Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 09:41:00 EDT
From: Larry Horn LHORN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YALEVM.CIS.YALE.EDU
Subject: Re: rat's ass, nigger, redneck,...
On the first item,"to not give a rat's ass" is one of a myriad--indeed, of an
open class--of expressions designating minimal, worthless, negligible, or
otherwise unworthy items that appear in such negative polarity contexts. These
have been catalogued since the 19th century (Pott 1857 invoked the formula
'nicht einmal das', or 'not even a...' to describe how these negative
reinforcers work) and involve domains from the culinary (not worth a crumb, an
egg, a fava, a fig [possibly some sexual metaphor here, as we've discussed
a while back?], a garlic) and the monetary (not a sou, a dinero, a red cent, a
plugged nickel) to the body part (not a hair, a mosquito, a cat's tail, a rat's
ass) to the linguistic (not an accent, a tittle or jot). (Some of these are
literal translations from the Sanskrit, Latin, Old Spanish, or Basque.)
Practices differ cross-linguistically--in Dutch, items of sexual and especially
excretory reference are especially frequent as reinforcers--but in general any
entity whose extension is small or inconsequential enough to count as atomic in
the appropriate context can be used in this frame.
Re "nigger": I find it hard to improve on Mish's response.
Re "redneck": Some asymmetry here with "nigger". The jokes about "You
might be a redneck if...", popularized but I think not invented by Jeff
Foxworthy, couldn't have a similar jocular-but-not-terribly-loaded parallel
with "nigger", "kike", etc. There's also the whole issue of the reclamation of
derogatory terms WITHIN the derogated group (Niggahs with attitude, "queer",
and so on vs. their use by out-groupers.
And while the free-speech vs. right-not-to-be-offended issue is complex--
consider the "right" to post swastikas, and consider that right in the context
of a resurgent Nazi-like movement-- I don't think bandying about the "PC"
label is particularly enlightening. And finally, when
Terry Irons writes:
I find the to-do about the Confederate Flag an rather interesting trivial
flap. For the flag of the USA govt actually represents a system that has
oppressed and harmed far more people than the Confederacy ever did. Just
how many people did this government kill in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam,
etc.? How much exploitation continues today in developing
nations, especially in the Pacific Rim, because the US military
keeps illegitimate govts in power? Jeutonne's statement would be
better written with "American flag" in place of "Confederate Fag."
I'd be more careful how you bandy about those slurs! :)