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Friday, October 26, 2012

You can't say that

The PC wars are eternal. This week the spotlight turned onto the University of North Carolina policy (actually a few years old) not to refer to first-year students as "freshmen" because that term is not "gender inclusive."

It's noteworthy but not surprising. We remember years ago our being chastised for suggesting that a group of people "man the phones" to accept calls. You can't use "man" when referring to people generally, we were told. We couldn't believe it. Since when? But our protestations were shouted down -- the correcters were quite strident about it -- and our life in the correct world had begun.

Can we call a woman or a woman, or is she now a "woperson," or perhaps just a "wo"? And "person" must also be out, since "son" is male. Perhaps female individuals are "perdaughters."

Yesterday we used the term "shuck and jive," meaning to act facetiously, in reference to local government's public involvement processes. We were informed later in the day that that's racist. One day last year we used the term "cotton-pickin'" in front of a group, thinking it was a general term of disapproval. Nope -- can't say that any more, either.

These aren't the first unpleasant surprises we've had over the years. We once used the term "gyp," meaning to cheat someone, and we got quite an earful about the etymology of that term. Other times, we knew as soon as we first heard it that a particular term or another was offensive, and we realized that we shouldn't repeat it. But sometimes a perfectly legitimate, innocent word is suddenly banished, even though it never had a harmful intent. And if you've been using it all your life, it's likely to slip out at some point or another no matter how vigilant you are about striking it from your vocabulary.

In the case of "freshman," the UNC is quick to point out that it's not telling anyone else what they can and cannot say -- it's just being sensitive in its own choice of words. That's an important point, but once the perception on the street is that a term is sexist, anyone who uses it in public will get scolded by some member of the audience who now has a gripe about it. The world gets a license to be offended.

If you ask us, keeping track of all the newly condemned terms is a bitch real chore.

Comments (44)

You should see the looks on people's faces when you say that Mr. So-and-so is a niggard.

Women are apparently so delicate that to refer to them as freshmen will confuse them and hurt their delicate feelings./sarc off/

Any rational women's rights group would denounce this stupidity as patronizing to women. Let's focus on real discrimination especially oversees where women are risking their live to be educated, to leave abusive family members etc.

It reminds me of certain women's groups who insist on being referred to as 'womyn' instead of 'women' to remove any reference to the root word, 'men'.

If Sarah Palin had used "rope a dope" to characterize Obama's fabricated response to the Libyan fiasco that term would have been banished as racist as well.

When I saw the post with the term in it yesterday I immediately thought of the recent flap (is that one?) over Palin's comments. Not worth mentioning at the time however because I knew the context in how you phrased it as opposed the way others have used it. Look, if you become so ultra hesitant to write it how you mean it, this blog site might easily get sideways (is that one?) and take a turn for the worse. Always good to careful in the word pasture minefield we call the English language, but even the best will step in wordsh!t once in a while.

Newleaf: any negative reference to Obama is considered racist.

Seems that way Richard, looks like it was OK for Jay Carney....

A lot of collegs have moved away from "freshmen," but not due to the presence of the word "men" in the word, but because it has a connotation to juveniles and immaturity. It is more and more common to find people going to college for the first time in their 30s and 40s, and for those people, "Freshman" would seem an odd word. So the more inclusive "first year student" is used instead.

There are, however, a lot of urban legends about certain terms having their origins in some racist slur. My wife, for example, always claims that "call a spade a spade" has a racial background, when in fact it has its origins in the 1540s, and is itself an adaptation of a Greed proverb from the first century.

Seems that way Richard, looks like it was OK for Jay Carney..../i>

Carney was using the word to apply to HIMSELF. The term has, without question, a racial origin. Given that, when people use it in reference to black people (as Sarah Palin used it against Obama), there is an unmistakable racist intent. When people like Jack use it innocently to describe something, or when people like Jay Carney use it to describe themselves, the very worst you could say is that they were being a bit careless.

You stodgy old man, don't you know that spending your life focusing on feelings and trying as hard as you can to not be offensive leads to real human progress such as extending longevity, reducing poverty, sickness, and injury?

Dave, I get it. It's Okay for people to put down and make fun of themselves using racially charged terms. Really, I hope you don't smoke and drool at the same time. What would/could you say about that?

