I grew up with the term "queer street" used by my British parents and would still use it today. The word "queer" has meant odd or curious or whatever for ages and any person who takes offense at the use of the word in such contexts is just ignorant or way too sensitive. When I am feeling nauseous or out-of-sorts, I still say I am feeling queer. "Nigger" is a different thing altogether - it describes a person's skin colour, with no other earlier meanings and came out of the whole era of "white" rule over people of clou;, it is a racially charged word. Just as the word "kaffir" in Africa actually is derived from the Arabic world supposedly used by Malay slaves/labour in South Africa to describe the European settlers who were considered infidels or non-beleivers because they were not Muslims. But it has taken on a whole new meaning and is highly offensive now.
Intro to this week's theme is very insightful and on point! Thanks.
Thanks for the sensitivity and explanation for the theme.
Words evolve and grow with connotations. Twain's use of the "N" word was appropriate for the time, and altering it rewrites his words, and dismisses the culture (or lack of) in which the word was used. It is a teaching/learning opportunity.
Adjusting connotations and definitions to fit the times is considerate and sensitive; but the "baggage" and "issues" words carry from their past, need to be respected.
The best way to alter the past is to adjust to it, and practice from its lessons.
My daughter once practically came to blows with a black woman in a seminar, about 'black humour'. The woman insisted it was a racial insult, and the tutor was weakly trying to persuade everybody simply to avoid using the term, which justifiably annoyed Jenny as a loss and slur to the English language. Fortunately, Jenny could assure the group it came from 'bleak humour' - and bleak originally meant grim or pale, or even white.
We were admonished not to use the term queer street to a "gay" person when the term 'gay' itself has been stolen from perfectly normal usage in my younger years. Can words so easily be lost to political correctness?
Word 'nigger' seems more likely to have derived from an anglicized pronunciation in the willful way of the English with 'foreign' words, of the word Niger, originally from the Roman latin for black (niger), in which area, the Niger River valley, was the cradle of African civilization and well known to the classical world.
Kind of funny... I'm German and when I saw the word "queer street" in the mail today, I associated it directly with the german word "Querstraße", what simply means a street going left or right from the main road you are just on.
How near can be words together and same time so far away
(Sorry for my bad english, one reason for the daily mail from wordsmith is, to get better
Yeah, we should all be careful about whatever we say anyway. People who don't know the REAL meaning of the word (or any word)can understandably take this term the wrong way. When I was a kid the word 'queer' meant simply 'different' or 'odd'; but as time went along it was derogitorily used toward gay people. So much so, that it seemed no longer to mean simply 'different'.
A friend of mine who is black told me of a meeting at work that he attended and someone used the word 'niggardly' which means reluctant to give or spend; stingy; miserly. This being a government meeting and funding always being an issue, the term was in a sense appropriately used. However; when a certain inflection is placed in the voice or eye contact is made with the only black person in the room when it was being said, even this can be inflametory.
Similarly the word 'homely' means different things in various contexts, and I imagine that the meaning has evolved over time.
I hear it as an offensive word, but I often read it where the context makes it clear that it is intended to be positive.
It's important to speak so your listeners understand what you are saying and write so your readers get the message, regardless of how ignorant we are.
You are correct in your opening message about how words and their usage can offend. For example, your term "blacks" could be considered offensive to African-Americans. The word "boy" has racial connotations that could also be considered offensive to them. The N-word has so many negative connotations no matter who uses it.
I think people who are homosexuals would want their friends to speak naturally and use the appropriate term when applicable. And I want to take back or reapply the meanings of queer and gay. It is a beautiful day in Maine, it makes me feel gay. And when I say that, I should not get queer looks from my co-workers. One reason I feel gay is that I am not on queer street because I have a great job.
What we need is a less clinical word than "homosexual" to describe people attracted to their own gender.
A quote from Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh):
Well, I’m the worst person to come to for advice. I’ve never been “short” as you so painfully call it. And yet what else could you sya? Hard up? Penurious? Distressed? Embarrassed? Stony-broke? On the rocks? In Queer Street? Let us say in Queer Street and leave it that way.
I've always associated the term with boxing, as in "...knocked him two blocks up Queer Street", usage in the same ball-park (ring? as discombobulated, disoriented, confused, confounded etc.
