have an idea — let’s try to avoid being d*cks to one another. Maybe use person-to-person kindness. Everybody could exhale, relax, and try to think about it from the other person’s point of view, and instead of getting het up at Those People (either the offenders or the offended), i.e., approach each other as individuals?

    If you want to be called “blind,” okay. If you prefer “Asian,” no biggee, I can do that for you, brother, and if your daughter is “retarded,” I’m good with that usage if you are, because politeness is about making the other individual person feel welcome, and that is what this is about.

    Except “nigger.” Nobody except a few black guys can use the word nigger without being a complete de facto d*ck. I don’t think it ought to be forbidden, I just have a tiny hope we can all agree to drop the word from English.

  54. Honig, Washington DC said “Except ‘nigger.’ Nobody except a few black guys can use the word nigger without being a complete de facto d*ck.”

    My father, who would be 76 now if he were still alive, once said “I’ve met many n***ers in my time. Some of them were even black.”

    There’s been more than once when I’ve remembered what he said, rather than how he said it.

    And no, it was only occasionally that he was a complete d*ck.

  55. I dunno– it seems to me that the most important thing is to keep in mind that when you’re talking about someone that you’re talking about a person. As in, “put the person first.” Thus: the person who is deaf (blind, disabled, whatever).

    It also seems to me that we’d save ourselves some confusion if we’d follow the example of Caribbean folks and use color names only as descriptives. Most “black” people are, in fact, one or another shade of brown; most “white” people are, in fact, one degree or another of pinky-beige.

    Um, don’t you mean “people who are ‘black'” and “people who are ‘white'”? -rc

  56. The number of comments on this topic shows how much passion it evokes. For those who enjoy irony, these comments provide a feast. A high percentage of them indicate that there is only one reasonable viewpoint (that of the author), and the tone implies that they have taken offense at something. Frequently, it seems that they are grossly offended that other people are offended by things. Or maybe they are offended by/at all the fools who don’t understand the infallibility of their viewpoint.

    Many postings provide a real or invented anecdote, to prove the wisdom and universality of their viewpoint. A smaller group of comments work from the “there is only one correct definition to this word” perspective. In this group of comments, the anti-PC police appears to be far more active and strident than the PC police. I begin to worry about anti-PC police brutality. Metaphorically speaking.

    Humans. There’s no way to please them.

  57. I have bet on horses that were handicapped, and they won.

    (Aside; Snopes recently covered the etymology of this word. Interesting.)

    I have been “mentally challenged” when doing the Irish Times “Crosaire” crossword – a fiendish puzzle!

    I have been “physically challenged”; in bike races, road races, and when I climbed Mount Fuji one summer night. (Yes, night! The sunrise is an experience!)

    All of this I can understand, but what keeps me awake at night is: I cannot play the violin. Does this make me “disabled” or “differently abled”?

    On a more serious note, I have been researching blindness and visual impairment in my work, and the definition covers a wide range of ailments, from needing strong glasses to not having eyeballs. Trying to cover all these with a single term is a disservice to the majority of those it is trying to protect.

    Love, and justice, are also supposedly blind — but I’ll turn a blind eye to that. Oh, and good luck on your blind date tonight! -rc

  58. In response to Robert from Alabama’s dislike of “entitlement” programs:

    When I was growing up, the worst insult my parents could hurl at my goofing off was, “What, do you think the world owes you a living?”

    Sadly, nowadays way too many people answer, “Yes!”

  59. I’m so confused … how can anyone reasonably demand never to hear an ofensive word when they live in a country whose constitution guarantees the right to free speech?

    Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding! That man wins the prize. -rc

  60. Sometimes I wish you had a like button Randy.

    I am so sick of PC terms. I am open, honest and direct with many people. This gets me in trouble with some people that think that I hurt their feelings if I tell them the truth.

    So to all the people out there… as my daddy always said (perverting a Forest Gump Quote) “Either you live with it or you don’t!”