The "hood" of my youth was a very friendly, good natured place, populated with micks, dagos, limeys, krauts and frogs. I don't remember when that scene changed. But, it did change.

Dave J, how do you know Jack used it "innocently", or Palin met "racist intent", or Carney was "a bit careless"? Are you now the arbitrator? Or a traitor?

The word "inclusive" offends me. So does having to be so painfully careful. I was going to make a joke about "freshman" being not so much gender-exclusive ("exclusive" offends me also unless I'm invited) as being agist against stalepersons. But then I see someone actually wrote it up seriously.

Honestly, the term "freshman" would never, ever, offend me used for anyone of any age who was off to their grand adventure in college. I would find it quite celebratory. Unless that would hurt the feelings of people who weren't having fun.

No, lw, he's a Democrat

You know what cracks me up? It's when you can use a word in writing as long as you don't spell it out. Suddenly it's safe because there's as asterisk instead of a letter. So if I told you to go f*ck yourself that would be okay because at least I was being genteel about it.

You know what cracks me up? It's when you can use a word in writing as long as you don't spell it out. Suddenly it's safe because there's as asterisk instead of a letter. So if I told you to go f*ck yourself that would be okay because at least I was being genteel about it.

Bill, have you seen Louis CK's bit about "The N-word?" The joke is that he hates reporters who use the term "The N-word" because they are making him say the word in his head, while they escape the responsibility of using the actual word. Very funny routine.

In the particular case of Palin, if you don't realize she was using that phrase as a dog-whistle call to the Tea Party base, you're either charmingly naive or watching way too much Fox News.

So, is UNC also not using "senior" and "junior" for their students?

They Seem to be potentially offensive terms

I haven't seen that bit but Seinfeld says Louis CK is the best out there. One of the fun things about my life is talking to comedians as they roll down the road sometimes. One guy even called from a freeway in Florida and urgently asked me for a Mapquest so he could make his turnoff. Yesterday I was talking to Dwight Slade as he rolled along in Indiana. He knows everybody so I wanted to ask him about this guy named Bill Burr.

I love what little I've heard from Bill Burr so far. Check him out on YouTube from something called "The Night of Too Many Stars." I just like his voice.

Here it is, Bill:

WARNING WARNING WARNING Highly profane language contained at this link WARNING WARNING WARNING

And then there was the story in the Big O about Portland's first professional basketball team, which couldn't be named because of the paper's absurd policy against sports team named after Indians, sorry . . . Native Americans (what was that name, anyway?). Now, where were the 1960 Winter Olympics held? Oh, yeah, in Female Native American Valley, of course.

Help me out here - I've occasionally used the phrases "that's like the pot calling the kettle black" and "let's call a spade a spade" for years, since they were used in my family when I was growing up.

Lately, I've been wondering if those phrases have racial meanings, so I quit saying them. Does anyone know the origin of either saying, or if we can still use them without getting frowned upon by the PC police?

I thought "spade" meant the suit in a deck of playing cards.

Anything that treats the color black as bad is now taboo. "Black eye" and "denigrate" will get you written up. Probably "black sheep" as well (also offensive to animal rights people).

Sophomoric comes to mind....


Lately, I've been wondering if those phrases have racial meanings, so I quit saying them. Does anyone know the origin of either saying, or if we can still use them without getting frowned upon by the PC police?

"Calling a spade a spade" goes back to the 1540s, is not racial, and has to do with the virtues of speaking clearly, without flowery language. The actual origin is even more interesting, however: (quoting an online source)

To call a spade a spade "use blunt language" (1540s) translates a Greek proverb (known to Lucian), ten skaphen skaphen legein "to call a bowl a bowl," but Erasmus mistook Gk. skaphe "trough, bowl" for a derivative of the stem of skaptein "to dig," and the mistake has stuck.

Somebody (not Jay Leno but maybe a wannabe) did their person-on-the-street interview on Obama being a "Keynesian". People's answers were great, and only one guy's answer involved macro-economics.

My question would be (like the first comment): why is Obama so niggardly?

Bill and Dave J, this thread is sort of going in the direction of Bill's fine post about Portland trying to be too nice that he posted last week. I think it was in regards to Jefferson Smith. I'm tired of worrying about measuring my words to make Portland nice.