I found this week's theme very interesting and I look forward to the words.
As this is a forum of words, and this week's theme is offensive words, I wanted to add this thought... Something can only be offensive if someone takes offence to it... I am "offended" by segregation, so I am "Offended" by the term "African-American" the proper term is "American", more so when you realize that most of the people the term is applied to have never been to and are not from Africa...
You can try to Offend someone all you wish, if they do not take offence, you have not offended them... you may have made a fool of yourself, but you have given no offense.
Being "Offended" is giving power over yourself to another... if a fool uses a string of syllables that cause you to change how you are acting, that fool has controlled you... so who is the bigger fool?
Take no offense from this, because life is too short to allow fools to control it.
As a gay man, I wouldn't personally be offended by the use of the word "queer" in almost any context, particularly if someone knew me well enough that they were aware that I was gay. And overall, I presume people in general don't wish to offend. Only if the tone of the conversation was such that it was obviously used derogatorily, does it become offensive. One more point: the word "Queer" has been adopted by some as an alternative to the awfully pedantic LBGTQ-blahblahblah in literature and reporting. "Queer" has also now been used as a verb, meaning to make a situation queer by being completely out, preventing everyone thinking heteronormatively, e.g. I may actually have a husband, not a wife.
Interesting and very valuable point. If everyone could pull this off, so many Politically Correct issues and arguments would die on the vine. And many of them I consider a bane, like recently, the beer label "Albino Rhino" was pulled because someone with albinism considered it offensive. Hey, I'd love it if someone created a label "Queer Beer", lol.
Good reasoning Hamfast. With offenses it is the way you take it that decides offense or or no offense. In the case of "African American", "Irish American", "African German", "Moroccan" Dutch or "Bosnian French", in all cases it's a good thing to absorb an intended insult as a compliment and be proud of one's ancestry or disposition or profession.
The more tolerant a society, the less need of political correctness. On any issue.
Perhaps we need to look at how a hyphenated name is applied and by whom...
If I apply it to myself or you to yourself, it may indicate pride as you said. But if the hyphenated name is applied to us by someone else, it is more likely to indicate ignorance (of our background) or an attempt to put us in a group... to segregate us by some unimportant feature...
Oh, and TonyF, what about your beer is queer? does it taste a tad bit funny? Does it have some other odd feature? We could add an extra bit of flavor and some reddish coloring and call it "Ginger Beer"... make it stouter and call it "Ginger Ale" oh, wait, that is taken...
When our children were small, we told them that there were no "bad" words, but that any word could be a bad one if it was used to hurt someone. We all understand that most of the words considered bad in our language (or society) can be, and are, used in different contexts where they are not bad. And if I call someone a "cabbagehead" and my intent is to make them feel bad, to hurt them, to bully them, then "cabbagehead" is a bad word!
Niggardly ("stingy") has a Scandinavian derivation that predates our N-word by hundreds of years. Chaucer used it in the 14th century. It's a good word but I refrain from using it simply because it raises eyebrows even among educated people who misunderstand the meaning.
As a native San Franciscan who grew up in Chinatown and Nob Hill during the '60s and '70s, when I hear the term "queer street," I think of Polk Street, where homosexual men openly congregated and claimed as their first neighborhood. It was in close proximity to the schools I attended.
In regards to derogatory terms, I was ignorant and customarily used the "N" word throughout my grammar school years, not realizing that it was just as offensive as hearing someone refer to me as Chinaman, Chink, Slant Eyes, and Coolie.
Another old British expression referring to doing something to make an agreement go wrong is to "queer a deal." Not a sexual orientation reference, but an indication that something has gone wrong. Of course, that goes with the implication of the sexual orientation usage suggesting that someone's sexual preferences have "gone wrong." Another reason to avoid use of the word "queer" today.
Historically the term "nigger" was derived from the Latin, "niger" meaning black. There is a river of that name in Africa; a country named "Nigeria"; "Negro" is also drived from the same Latin root. So, black = niger = nigger. Technically, if you call someone "nigger" you are simply calling them "black." Mark Twain used "nigger" repeatedly in his classic "Huckleberry Finn" novel with (I believe) no malice of intent. But today, the N-word carries substantial additional baggage.