  61. Sometimes you just gotta call a spade a spade (whoops, sorry about that).

    Sauvage: Your bogus ingenuousness is straining my equanimity.

    Maxwell Smart: Can you put that another way?

    Sauvage: You’re pissing me off.
    (from “The Nude Bomb”)

    I dunno, but finding oneself stranded in the proverbial tributary without a feasible method of propulsion just lacks the impact of being up shit creek without a paddle.

  62. To Mike from Dallas;

    One I still remember from the school playground thirty years ago;

    “A vertical displacement of the cranium is of equivalent quality and value to an involuntary spasm of the upper eyelid when evaluated by an equestrian beast deprived of it’s visual capability.”

    (A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.)

  63. I just found this one languishing in my computer.

    Webster’s definition of “BOZO”: a foolish or incompetent person. Usage example: “Some bozo forgot to close the door.” First known use: 1916 (Long before Bozo the Clown)

    That’s all well and fine for a dictionary to define a word, but there is an ethnic group of people called the Bozo, who live predominantly in the west African nation of Mali. Their heritage goes back for 6,000 years.

    So why is it okay for the name of an established ethnic group to be used in a pejorative manner, and since they are of the Negroid race, it also smacks of racism? Why is there no outrage, especially since a restaurant chain, named not for a race of people, but only a single fictional character, Sambo, had to shut its doors for being so offensive?

    Because the Bozos didn’t have a U.S.-based pressure group? -rc

  64. Got it. So the “offensiveness” of a word is in direct proportion to the local pressure group objecting to it. Sounds like Zen. If a tree falls in a forest, and only when someone is around to hear it, it constitutes noise pollution?

  65. I think I witnessed an early step in the use of words to describe people with dark skin: My grandfather, born in the latter part of the 19th Century, made a point of never using “the n word.” In those days, the concept of races still prevailed; one was either Caucasian, Negro or Oriental. My grandfather’s idea of showing respect was to use the word “Nigra” — sort of halfway between the common and the “scientific” usage. Incidentally, he was soundly chastised while working in South Africa for having his picture taken standing beside an African woman. Scandalous!

  66. I have a friend who is originally from Zimbabwe and who got his American citizenship several years ago. He has light hair, white skin, an Imperial accent and a very Irish name. He likes to tell the story of when he applied for something (a job, maybe) in the U.S., and he checked the “African-American” box in the gender/ethnicity questions.

    The administrator who reviewed his application told him that that was wrong, and that he should have checked “Caucasian.”

    He told her that he was born in Africa, and that made him African.

    She said, “No, you don’t understand. You’re white.”

    He replied, “No, you don’t understand. I’m African.” He told her that his parents and grandparents were all born in Africa, and that his ancestors had been in Africa for almost 300 years — longer than her ancestors had been in America.

    He wasn’t a fool. He was just having fun poking a stick in The Man’s eye.

    I know he wasn’t a fool. She was! I believe it’s illegal to dictate what someone puts down in that section. -rc

    • My cousin was born in Colorado, and after college she caught passage on a freighter from New Orleans to Cape Town, South Africa, taking the position of head research librarian. Since then she has had dual citizenship and takes pleasure in “identifying” as an “American African”.

  67. To Mike, in Florida.

    I consider that English already has perfectly good gender-neutral pronouns, namely singular they.

  68. To Tom in Birmingham, England:

    First, “they” is always plural. Don’t they teach English in the UK any longer? The singular neutral is “it” — something few would care to be referred to by.

    To All and Sundry:

    When in the military I was at the forefront of women being truly integrated, with equal (not equivalent) training and all the equal problems of men. A couple of years later, when transferred into a personnel position — helping to set up procedures and guidelines plus write manuals — the hierarchy was pounding its collective head against the wall looking for gender neutral terminology. I finally blew up one day, and told them that I had the *perfect* and appropriate term that covered all the bases — a combination of “she”, “he”, and “it”.

