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Euphemisma

15/03/2014

Regular readers of this blog will know that although my politics are well to the left of pretty much anything given a hearing in the media I have little time for political correctness. Especially politically correct speech.

Words are not communication. They are tools for communicating with. What’s more they are infinitely flexible tools. If you take away someone’s word bludgeon they will quickly fashion another from something else – as the Germans have learned from their attempts to outlaw Nazi terminology. Changing words does not change the attitudes driving their use.

One generation’s politically correct euphemism quickly becomes the next generation’s hate speech when those who seek to denigrate others appropriate it for their own use. This ‘euphemism drift’ serves only to sabotage inter-generational and inter-cultural communication, even when there is only good will intended. At its worst it becomes a means of censoring those who don’t use it as hate speech at all – often the victims of the very hate speech that banning it is meant to suppress.

My Aboriginal grandfather would regularly and unintentionally shock people of my generation by referring to Aborigines as ‘darkies’. To him it was just a natural word to use and there was nothing derogatory about it – not even internalised self-directed racism. In an article I recently linked to which is very sympathetic to the plight of Aborigines author Will Storr repeatedly uses Aboriginal as a noun (instead of Aborigine), apparently oblivious to the fact that many in Australia consider it archaic and insulting (“I am a noun! Not an adjective!”). He was not to know but I bet a lot of his Australian readers were distracted by his ignorance. That many people are uncomfortable with the term ‘Aborigine’ is testament to the power of hate speech to transform otherwise innocuous words. (I wouldn’t want to insult Will Storr by calling him a Brit. He is just someone who suffers a touch of Britishness.)

Aboriginal activist and former diplomat, Stephen Hagan, even wants ‘Coon’ cheddar rebranded or removed from the shelves. It’s named after Edward Coon, inventor of the cheese cooning method used to make it. I wonder what he has to say about the ‘coon skin hats worn by American pioneers. Perhaps he would prefer those cute little animals to be called ‘rac-people-of-colour’.

If someone is using a word as a club to beat you take it off her and turn it into something else. That’s what African Americans have done with ‘nigger’ and it’s what I do with ‘boong’. It’s also what those who wish to propagate hate will do with whatever ‘acceptable’ term you try to replace it with, no matter how politically correct it may seem today. In the meantime, discussions among left wing activists will get tangled into incomprehensible knots as everyone tries to avoid using words that could conceivably be offensive to anyone anywhere at any time (except for words like ‘fascist’ and ‘Nazi’ of course).

Communication is difficult enough without adding a truck load of useless rules and regulations to give the superficial appearance that someone is saying something when he is not or not saying something when he is.

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From → confusion, racism

4 Comments
  1. Anna C. permalink

    Hi, thanks for checking out my American Gods review. I could not agree more with this post.
    I always think of one point in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” when a pack of schoolkids trail the autistic protagonist shouting “special needs! Special needs!” Originally intended as a nicer word for retarded, “special needs” became a pejorative the day it was introduced. The main character muses that as soon as a phrase begins to mean something, you have to change it.

    Like

    • When I was a kid one of the highest profile charities in the country was “The Spastic Centre”. They’re now “The Cerebral Palsy Association” and almost no-one has heard of them.

      As well as being an Aborigine I have bipolar and Asperger’s (or at least I did until they abolished it in DSM-V) so I have little hope of keeping up to date with whatever euphemisms are considered acceptable to describe me. “Crazy boong” is good enough for me, even though some of the people who say it are not.

      Like

  2. Often times, I am awed by your seemingly random knowledge.

    Like

    • Yeah, there’s a junkyard between my ears.

      Comes from living a long time and being easily distracted.

      Like

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