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What’s in a name? The N-word by any other name would mean the same

The following comment was made by a fellow blogger somewhere in the British isles. Click here to read the post that prompted his comment.

Submitted on 2011/03/06 at 9:06 pm
helpforyourenglish.wordpress.com
john-dough@live.co.uk

Who wrote the “rules’ of grammar? Grammarians. How did they decide what to write in their grammar” books? By observing what people said and wrote – usage. Then they came to their own ‘theories’ of what English grammar is (or might be) based on those observations and usage. Grammarians did not invent English. As such, grammar is descriptive and should not be prescriptive. From my experience, using was in your example rather than were is much more common. Trying to prescribe that people should use the subjunctive mood’ in that situation makes it sound like the English language is stuck in some Latin time warp. It’s not really worth getting worked up about.

This is my reply to the British grammarian’s comment:

Thanks for the visit, and thanks for the comment. In far too many instances, comments by viewers are content with saying Nice blog, or I agree or Your blog sucks, etc., but your comment is well written, to the point and welcomed. My first reaction was to respond at some length, but I realized that the subject is worthy of a separate posting on my blog. Stay tuned if you like—with my lack of typing skills it will take some time to create and publish.

And this is the separate posting I promised the British—an assumption on my part—blogger.

Dear John,

As I promised in my initial response to your comment, I have expanded my response into an essay that concentrates on current language restrictions in the United States. You cannot possibly know how pleased I was to receive a real comment rather than the usual one or two phrases given by others, comments such as nice blog, keep up the good work, you suck, etc. Comments such as yours are rare, to be treasured and responded to in kind.

Your comment has inspired me to reply in detail, perhaps more detail than you expected or wanted, and has given me far more than enough fodder for yet another lengthy essay on the use of the English language. I will cheerfully give you credit for stimulating me in that effort.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that you have touched a nerve with your comment’s statement that It’s not really worth getting worked up about. I submit to you that every teacher of English or for that matter every teacher of anything, regardless of the subject, should get worked up about the misuse of established English language mores when people with ivy league educations, some with multiple diplomas—attorneys, authors, doctors, high-ranking business leaders, presidents, millionaires and billionaires in industry and in entertainment venues—continuously violate the most simple rules—yes, rules—of everyday English.

I expect it from rappers, but not from the rest of our society—not from our president and not from the poorest children existing in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia or in the Okeefenoke Swamp area in south Georgia. As for ebonics, I abhor the term and refuse to discuss it, capitalize it or use it in a sentence—in fact, I will not even mention it in this essay—not even once.

The errors in everyday English that I discuss on Word Press are the little things in our society as regards proper English. My sainted mother, in 83 years of living, loving and learning accumulated hordes of homilies, parts of speech defined as inspirational sayings or platitudes. One of her favorites and also one of mine is the saying that admonishes us to take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. Following established rules is one of the little things, and effective communication is one of the big things.

The fact that the use of was rather than were is more common is not justification to continue using it. If that were true—note the if and the were—many, perhaps most of us, particularly in certain geographic regions, would still be spelling out and enunciating the word nigger instead of crouching behind the N-word wall.

It is an immutable fact that when we voice that alternative word as the N-word, our listeners know full well that the psuedo word has been substituted for the real word, the one that resides in the speaker’s thoughts, and thus immediately is projected and comes to rest in the listener’s thoughts, and the speaker, the user of the non-word N-word, put it there, and the listener can place a suitable target—I mean label—on the speaker by charging racism. The very fact of not voicing the pejorative term raises the shade on the speaker’s thoughts and shines the bright light of reality on the term, one that was, and still is, common in many countries, including yours.

There is a host of words on which we place no restrictions on their spelling in our writings or in our conversations—we may decry their use, but that use is common in literature and in everyday speech. That includes such words as honky, whitey, jew, kike, redneck, abie, chink, jap, greaser, frog, goy, kraut, polack, guido, limey (those of the British persuasion should take special note of that one), paddy, nazi, slant-eye, slopehead, nip, squaw, uncle tom and zipperhead. The list goes on forever, yet our society and its preoccupation with political correctness does not mandate us to prefix any of those words with a capital letter and substitute a made-up term for the pejorative term—J-word for jews and japs, for example, or K-word for kike and kraut, S-word for slant-eye, slope-head and squaw and L-word for limey—go figure!

