Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 09:41:00 EDT


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! :)