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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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Final chapter in the parade of possums . . .

This posting was prompted by an e-mail from my son-in-law in Wylie, Texas extolling his success in removing a possum from his attic, one that had effectively kept the family awake for many nights. This was the first of two possums he removed from the attic—the first one he captured fared well—that worthy was benevolently released into the wild. The second one that succumbed to the lure of a baited trap would pay the ultimate price for its continued rambling at night in the upper reaches of the house at Seis Lagos in Wylie, Texas.

You can read his description of the penalty applied to the second rambling rodent here—well, possums are not really rodents, however much they may look like a giant rat. They are, in fact, marsupials—much maligned marsupials.

This is my response to his e-mail:

Reading this thrilling saga of the successful conclusion to your PETA (Possums Everywhere in The Attic) problem took me back to the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

Yep, I was there, except for 1930,1931 and the first eight months of 1932—I began my sojourn on our planet on the nineteenth day of the ninth month of 1932, and so far it has been a great ride. Actually the ride began some nine months earlier. Should your interest be titillated (by my birth, not by my conception), that event and related personal information can be found here, titled “Unto you this day a child was born . . .

For three decades (the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s), the exploits of Frank “bring ’em back alive” Buck dominated the American media. He was portrayed on radio and in newspapers, magazines, movies, newsreel shorts, comic strips, comic books and full-length novels as a great hunter and humanist that preferred to capture wild animals rather than slaughter them and mount their heads on walls.

He also purchased wild animals, probably far more than he captured, and sold them to zoos and any other organization in need of exotic animals, His humane treatment of them, however acquired, won him the sobriquet of “bring ’em back alive.” The term was not conferred on Buck—it was coined by the great hunter himself in a media interview, but was quickly adopted by the media, the American public and the rest of the world.

There is a plethora of Frank Buck information on the internet – just Google “Frank Buck” and you’ll get answers to questions you would never think to ask.

JUST A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Born 1894, died 1950 (lung cancer).

Married at 17 (the bride was 41).

Divorced, later married his “soul mate,” used profits from a poker game to finance the wedding.

Was particularly fond (?) of a female orangutan named Gladys – could find no specifics on her age, personal appearance or attributes, but she was reputed to be ‘highly intelligent.” I did learn from “The Free Dictionary ” that, as an orangutan, she was “one of the large anthropoid apes of the family Pongidae,” and that she had “long arms and arboreal habits.” (Hey, no wonder he was fond of her!)

Was a world famous hunter, explorer, author, actor and film director.

Fell out of favor in the ’40s because of his apparent racism and the divergence of the American public regarding the practice of confining wild animals in zoos rather than allowing them to live out their lives naturally in their natural habitats.

Made lots of money supplying animals to zoos – in fact, was commissioned by the city of Dallas in 1922 to populate its entire zoo.

Congratulations on your capture of this magnificent animal, and kudos on your decision to return him (or her, as the case may be) to the wild, even though he (or she, as the case may be) is probably traumatized, confused and bewildered by the abrupt uprooting from familiar and comfortable surroundings.

He (or she, as the case may be) will be drawn towards his former sumptuous surroundings (or hers, as the case may be), and the odds are very high (odds in reverse proportion to winning the Texas Lotto) that he (or she, as the case may be) will be deliberately flattened near the end of that journey by a Seis Lagos teenager exceeding the speed limit in an SUV.

Not really – I just made that up – I don’t believe it for one minute. What I do firmly believe is that your catch was a teenage possum. He was sad and lonely, and that’s why he stayed up most of the night, roaming the attic, pining over the loss of his sweetheart and keeping Kelley awake. His one true love was trapped by your next-door neighbor (remember?) and transported to (are you ready for this?) the same wooded area in which you released your possum.

By this time they will have been reunited and, perhaps at this very moment, are doing everything they can to increase the present possum population in Wiley, Texas (that has a nice alliterative ring—present possum population). And had you released him in Plano it would have increased Plano’s present possum population.

You will hereafter be known world wide, but particularly by everyone in your family and related families in Plano, Austin, San Antonio and elsewhere as  “Bring ’em back alive Brantley” (I’ll see to it by spreading the word). My heart swells with pride at your accomplishment and by your being a significant part of my family.

All seriousness aside, I’m glad you got the rascal–he loved pacing the attic floor above the Dyer Suite also.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2010 in actor and acting, Books, Family, Humor

 

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