    Use your imagination as to what the suggested acronym was; I don’t believe Randy would appreciate the actual word appearing here.

    Right: none of that shit here, girly! There is a movement to make “they” a singular pronoun, which is what I’m sure Tom was referring to. It sounds awkward to us, sure, but English does evolve. -rc

  69. Randy, following LD Ohio’s comment–I agree with her about “they”. While it *is* becoming the de facto third person singular generic pronoun for a person (as opposed to “it”), AFAIAC it’s a kludgy make-do. It may become standard English one day, but only because nothing else arises as a more proper substitute. We HAD one — “he” was once accepted as both generic and gender-specific, but those days are pretty much over.

    Yep, true, just as “man” means “mankind” or “humanity”, not “male adult”. So really, females have a specific pronoun, and males never really did. -rc

  70. I approve of singular they, as the best of several flawed alternatives. But anyone who thinks it’s a recent invention should check with Shakespeare.

  71. Shakespeare may have been a fair playwright, but at his day there were no rules of English grammar, no dictionaries, no agreement even on how certain letters of the alphabet were to be written! To use The Barde as an excuse for flawed modern grammar … Is this an absurdity I see before me, leading me on … ?

  72. I think the reason “Handicapped” was changed to “Disabled” was because golfers kept using the “handicapped parking only” spaces.

  73. After reading all the comments, I still felt the need to say that my whole issue with the PC things is that more and more people rail against being “offended”.

    Nowhere in our constitution to we guarantee the right to be free from being offended.

    For example, I’m fat. I don’t appreciate if someone calls to me by saying “Hey fattie!” but I don’t think it should be banned or anything. In fact, having people free to say that lets me have a head’s up that whoever is calling me has my weight foremost on their mind when they are thinking of me (and that they possibly are a jerk).

    I hate how if I’m talking to someone and I say I can only stay for a short while and then it becomes known that there is a dwarf in the area, it is considered offensive of me to have used the word short.

    Of if I’m in line at a fast food place because my friend’s buying me lunch as thanks for my helping him move that when I say “Well it’s only fair after you enslaved me.” that I then have to apologize because there is a person of darker pigment than me in the area.

    If I call someone the “N-word” or a retard then I am being a jerk. If I say “Man, that was a lame joke” I am not trying to slander the people who have troubles with mobility. If I mention I’m having a “little problem” I am not intending to offend someone who has dwarfism.

    When talking with fellow veterans or certain friends, I may use curse words but I don’t around my mother because I respect the fact that she doesn’t approve. That I can understand and believe is consideration for those around me. But I think expecting me not to use common-use words based on whatever people are surrounding me is the opposite of “tolerance” or “acceptance” or how we’re all supposed to just be people and not labels. I should be allowed to see a group of people as “people” and not “Ok, that guy’s black so I can’t use the terms slave-driver, slave, dark, black, etc in anything I say, and there’s a heavier set person so I have to make sure not to say fat, heavy, etc, regardless of who I’m speaking to or about what (like weather or a painting or whatever “it’s getting dark, turn on the lights” or “the rain is getting heavy”).

    So that’s what bothers me the most. Becoming unable to talk because you have to guess what words are okay to say and what are no longer allowed because some jerk somewhere decided to use it offensively at some group of people. So now you can’t say gay to mean happy, you can’t say retarded when speaking of the growth of something (my friend’s growth was retarded by cancer so she is quite short), you can’t mention master/slave when setting up computer connections, you might get in trouble for saying someone is short-tempered (depending on their height), etc.

    And also, even those “offensive” terms shouldn’t be blocked. If you have the guy from Seinfeld insulting blacks or Chris Rock talking about something stupid whites do or Margaret Cho talking about Koreans or gays or whatever. If what they are saying is their opinion, that’s just what it is, their opinion. Mel Gibson shouldn’t be allowed to physically harm, stalk, harass or otherwise affect the day to day lives of Jews, but if he personally doesn’t like them (as stupid as the rest of us may feel that is), he should be allowed to hate them. Everyone has a right to their own opinion or to be a jerk and treated as such, but they shouldn’t have to pretend they are sorry or make amends to the group for feeling what they feel, just for acting on it offensively.