Yes, the list goes on forever and we will forever continue to create new pejoratives to add to that list. Regardless of the list’s length, we can freely use any of those terms in writing, not as pejoratives in and of themselves but as support for whatever communication we are presenting to our reading audience—any of those terms except one—can you guess which one? I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two won’t count.

If the bromide that tells us that the thought is as bad as the deed is true, then every English speaker in the world is guilty, whether or not racially biased. When we voice the acceptable euphemism N-word, the banned word is in our thoughts, and it resounds just as loudly in our brain and in the listener’s  brain as when we actually pronounce the banned word.

Just one more thought and I’ll release you and my viewers from bondage. A bromide in the English language is defined as a figure of speech meaning a tranquilizing cliché. Our use of the term N-word is a bromide, a figure of speech meaning a tranquilizing cliché. A bromide is also defined as conventional wisdom overused as a calming phrase, a verbal sedative.

This bromide has been foisted upon us as a tranquilizer, a medication, a verbal sedative prescribed by a liberal society in order to render us placid, peaceful and pliant, to purposely place us in that somnolent state of glorious oblivion—asleep—and to keep us there.

I propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America to allow us to call a spade a spade, a time-worn bromide that is now regarded as an epithet, a pejorative term, one that if used by a conservative member of Congress would probably bring Jackson, Sharpton, Braun, Powell, Conyers, Chisholm, Range, Jordan, Hastings, Jackson-Lee, Jackson Jr., Cummings and a host of others out of their respective congressional seats and on their respective congressional feet to simultaneously shout, Racist, racist, racist!, all wanting to order and exact the same penalty decreed by the Queen in the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland—Off with their heads!

For proposing that amendment my head would be on the chopping block, perhaps the first to tumble into the waiting handbasket, yet I am guilty of nothing more than wanting to bring a modicum of sanity to our nation. Our national ship of state is drifting aimlessly on a sea of insanity as regards the use of words considered to be pejorative. As a nation we can consider ourselves to be an asylum for the insane, with the patients giving the orders—again, as regards the use of pejorative words and phrases.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a Kool cigarette . . .

My mother smoked cigarettes from my earliest memories all the way to her eightieth birthday, and periodically during those years she said, I’ll stop smoking when I’m eighty. On her eightieth birthday, just as she had promised, she stopped smoking and she stopped cold turkey—no dependence on any system designed to control the habit. She lived another three years, then died following bypass surgery for an aneurysm near the heart—the doctors said that her lungs were in remarkably good condition, especially considering her past history of smoking.

Hers was one of the surgical situations in which the operation was a success but the patient died.

In my early years she smoked Kool cigarettes, those with mentholated tobacco and a cork-tip for filtration—smokers addicted to that brand probably believed that although they were damaging their body they were being medicated for the damage at the same time. As far as I know the maker never claimed that, but there is no doubt that some smokers believed it to be true—my mother was one of those believers. For those not familiar with the brand, it was represented by Willie the Kool Penguin, beginning in 1934 and ending in 1960, and there is no doubt that Willie sold a lot of Kool cigarettes.

The first cigarette I smoked was a Kool—well, it was the first cigarette I attempted to smoke—I couldn’t make it go. My mistake was in trying to set fire to the filter-tipped end instead of the tobacco filled end, the part that was supposed to be lighted. All I got was a really nasty taste and a really bad smell in the area where I tried to light the cigarette, a smell composed of burning cork, burning tobacco and burning mentholatum, a real bummer. I was a first-grader somewhere along in my first year of schooling at Miss Mary Stokes’ Elementary School in Columbus, Mississippi. Click here for an excellent posting, even if I say so myself!

You can also find the information on Miss Mary Stokes’ school by clicking here.

Following my failure to light the cigarette I quickly consigned it and the burned match to our outdoor privy—toilet—and opened doors and windows throughout the house and fanned a magazine all through the house in an attempt at fumigation. It must have been effective, because none ever knew about my first attempt to smoke—my family may be learning about it with this posting.

I hate to admit it, but my next attempt to smoke was highly successful, accomplished at age fourteen, establishing a habit that continued for more than twenty years. I ran out of cigarettes one night and simply never bothered to ever smoke again—I never bought another carton or another package of cigarettes, nor did I ever bum a smoke from another smoker—I simply quit—cold turkey. I’m unsure why I stopped, but I may have heard a silent voice saying ominously—it is time—shudder, shudder!

