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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Word That Must Not Be Named

Someone forwarded an email critical of Hillary Clinton to a mailing list of old fraternity brothers that I belong to with the subject line "Padding her bra & resume!"  I don't find that subject line clever, cute, humorous, or particularly good in any way. It's clearly meant to be kind of offensive in a sexist way, but not something I would've paid any attention to at all. It was kind of a stupid email with kind of a stupid subject line. Pretty commonplace on the Internet.

Much to my surprise, one of the fraternity brothers was offended:
hey.... just call me mr-pc but duz it strike anyone else that the subject line is disgustingly sexist / misogynistic? i find it objectionably so...
I actually thought he was kidding at first, especially since, as you might gather from his writing style, he comes across as a rather rough character.  And did I mention this is a frat boy mailing list? But no, as shown by the following retort to my questioning and a comment about being thin-skinned, he seems sincerely quite offended:
is it also ok for us to throw around the N word?  should thin-skinned blacks just suck it up & get freakin over it?! 
yeah, i'm REALLY offended by both the N word and the erstwhile subject...
Ahhhh, the n-word. Last I looked, there were tens of thousands of words beginning with 'n' but no doubt he's referring to "The Word That Must Not Be Named."  I was rather wondering if it was even in the dictionary anymore. It is. Here's an excerpt from the definition:
The term nigger is now probably the most offensive word in English. Its degree of offensiveness has increased markedly in recent years, although it has been used in a derogatory manner since at least the Revolutionary War. The senses labeled Extremely Disparaging and Offensive represent meanings that are deeply insulting and are used when the speaker deliberately wishes to cause great offense. It is so profoundly offensive that a euphemism has developed for those occasions when the word itself must be discussed, as in court or in a newspaper editorial: “the n-word.”
This important excerpt actually comes before the definition as you must be warned before seeing what it means.

Impressive. The MOST offensive word in English. If we ask google, we find that there are 1,025,109.8 words in the English language (not sure how you can have eight-tenths of a word, but that's what google says).  One in a million, six-sigma, and given the size of the population, probably the Most. Offensive. Word. Evah! For all time. Anywhere in the universe. Seriously.

That's a lot of power for a word. How did that word obtain such power? I'm pretty sure the answer to that is Political Correctness. We're afraid that someone, somewhere might be so upset or so outraged, that the world will explode if the word itself appears instead of the "n-word" euphemism. Or something.  So we tiptoe around trying not to break the epithet eggshells.

It is not illegal, and in my strong opinion it is neither unethical nor immoral nor should it be considered offensive to write the word nigger.  To call someone a nigger, yes, that would be very offensive.  Especially if you mean it.  But just writing it? Just using it to state facts? Not substituting the n-word euphemism? No, no, and no.

The whole concept of not being able to write "nigger" keeps reminding me of the Jehovah stoning scene in the movie "Life of Brian."

At least I can understand why some might consider the sacred name of god a word of power. But nigger should not be a powerful word. It would be much better to reduce the power of a word like nigger. But alas; because it's ever more powerful, it becomes ever more offensive; because it becomes ever more offensive, it becomes ever more powerful. Because of political correctness, we become ever more easily outraged, thin-skinned, and pathetic.

I'm going to file this under humor.  Not because it's funny, but because, in my opinion, we ought to be thick-skinned enough to laugh at this.


Bret said...

I hope I don't get banned from blogger for using The Word That Must Not Be Named! If I do, it was nice knowing y'all, have a good life and all that.

Anonymous said...

Just change your skin color and it's no longer offensive for you to use it.

Clovis e Adri said...

That word was my first contact with US divisions on race.

I was at my first international conference, in Argentina, as a grad student. My English skills back then were even worse. Then, in the middle of a conversation in dinner, I've innocently said that word to describe black people...

There is a language thing going on here: the translation for black in Portuguese, "preto", is a word that can have negative connotations down here (although it is far from being a forbidden word). The word "negro" is the PC one in use here, and by simple mistake I translated it back as "nigger" in the middle of a conversation.

There were only white people at the table, most of them Americans. The kinds of looks I've got when I said that word were... unique.

A good soul, trying to save me from the debacle, whispered to me "No, you can't use that word, it is a very bad word".

With my astounding knowledge of America through your movies, I did not believe her. I answered back, "No, how can it be? I've seen people using it in movies a lot of times".

To what they explained, "Well, if it is a black guy talking to another black guy, they may use this word, but you can not".

I swear that, upon watching movies, I've rarely registered the color of the person pronouncing the words. Apparently, I learned that day, to pay dear attention to someone's color is a very important thing so survive a dinner with Americans.

Hey Skipper said...

"Padding her bra & resume!" ... [is] clearly meant to be kind of offensive in a sexist way.

What is sexist about that?

erp said...

Clovis, perhaps you should listen to someone who knows a lot more about a subject than you, i.e., a native speak of English and citizen of the U.S. and is trying to help you through the rocky shoals instead turning defensive to prove you are right and the other wrong.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: " simple mistake I translated it back as "nigger" in the middle of a conversation."

LOL. Oh my! What an introduction to the topic of the most powerful word in the universe. I would've loved to see the expressions on the people's faces.

Unwittingly, you very slightly reduced the power of that word by doing that and forcing the people to hear and confront the word. And that, in my opinion, is a good thing.

Bret said...

Hey Skipper asks: "What is sexist about that?"

Only women (and I suppose cross-dressers and other not particularly common variants) can be non-authentic in that manner?

I'm not actually totally sure, I was going with the "subject line is disgustingly sexist" frat boy comment and not bothering to question it too much.

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] " simple mistake I translated it back as "nigger" in the middle of a conversation."

Heaven help you if you ever use the word niggardly.

Bret said...

And I've been wondering about the word "niggling." Should I avoid that word at all costs as well? It's somewhat related to niggardly.

erp said...

Nah. They're okay, no connection to the n-word, but best not use them anyway, so as to not upset the thought police.

Origin of NIGGARD
Middle English, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse hnøggr niggardly; akin to Old English hnēaw niggardly First Known Use: 14th century

Hey Skipper said...

[Hey Skipper:] What is sexist about that?"

[Bret:] Only women (and I suppose cross-dressers and other not particularly common variants) can be non-authentic in that manner?

Then the expression is an accurate metaphor. It is no more sexist than saying "... he replaced competence with swagger".