Harry, your comment could be construed as highly offensive to the illiterate.

What with Jack, me and Chris Matthews -- I wonder if "shuck and jive" wasn't more commonly heard when we were young on the East Coast, and that in our innocence we never associated the phrase with anything racial, only with the ducking the facts idea. I will probably not use it again, but only because I now prefer to shout the bs word.

The one I have trouble with is in regard to retarded people. Apparently all the PC jerks must have been bullied and called retards while in grade school. The PC term is now developmentally disabled. OK, I can go there, but now they want to change it to developmentally delayed. I have news for the pc folks, they are never going to catch up.

The one I don't get is the switch from 'oriental' to 'asian'. I referred to someone as oriental once and was corrected by everyone , wtf?

"Developmentally disabled" is probably a couple decades old. The incoming term is "intellectually disabled" — most of the folks in this category develop exactly as they were born to develop. I don't even think it's much of a euphemism. If anything, it's just brutally accurate. "Retard" has been out of favor for a while now. It's mostly used as nasty insult against people who aren't that great at defending themselves. You should be ashamed of yourself if you think it's appropriate in any context.

Anyway, I do wonder what "intellectually disabled" will be replaced with.

How does "moron" survive? The internet has been its renaissance.

Zack, give me a break. You are a typical liberal idiot. You worry about the labels and not the consequences. The issue is that people of disability have a safety net and get the services they need. A parent of mentally disable people’s biggest worry is what will happen to their children after they are gone. They don’t give a sh*t of what the terms are, they are worried about the welfare of their children. I am not ashamed of myself for pointing out that it is not the label but what we are going to do for the welfare of these people.

How does "moron" survive? The internet has been its renaissance.

In my experience, I think the Internet has been the creation of "moran." I've seen people call others that on OLive more times than I can remember.

The funny thing about the "Tea Bagger dog whistle" is there are people who actually believe that. Just as people believe Bush had the Army Corps dynamite the levees in New Orleans, and the CIA spread crack and AIDS in south central L.A.

Palin has been derided by the left since she dared to run on the McCain ticket in 2008 as a complete dunce. So which is it? Is there a possibility she really didn't know shuck and jive is a racial term? Or is she really so smart she used a code word to bring out the crazies on the right and motivate them to vote against a half-white president?

I could buy the idea that "shuck and jive" is significant to someone over the age of 60 from the American south. I doubt it meant anything to Sarah Palin, or that she meant anything racial by saying it.

"Palin has been derided by the left since she dared to run on the McCain ticket in 2008 as a complete dunce."

It was the Wall Street Journal who termed Palin "an ignoramus of epic proportions." I had to commit this precious little phrase to memory to throw it at my spousal unit every time he would try to reiterate Faux News by saying she was "refreshing."

John, it seems like you missed the tone of my post completely. I'm reporting on a trend and sharing my opinions about the changes in our language. Rest assured that I am still willing to call a retard a retard when necessary. Like now.


In my experience, I think the Internet has been the creation of "moran." I've seen people call others that on OLive more times than I can remember.

Posted by Ex-bartender | October 26, 2012 4:27 PM

Moran got started based off a picture of a man protesting and his sign being misspelled in 2003. "Get a brain! Morans" is a decent resource for this stuff.

There's no limit to "correctness" crazes:

Santa's pipe edited out of classic poem
Santa's gone cold turkey—although he's still breathing second-hand smoke from those sooty chimneys. Vancouver, Canada, publisher Grafton and Scratch has released an edited version of Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem, "The Visit From St. Nicholas," better known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

Recently I had a talk with a PC colleague. She stated that she didn't 't like the new narcotics- prescriptions database Oregon has provided health practitioners to root out the cleverest doctor-shoppers and drug-seekers. The objection? It might encourage doctors to discriminate against patients. I laughed, stayed friendly, imagined how much I might like to retire to an island under a lot of blankets next to a wood stove, and never meet another human who hadn't also made the decision to retire from an increasingly insane society.

What the heck are kids learning in school? Whatever it is, as of last June, my last kid is out of the system, period, and we haven 't looked back.

I see that people are struggling here with what might or might not be considered racist. I found a very interesting website that has helped my thinking on this topic. I recommend

It also has a podcast with one or more comedians talking about this. Bon appetit!


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