Now travel with me back to Eleventh Street South, a street block on which I lived at one end and Fuqua’s Grocery stood at the other end. Back in those days—the good old days—one could purchase a cigarette with one penny—any brand of cigarette. If the proprietor had no open package of the brand desired, he would open a new pack in order to satisfy the customer and make the sale. There was no prohibition on children smoking—it was a practice generally frowned on, but nobody ranted and railed at seeing children smoking, nothing more than a tsk, tsk, perhaps.

I had the requisite penny and I decided to buy a cigarette. My mother had often given me a penny and asked me to go to the store and get her a Kool cigarette, so my request for a Kool came as no surprise to Mr. Fuqua. Of course, I took no chances—I lied and told him that my mother had sent me for the cigarette, and he had no reason to think I was being somewhat untruthful.

As an aside, in those days the owner also maintained a supply of saltine crackers available for purchase by the piece—for the price of one penny, a customers could get sausage or cheese and two crackers. Five cents for an eight-ounce Coke, a 12-ounce Pepsi or a 12-ounce RC Cola, then five cents more for ten crackers and five slices of cheese or sausage made a sumptuous meal for many people, including workers, during the days of the Great Depression—a depression that lasted far longer in the southern part of our nation than in other parts.

That’s it—that’s the story of my first attempt to smoke. I can pinpoint the year and almost to the month and day when I smoked the last cigarette. It was definitely in 1967 in the wee small hours of a Saturday morning in the spring—it was a filtered Winston cigarette that I huffed and puffed right down to the filter while fishing on Medina Lake, a fisherman’s paradise some thirty miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. My fishing companion was Charley, a friend from work that smoked Swisher Sweet cigars and—-well, I’ll stop there and finish the story in a later posting. Stay tuned!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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I remember Earl Wilson . . .

I remember Earl Wilson . . .

The purpose of this posting is to introduce Earl Wilson to the multitudes of people that were not around to enjoy his contributions to our society through his varied writings, and in a small way to bring him back, even if only for a brief time to a brief few.

From Wikipedia: Earl Wilson (May 3, 1907 in Rockford, Ohio—January 16, 1987 in Yonkers, New York) was an American journalist, gossip columnist and author, perhaps best known for his nationally syndicated column, It Happened Last Night. Wilson’s column originated from the New York Post and ran from 1942 until 1983. For a biographical sketch of the famous columnist, click here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Wilson_%28columnist%29.

I read Earl Wilson’s column faithfully over a period of many years, and I still remember many of the quotations attributed to him. For a comprehensive listing of those quotes, click here: http://creativequotations.com/one/2506.htm.

Earl sometimes referred to his Earl’s Pearls as Oil’s Poils—Brooklynese, perhaps, for the term. An internet search for that expression was fruitless, as was my memory of Wilson’s treatment of Thirty days hath September . . .

The following web site has 73 variations of Thirty days hath September—http://www.leapyearday.com/30Days.htm, but it does not include the one I remember best—the one I have parroted frequently over the years—this one:

Thirty days hath Septober,

April, June and Octember,

All the rest eat peanut butter,

Except grandma

And she drives a Cadillac.

Did I mention that I read Earl Wilson’s columns over a period of many years? Well, I did, and I still remember many of the quotations attributed to him. As a starter for those not familiar with Wilson’s wit, here’s a sampling of his quotes:

An exhaustive study of police records shows that no woman has ever shot her husband while he was doing the dishes.

Poise: the ability to be ill at ease inconspicuously.

Benjamin Franklin may have discovered electricity, but it was the man who invented the meter who made the money.

Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.

This would be a much better world if more married couples were as deeply in love as they are in debt.

Saying Gesundheit doesn’t really help the common cold, but its about as good as anything the doctors have come up with.

Success is simply a matter of luck—ask any failure.

Somebody figured it out—we have 35 million laws trying to enforce Ten Commandments.

Always remember, money isn’t everything, but also remember to make a lot of it before talking such fool nonsense.

Spend enough time on the quotations site, and I promise you that you’ll garner enough one-liners to dominate almost any cocktail party, reunion, pajama party or any other gathering—the younger people there will have never heard of Earl Wilson, and the older people there will have forgotten both him and his prodigious output of Earl’s Pearls.

Trust me on my analysis of people at cocktail parties, reunions, pajama parties and any other gathering—I was a younger person for a considerable length of time, and I’ve been an older person for an even longer length of time—I know whereof I speak and therefore have earned the right to advise—so trust me!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Humor, newspapers, Writing

 

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