Manufactured Offenses

by admin on April 25, 2012

In the “Miserly Hosts Make Guests Miserable” post last week,I used the very appropriate word, “niggardly”, to describe the miserably miserly actions of the hosts in the story towards their guests.    Several readers took issue with the use of the word:

Sorry I didnt know where else to put this but I have to object to admin’s use of the term niggardly in response to the story listed above about the terrible hosts. Its an awful word and there are plenty of others that could convey the same sentiment. Thanks

Niggardly? Really? It’s archaic. Like me claiming asking the gyno to take a look at my itchy c**t is fine, because c**t is a good honest Shakespearian word. (edited by the Admin to bleep out the actual word)

At least in the US, the word niggardly would be considered as insulting as to jew someone down on a price, or be an Indian giver. No need to publish this comment, but you may want to reconsider your choice of word in your response to this story.

I suppose it is to be expected that someone will take issue with a word they clearly associate as being racist due to its phonetic similarity to a reprehensible racial slur. The problem is that “niggardly” and “n****r” have completely different etymologies.   From Wikipedia:   “The word niggardly (miserly) is etymologically unrelated to nigger, derived from the Old Norse word nig (stingy) and the Middle English word nigon.”    The Straight Dope web site has a good post on this very subject here.    The visual image I get when using niggardly is Scrooge.  You know, Dickens’ Scrooge.  An old, rich, white miser.  (Oh, heavens, will my use of DICKens cause some apoplexy from the sexually squeamish?)     Niggardly is no more related to a racial epithet than shitzuh, shittum and Shitake is about excrement.

I even received negative comments about the title of another recent post on the wedding etiquette blog, Hell’s Bells, titled “Coloured Guests”, which those writing to me claimed was racist. (The blog post was about guests wearing inappropriate colors to a wedding.) The reasoning being that I had tricked them into thinking the blog post was about black wedding guests. That manufactured offense said more about those commenting that it did about my use of a perfectly good word in the proper context.

These are good examples of how etiquette does not require that we be doormats to every Tom, Dick, and Mary demanding we alter our behavior that is not meant to be offensive or apologize for their ignorance.   We should not be bullied into dropping perfectly good words from our vocabulary merely because someone has a heightened sense of offense founded either on their ignorance of word origins or from a willful desire to be offended at every opportunity.

Just because you are offended does not equate to you having a right to be offended.

{ 228 comments… read them below or add one }

Rug Pilot April 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Eschew bombastic grandiloquence!

Reply

Brenda April 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm

On one forum, they were so paranoid about saying the wrong thing that some people got upset and thought it racist that someone used the word Negro. It didn’t matter that I pointed out in another comment that it was an appropriate word, and that the UNCF was fine with it, it was too close to the slang descended from it.

Reply

Amelia April 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm

When I saw ‘niggardly’ on your post, my first reaction was, “WHAT!?!??!?!” But, being the good linguist that I am, I decided to look into it. I even did a post on the word that day on my blog http://lovelylittlelexemes.blogspot.com/2012/04/niggardly.html (With a link back, I love your blog).
Not only are ‘niggardly’ and ‘n****r’ not related, the former predates the latter by two centuries. To further distance the two, ‘niggardly’ has purely Germanic roots while ‘n****r’ is sourced by romance languages.

*note, if you do go to my post, I don’t censor the racial slur, so don’t go there if you’re easily offended.

Reply

Kaiti April 25, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I understood your use of “niggardly” in the original post, but I must admit my initial reaction was of the O.o type – I know the word, I know what it means, and I also know that many other people don’t. And knowing how a perfectly valid word has been tainted by its phonetic similarities to a racial insult, I can’t for the life of me fathom why anyone would choose to use it, when there are so many other options available.

Reply

Yarnspinner April 25, 2012 at 1:02 pm

There is a “postcards for you” wandering around the net that reads as follows:

Announcing “I am offended” tells the world that you are unable to control your own emotions and reactions and expect everyone else to do it for you.

I would add to that “control your own emotions/reactions AND check out what you are hearing before you begin to bleat, expecting everyone else to do it for you.”

Reply

Susan April 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Brava, Admin!!!!

Reply

Jenny April 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Or it leads to people cutting the n-word out of Huckleberry Finn. I won’t say it myself, but that doesn’t mean you don’t read it in context. You don’t understand the book without that word in there. People don’t seem to understand putting themselves in the author’s perspective. Twain has Huck reject the racial tropes of his time – the scene where Huck announces he’d rather go to hell that see his friend sold back into slavery you aren’t supposed to think “How could he think he’d do to hell for that” you’re supposed to understand that it means Huck values his friend.

Same thing for reading accounts of slave traders. You don’t soften the language because then you’re missing the point.