I once worked for a Greek fellow whose worst insult (often used) was to call someone a "Turk."
This all goes to the idea expressed above that the insult is in the intent and/or the perception, not the word itself.
Mark Twain used the word nigger because the people who he was writing about used the word nigger.
I have to say, I approach this week's theme with a mix of interest and caution. There are so many people to whom it is more important to defend word usage than to care about other people's feelings, and I don't understand it. There are so many words in the English language, it's not difficult at all to come up with alternatives when someone is hurt by specific terms. It is far worse to be hurt than it is to think twice before speaking.
Yes, it's interesting to discuss words, see where they came from, note that they had completely different meanings once, but it has its place (such as this forum!), and I see no reason to use these words in daily speech. I teach middle school, and we frequently have the discussion in class about what words are acceptable, and bottom line is the classroom is supposed to be a safe space for everyone, and everyone needs to participate in making it so - and that includes me not setting a bad example outside of the classroom. Not everyone has the luxury of "choosing" when to be offended. A bullied student doesn't "choose" to react with fear and anxiety when they hear the same word that has been used to bully them from an adult (or a fellow student) with "good intentions" and knowledge of etymology. (I'm a lesbian, and I remember what that was like; there are still words that get to me when used in certain contexts and by certain people). I never wanna be that person if I can help it, not to my students and not to the people of all ages around me.
If you keep repeating the same lack of acceptability... even those whom you've already chosen to single out will (eventually) believe you, or accept that your version has a valid place in the *discussion. It sounds like the M.O. of mainstream media. Like mob action, police don't like it because there's no control over the ideas. Think "flock of birds". Those with control issues are't very happy, because the statistical base is indeterminant. They'd all have to start over, changing (back) one person at a time, to reach the point of being comfortable again. Controling the use of words goes as far as our inability to understand their (individual) use. Some people don't or won't pay attention. Some are just assholes... from which we are familiar with what exudes.
I suspect trolls ran away from under the bridge because the water got too high. The've found what has become dryer ground... till the next flood.
like this theme. the word is not harmful but the intent and emotion are the measure of a slur or derogatory use.
In part, you are correct, there are many words that can be used in place of one that may be offensive, but in a climate where someone will try to be offended by anything you or I say we must apply reason and realize that they chose to be offended.
But I fear you are mistaken, we all get to choose when we are offended, while Pavlov had dogs, we have reason, we can use that reason if we wish.
You use a bullied child as an example, reacting to "fear and anxiety" when they hear a word used to bully them from another source (not just an adult), if you as a parent, teacher or Guardian addressed the issue as an issue of 2 parts, the first is words, words only hurt if you allow them to hurt... no matter how I call you "Magpie" unless you choose to be offended, I have just been acting the fool, if you choose to take my words to heart and feel offended, you chose that, you gave me control... so you know, I chose "Magpie" because it can be used to refer to a gossip.
The Second part of being bullied is the physical part, the Assault and Battery component, Assault is the threat of violence, battery is the actual violence. If a child is threatened with Violence, they need to know that their Parents, Teachers, Guardians, School Administrators, Policeman and so on will take that seriously, it's a Crime to threaten violence, punish the criminal and make an example of them (and their Parents and Guardians as well if they choose to teach their children that being a bully is acceptable), but there is still no reason to be "Offended", that just empowers the bully.
I must assume your preference of partners was what was used against you in your past, such an unimportant item to anyone beyond you and your partner... Red cars and blue cars, some folks like red, some like blue, we only have problems when people who like Red cars try to make people that like blue cars like red cars... think about it, every argument over preferences can be made silly by replacing the choices with "Red Car" and "Blue Car", try it in your own life, it works.
I've met very few people who go out of their way to be offended, but I have met plenty of people who go out of their way to use offensive words that they know will provoke and then pull a wide-eyed faux-innocent 'but I didn't mean anything bad by it'. Being offended is not fun. Believe me, I derive no pleasure from it. It just hurts.
Yes, it's to some extent possible to train oneself out of the more immediate or visceral reactions to hurtful words, but why should that be the main solution? That people who have already been hurt be forced to change and reinforce themselves so that other more fortunate people be allowed to speak without consideration?