    Sorry, I know I probably don’t make sense & my words aren’t the greatest at accurately expressing what I’m trying to say and I apologize if this all makes me sound like a bigoted jerk or something. I’m just sick of the “must not offend anyone” stress that exists day to day.

  74. “Posted by LD Ohio on July 25, 2011:

    Shakespeare may have been a fair playwright, but at his day there were no rules of English grammar, no dictionaries, no agreement even on how certain letters of the alphabet were to be written! To use The Barde as an excuse for flawed modern grammar … Is this an absurdity I see before me, leading me on … ?”

    I think Shakespeare is the most responsible party for such common English fallacies as ‘that which.’ Those two words should never be consecutive.

  75. While I agree with the comments about folks being too concerned with “offending” people’s poor, delicate, easily wounded li’l spirits, don’t some of these comments blow your entire argument about “hate speech” and bullying? Yeah, in an ideal world, folks would let insults “roll off their backs”. Problem is this isn’t an ideal world. Lots of us (including me) have been deeply hurt by insults and bullying (most of it verbal). I’m nearly 62 and I’m still deeply affected by the harassment I faced more than 40 years ago.

    I developed an attitude about offensive speech and behavior while in the military — I might not be able to control other people’s reactions to my behavior, but I can certainly control my behavior.

    Without your providing examples of what you’re referring to, I don’t know what comments made here lead you to believe they “blow [my] entire argument.” The point of the page is, even well-meaning words and phrases turn “bad” over time, replaced by other words and phrases that are “good” …until they too are “bad.” Where does it stop? -rc

  76. Reading this thread reminds me of two things; the beauty of evolving language and meaning and my own example of co-opting denigrating language.

    I teach at a college (D-III) the mascot of which is a “fighting” corncob (yes, even before GMO corn) called Kernel Cobber. Officially, the sports teams are known as “Cobbers”. Supposedly, the students at a rival Swedish school ridiculed the Norwegian transplants and kids of Norwegian immigrants attending the college back in the 1890’s as “Corncobs”. One interpretation is that this was similar to calling someone a “hick” or “hayseed;” supposedly, the college had cornfields on three sides, although this is disputed because corn wasn’t a successful crop in northern Minnesota before the 20th century.

    An alternative explanation which is too rude for any official history is that the Norwegian students were too pietistic for their own good and comported themselves as individuals with corncobs “inserted where the sun don’t shine,” although this interpretation is mostly based on oral history.

    Either interpretation was considered insulting and grounds to defend the honor of the institution through application of manly force.

    Whatever the origin and intent, the insult was accepted by Concordia College students and integrated into college lore in 1928 and codified in 1932. It is now regarded as one of the nation’s more unusual collegiate mascots/team names.

  77. There is a question which children can correctly answer more often — and more quickly — than adults, primarily because as adults, we have been more indoctrinated with PC-think. I will not post the answer right now…see how well you do without it.

    What has four legs and a tail, eats oats, and sees equally well from both ends?

    I’ll take “Blind Horses” for $500, Alex. -rc

  78. Personally (and not being so afflicted), I reckon the word “handicapped” is the correct one to use. If you’re a golfer and have a big “handicap”, it actually means you’re pretty good! As with race-horses. Handicapped just means that you’re not quite 100%, i.e. there are some things that you can’t do, that most people can, such as jump. 😉

    Being of the vintage where one could advance or retard the spark in one’s car engine, to me, “retarded” simply means that it’s a bit behind, with the implication that it could catch up — and the opposite obviously is “advanced”, with the implication that this is also perhaps temporary.

  79. My sister took Queer and made it her own. She was gay, proudly so and determined to not let queer be a pejorative term for herself. Good for her!

