Date: Fri, 31 Oct 1997 19:57:39 EST
From: Monkmag Monkmag[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: Re: PC Dictionaries?
In a message dated 10/28/97 9:45:51 AM, you wrote:
On Tue, 28 Oct 1997, STEVE ALLEN NOLDEN wrote:
I am a Black man, not African-American, and the use of the word "Nigger"
or shall I say the definition of the word, in the Merriam dictionary
greatly offends me. Who gave them the right to define any one person or
race. Is the publisher of Merriam God. Nope.
Of course Merriam-Webster is not God: this is precisely the reason why it
cannot define a word in whatever way it pleases. God might change
language; a dictionary cannot. A dictionary records language; it has no
power to determine or change it.
So what gives him the
right to call me a "Nigger."
M-W is not "calling" anyone anything. It is truthfully recording the
(unfortunate) fact that some speakers of American English do in fact use
the term to refer to black people in a derogatory manner. Pretending
otherwise would be dishonest and would not change the fact that the usage
This brings up an interesting point. I was recently asked by an interviewer in
Portland, "should certain words be retired?" She was referring to offensive
uses of words like "babe." As in, "hey babe." Of course, I railed against such
a notion, since they reek of literal-minded, one-dimensional political
correctness. But perhaps at the root of Mr. Holden's and NAACP's protest is a
desire for just this--a retiring of the "n-word." Keep in mind--this sort of
thing is frequently done in other countries. There is an institute Paris,
which determines which foreign words can or cannot be used in advertisements,
etc. And in Germany, the outlawing of a whole slew of words associated with
the Third Reich. Is there a point, EVER, where the retiring of volatile words
could be deemed necessary for the greater public interest?
My answer at this juncture seems to be a flat out NO. One of the tests of a
democracy is its ability to contain disparaging and ugly uses of language.
But I am interested to hear if there are cogent counterarguments to this