Reply

David April 25, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Yes, like Scrooge – perfect description. He hoarded money but never got anything good out of it. No new clothing, no comfortable chair, no good food or drink. Everything was dour and dank, he worked in the cold when another piece of coal would have made it more comfortable.

That is the best word to use for hospitality when just getting a guest a glass of tap water would be seen as an imposition.

Reply

--Lia April 25, 2012 at 1:53 pm

And then there are the people who take such offense at one of the greatest works of American literature, Huckleberry Finn, that they’re willing to change the author’s words to fit some preconceived notion of what they think he should have been saying. As though you can go around correcting Mark Twain! One wonders if they ever read the book.

Reply

Hillary April 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Sounds like some people should be sent to E(tymology)Hell.

Reply

Mojo April 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Bravo! It’s a good honest English word. It’s no more shocking than “You for coffee?” in a Scot’s accent!

Reply

Becca April 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I really respect that the dictionary definition & etymology of your chosen word is without racist associations, and that it’s technically “safe” to use. However, words are more than their etymology, and popular usage counts as much– or more than– the OED. The word “wench” was appropriate in _The Mill on the Floss_, but it’s since collected new meanings that make it quite hurtful in a classroom. “Niggardly” is still a homonym for a word with profoundly disturbing baggage, and in language similarity matters to those who might misunderstand it. I wouldn’t want to say it to someone who might misunderstand and experience a little extra unnecessary hurt, you know? I’m not for disinfecting our language or literature, but English is rich, and there are many ways to say “miserly,” and ways to save “Niggardly” for situations in which its meaning cannot be misunderstood.

Reply

Jones April 25, 2012 at 2:22 pm

So can I use the word “homophone” or, because it sounds like an accessory for folks of same-sex orientation, should I avoid it altogether?

Seriously, the English language is rich with words, and as we are forced to cut our use of certain words (simply because they sound like other words, though they aren’t associated with them at all) it starts to restrict the dessert table that is literature. When will people learn to keep to themselves until they have all the facts?

Thank you, Ehelldame, for reminding us all of this important message.

Reply

LS April 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm

It is of the same etymology of the verb “to niggle,” a word still used without consequent hyperventilating.

Reply

amyasleigh April 25, 2012 at 2:35 pm

I think I can kind-of see where people are coming from, in advocating the avoidance of non-everyday words which sound or look like highly-offensive ones (because of the storms which their use can stir up); or of relatively obscure words whose use – instead of their simpler equivalents – might smack of showing-off on the part of the user.

However, find myself coming down on the side of freedom and encouragement — to the maximum that there may be — for those who have a large and wide-ranging vocabulary, and favour using it in their writing, to do so. In part, because of the sentiment (expressed by many previous posters here) that if confronted with an unfamiliar word, one can very easily look it up. In part, because I would wish there to be – within the bounds of generally-agreed decency – as few “taboo” words as possible. Am in favour of plentiful use of “innocuous words with a superficial resemblance to bad ones”, so that such words might, it is hoped, be reclaimed for general anxiety-less use.

In that spirit, I thoroughly applaud the free use of “niggardly” as a synonym for miserly. Feeling now a bit apprehensive about perhaps opening a fresh can of worms; but, likewise as regards its associated noun “niggard”: a niggardly person. That noun was good enough for J.R.R. Tolkien – not far from the close of “The Lord of the Rings”, in reference to the betrothal of Eowyn and Faramir: “No niggard are you, Eomer,” said Aragorn, “to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm!”

Reply

Ashley April 25, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I was one of those obnoxious kids in school who always got called teachers pet for knowing the definitions of obscure words. So no, I wasn’t offended in the least. And, if I had seen it and not known it, I would have looked it up. Wouldn’t have had to even leave my desk, yay internet!

I will admit, I don’t always agree with Admin, but this time she is absolutely spot on. Webster’s dictionary has a website, it’s not even difficult to use.

Reply

Irenaeus G. Saintonge April 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I figured you’d catch some flak for using the word. It’s ridiculous. Some people are just out looking for reasons to be offended. People have even lost jobs over that particular word.

Reply

Stacey Frith-Smith April 25, 2012 at 2:57 pm

@Mina’s “Just because you have a large vocabulary of archaic words doesn’t mean you need to use them.” Actually, it’s good to use words whose origin, nuance and overall context are varied. It’s part of the richness of expression that English users enjoy. Requiring that others limit the potential for unique and memorable expression by restricting their choice of words is akin to offering a painter fewer colors, a chef fewer ingredients, a musician fewer instruments, a mathematician fewer terms… We all stop paying attention when we are confronted with the same old way of doing things in any sphere, including how words are used to convey ideas.

Reply

Striving For Sense April 25, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I took a class in American Sign Language, at a church-run school, where any form of swearing was not allowed, and grounds for suspension.

