Date: Tue, 25 Oct 1994 08:28:52 EDT


Subject: Re: offending idiot

In response to Roger Vanderveen's reply to Salikoko Mufwene, there

would seem to be more explanation of the term "trivialization." For me,

offending idioms have huge distinctions of offense: a "dunce" was once

very mocking of the followers of John Duns Scotus and its later translation

as a term for any ignorant person gave it lasting negativity; however a

"guy," which was once a derogatory term for traitorous individuals (from

Guy Fawkes--it's a long story), lost negative weight as history blurred a

brief incident of rebellion. "Nigger," however, has hundreds of years of

corrosive racism attached to it as it jumped from its Spanish origin into

English. Its application to a large group who happened to have extra

melanin in their skin carried the notion of chattel, slave, one to be

bought and sold as a mule in the marketplace. We, who feel enlightened,

must frown in amazement at the fact that our Civil Rights Movement barely

edged through the 1960's, that apartheid only now has seen its demise. The

offending word is so un-trivial that anecdotes about dogs given the

appellation with tones of "I don't understand what the big deal was" cause

not knee-jerk reactions, but a more heart-wrenching sense that this

horrendous history of the term has somehow been diminished to a kind of

fluff that we can laugh about. These levels of distinction in offending

idioms make some terms so connected to past wickedness that they cannot be

spoken of without that connection in mind. So, while "Indian" may offend

and "Native American" is now "politically correct" (or maybe humanly

correct), we know that the Western moniker was given under the mistaken

assumption that we "white folk" had somehow reached the isles of India and

thus its offense bears less of a load on the human consciousness.