(Also, you assume it's not already being done. Society will always be full of inconsiderate people who think only of their own convenience, training oneself not to react every time is just plain self-preservation, but learning to survive doesn't mean I think we should strive for a society that caters to inconsideration.)
(And secondly, there's a huge difference between a word like "magpie" that is being used for someone personally, and words that have been used towards specific minorities in combination with physical abuse and murder. Using a homophobic slur carries with it all the hurt that has been done to gay people throughout history and is still being done. It makes me think 'is it unsafe for me to be alone with this person?')
Thinking twice so as to do one's best not to offend takes very little time or energy on the part of the speaker, unlearning a response that have come out of people deliberately wanting to hurt you can take a really long time and be a very painful process, if you succeed at all. Not everyone does. Why would you want to keep hurting people when you don't have to?
My son was born with a club foot. When I told my sister, she asked if he was deformed and I decided there and then not to ever be offended by anybody in respect of his club foot and to raise him to hopefully rebuff insults as well - I would rather use the opportunity to educate and sensitize people. So I calmly told her that he was indeed deformed, abnormal, misshapen, malformed etc and we have raised our son to understand the meanings of those words and to not necessarily take offence and to educate or ignore if offence is intended. Becuase mean people will find ways to be mean - one nasty child in my daughter's class said to her: "What's it like to have a brother who can play golf with his foot?". So we all have to learn to rise above and that is exactly what I do when I feel offended as a woman, which can be several times a day if I allow it or am feeling a little low myself, but generally I get a lovely warm glow of superiority and either confront the prejudice or just mark them down as a person to be avoided and deprecated to others in the mildest, unoffensive terms!
Hilarious attempts at 'political correctness' (a phrase so poisonous and poisoned that it must always be used in quotes now, somewhat like holding an odious and stinking object at arm's length) in these posts, as well as some sensible remarks. 'something-American' has long since passed ludicrousness and made it to truly 'offensive'--not only are most 'African-Americans' not from Africa, my god, what if you err and call a 'JAMAICAN-American' an 'African-American'!?!?! I myself am NOT Caucasian-American, thank you very much, though my skin is 'white'(for lack of a better term) in comparison with skin which is 'black' (also for lack of a better term.) I am gay and have an intimate black friend with whom I had a funny conversation on this subject: Helen said to me 'Honey, I am sure you realize that there are blacks and then there are NIGGERS.....' to which I replied 'Dear, I am sure you realize that there are gays and then there are FAGGOTS.....!' When we finished roaring, Helen said 'and only the group it applies to is EVER allowed to use the term, yes?' We both agreed that among blacks, or gays, or any other 'group,' the most derogatory slurs are used regularly and gleefully--indeed, sometimes constantly--and no one is about to try to censor this. Ergo, the ever-increasing asininity and attempted bowdlerization of public non-discourse is the *ultimate* insult. I was delighted to read a post or two which said that people wear not chips but woodblocks on their shoulders now, SEEKING to be 'offended'--it is part of the utter decline of manners, social skills, and intelligence which has become the story of this country.
Welcome. Yes, there is a high sensitivity category in the insult-offense matter. Some people don't even need words to find offense. Just look them in the eye and risk a threat or blow. Don't know what moves them.
'Political correctness' is also present in the world of jobs and professions. Cleaning ladies are hard to find. You have to look for 'interior caretaker' ( at least in my country) The word laborer is gone completely. It moves from production cooperator to production assistant. No garbage man but environment-cooperator, etc.etc.
I am really fed up with these ill-educated thin-skinned people of self-presumed entitlement whining about language use which has been traditionally acceptable (both socially and academically) until their own recent burst into the scene with all their demands to be treated as 'equally part of' yet at the same time being seen as being 'different'.
They betray themselves as ignorant.
I think the choice and selection of last week's words--including the theme--was well chosen and well presented by those who obviously have more educational qualifications than do their detractors.
People! When you make such a fuss displaying such nouveau ignorance you only display your Lilliputian Yahoo-ism.
I am loathe to appear niggardly, especially as I do understand the issue to be a tar baby--but it is very queer indeed. These complainers imagine themselves to be cockshies ["me ! me ! me !"] but surely 'cocksure' is more apt.
(and I suppose we should all cease reading Fairy Tales to our grandchildren ??)