    In the same way, I took Bitch and made it my own. For over 20 years I wore a small gold charm that said Bitch. I wore it proudly and when someone called me a Bitch, I agreed and said ‘Thanks for noticing.’

    An excellent response! -rc

  80. It’s interesting reading this 10yo thread.

    Please do not take what I say below as boasting. It applies to this thread is a specific way: Attitude is the most important thing. If you are looking to be offended, you will be. If you decide to not be offended, you will not be. There are idiots in the world who love to offend. Your attitude determines if you are. I am trying to give some examples. I do not consider myself to be special in any way.

    I happen to have one hand (born with half my left forearm). I was called a few names growing up. Crip, gimp (technically inaccurate), etc. Of course, because I don’t have the left hand, my name for a while was “Lefty”, which I adopted with pride.

    If someone calls me handicapped because of the hand, I just laugh. If they become obnoxious, I challenge them to an arm wrestle contest — with my stub. If they claim I cannot do something, I either do it, or start comparing what I have done vs what they have done. For example, I build houses for a hobby (Habitat, mission trips, etc). (Please consider volunteering at Habitat. They have a variety of needs that will fit whatever you can do, from office work to construction. They will teach you. I love running crews of middle-aged ladies, because when they sink a nail for the first time, they *glow*.)

    Hint: my name is a pun. It was actually given to me in college by a classmate — he was a punster. Plus, my brother is Bear, and our dad was Smokey. I have a lot of fun with it. I have a (ahem) second-hand shop filled with (sic) off-handed puns. By being a bit obnoxious with new people, it tends to relax them because they figure out my mom told me I didn’t have the hand. I *love* it when someone hands me an off-handed pun.

    I am actually handicapped — I broke my left knee. As a result, I have nerve damage in the knee and cannot run. I do identify as “gimp” The lack of a hand is just a hobby.

    I was visiting some friends, along with a friend of theirs. He had a very useful rope knot, and I wanted to learn it. He said “I’m not sure you can do it” — which caused immense amusement to the assembled masses. He showed me, and I got it on the first try. It’s one of my favorite knots for tying things down, like a tarp over a pickup truck load. My family just forgets about it. When my ex-wife would keep handing me stuff, I would look at her and say “Babe, I only have two hands”.

    I have a quandary. When I apply online for a job, the website wants me to self-identify as “disabled” because they define it as missing a hand/limb. If I say no, technically I am lying, because it is on their list. If I say yes, I am actually lying too. (I cut the Gordian knot by recognizing the company is probably forced, unknowingly and unwittingly putting me in the position. Plus, they get EEOC brownie points.) But it is not a problem in real life because I can do the job.

    I did get bullied in school, but the resulting fights changed their mind when I beat them. We moved from Phoenix to San Jose when I was in the 4th grade. I asked my folks for a prosthetic because I was feeling left out, so (kid logic) it had to be because I didn’t have the hand. My dad got a call one day because I was in a fight. When my dad found out the other kid started the fight, he asked why the school was calling him. When the kid started punching me, I clocked him upside the head with the prosthetic. My dad’s response was “What did you expect him to use?” The school was not expecting that.

    I interact with a fair number of unusual people in Science Fiction Fandom. I agree with the previous comment about the purpose of courtesy and politeness. Whatever a particular person wants to be called is fine with me. I will *not* use the N-Word. Personally, I find it offensive (I’m an old white guy). But if a M->F transexual wants to be called “she/her”, I will happily respect that. I do slip up — I’m old and habits are hard to break, like using Black instead of African-American if the person prefers the latter. I will, of course, apologize.

    BTW, I joined a bowling league at one point. I got to socialize, and for the first time in my life I had a handicap.

    You say you’re missing half of your forearm. Which half? 😉 -rc

  81. I don’t even remember the circumstances, but one day my daughter-in-law asked me how she should refer to me? Disabled, handicapped, or what? The only thing I could think of to say was “I don’t care. I am what I am and I don’t think you’re trying to hurt me with any of them.”

    Good answer. -rc


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