Date: Thu, 16 Nov 1995 15:09:34 -0600


Subject: Re: Political Blunder

This reminds me of the other night when my 4-year-old son, frustrated with

trying to open a straw in a restaurant, suddently came out with "goddam!", much

to the shock of the elderly couple in the booth next to us. My unthinking

response was to say "WHAT did you say?", after which he gladly repeated

himself. I quit letting him watch one of his favorite movies, Forrest Gump,

for awhile. It's hard being a linguist and also being expected to instill

society's taboos in your child. E.g. at his preschool he can't use the common

household term "butt" but must say "fanny" instead.

Ellen Johnson (hey! I'm almost caught up on my mail)


From: IN%"ADS-L[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]" "American Dialect Society" 13-NOV-1995 09:42:40.07

Subj: RE: Political Blunder

On Mon, 13 Nov 1995, Sonja Lanehart wrote:

I still don't understand why the senator felt it necessary to repeat

what the caller said. If he really did hear it as a racial slur I don't

see why he would be so eager to repeat something like that--especially

on a radio talk show where so many people could hear it. I also don't

understand how repeating the slur was a way of reprimanding the caller.

It seems a better rebuke would have been enlightening the caller about

the inappropriateness of such a slur.

Granted, there are people--many people--for whom the word "nigger" is so

painful and invidious that they find it socially inappropriate for anyone

to utter it under ANY circumstances; for such persons, even repeating the

word with ironic intent (as I believe that Sen. Ford claims he thought he

was doing) would be considered socially inappropriate. On the other hand,

I can imagine myself in a situation in which I thought that someone had

used a phrase containing the invidious word in question and in which I

would be so shocked that I might conceivably repeat it back to the

utterer--my voice (I would hope) dripping with irony. For me, whenever I

hear someone use "nigger" in a "normal" way I am left virtually

speechless; sputtering with rage; conversationally inept. I agree that

there would certainly have been better ways for Sen. Ford to have handled

the situation. What I am maintaining is that, under the circumstances, it

could well have been an honest strategic conversational blunder brought

on partly by shock and partly by a desire to reprimand a constituent

without seeming too impolitic. I would hate to have to be held

responsible for all of my worst conversational missteps, and I think that

it is wrong simply to assume that the phrase is one that Sen Ford

approves of or uses regularly in conversation, or even that it indicates

racial bigotry on his part. As I understand it, he has given a public

explanation for his remark which contains an implicit apology and an

expression of abhorrence for the phrase in question. Given the facts as

they have been reported to me, I'd be willing to accept his explanation.