The first period, our teacher quite carefully showed us some swear-signs, so that we would know what to avoid. He also pointed out which other, perfectly fine signs were similar to the swear signs. “Very,” for instance, is too close for comfort to the crude sign for sexual congress (the F word). We all decided that we would use other ways to emphasize something, other than the word “very,” just to avoid getting in trouble. However, if anyone did use the sign for “very,” they were VERY careful with it, and everyone in class knew NOT to take offence just because it resembled another such word.

I also learned, at a young age, that no matter how much I itched, I should avoid saying, “Itch itch itch itch itch!” which I scratched, even though it was oddly soothing to do so. I still do it, but at least I’m aware of how it sounds.

Reply

Striving For Sense April 25, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I guess it’s because I sometimes read the dictionary just for fun, but I glossed right over the word in the original post. I knew the meaning. I knew it wasn’t bad. Therefore, there was not problem – moving right along.

To those who would say you shouldn’t use “archaic” words, just because you can, and that you should edit yourself, in advance, just to avoid the uproar of uneducated people, I would just like to point out this post:

http://www.etiquettehell.com/?p=3119

Did you HEAR those statistics about our language usage? And you want to limit us even more? I showed this to my neice – she didn’t understand his story, at ALL, and she had JUST heard the story in more modern terms. And we wonder why our students struggle so much when studying Shakespeare – it’s because we do not ALLOW them to use the words. They’re “archaic” and they might just offend someone who doesn’t know what they mean and can’t be bothered to look them up.

A few more years of this “It’s archaic and it might offend, so you shouldn’t use the word, just to protect our feelings,” and we will have to ban Shakespeare, too. Goodbye, Romeo and Juliet! Goodbye, Julius Caesar! Goodbye Henry V and the St. Crispin’s Day speech!

Goodbye Jane Austen, and her use of “fagged” and “knocked up” to mean exhausted, and her use of “faggot” to mean a log for the fire. For that matter, goodbye anything from World War I, talking about cigarettes.

Just because you don’t know a word doesn’t mean it’s archaic. It means you don’t know everything, and can do with a teensy bit more education. And if you refuse to accept a new piece of knowlege, then you have only yourself to blame.

Bravo, admin, for this post!

Reply

Striving For Sense April 25, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I’ve read a few comments who accuse the ehelldame of consciously choosing this word, on purpose, knowing it would cause a stir.

Did it never occur to you that she simply knew the word and its meaning so well that it simply naturally flowed from her fingers as she was typing the post? Do you think about every word you say, when you are speaking, and weigh each one, not based on its meaning, but based on what ignorant people might just think it means? And then decide whether or not to use it, just to tweak them so that you can educate them later? Or do you, as I suspect admin does, simply use the words you know, the way they were meant to be used, and focus on the meaning of your statements, rather than the possible misunderstandings of uneducated people?

Do you really want her to force herself to talk down to us? Do you really want watered-down commentary? I think the fact that she uses good vocabulary is actually a compliment to us. She doesn’t talk down to us, because she doesn’t think she needs to. She thinks we are smart enough, and adult enough, not to require linguistic coddling.

Reply

Vandalia April 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Amen! I’m so very tired of hearing about how everyone is “offended” over every little thing. Learn to be generous and give people the benefit of the doubt more often.

Reply

Slartibartfast April 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm

I saw the word “niggardly” in your post and immediately figured you’d get some flak from it :P I’m totally in favor of using the appropriate words for each situation, though – and if nobody used words like “niggardly,” people would continue to be ignorant about their actual meanings.

Reply

Abcd April 25, 2012 at 3:47 pm

@ Chrysla
Wench is an archaic french word for prostitute. It is now an informal word for young girls.

I would like to know why the N-word is so offensive. It doesn’t really denote a bad action or a bad characteristic. I think it’s just a colloquial term for being black. Unlike the F-word, which really connotes a bad idea for many people across all races. Does this mean that black people think subconsciously that being of African descent is degrading? I remember a story told on another forum that a guy was beat up by black people because he was wearing an I heart Negros shirt with Negros referring to an island in the Philippines. So the word Negro is also offensive now?

I’m Asian by the way, if it matters.

Also, to those who think this is not an etiquette issue, I beg to disagree. I think it’s proper etiquette to be sure of the intentions of the other party prior to taking offense.

Reply

Striving For Sense April 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I’ve been accused of using “big words,” too. My supervisor even told me, “I went to school at XXXX school, and we didn’t learn big words like that.”

The big word in question? Hence.

Reply

Striving For Sense April 25, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Mary – I’m glad you have a bachelor’s degree. That does not, however, mean that you know everything. Therefore, “a lack of education” still applies. You lack an education in this particular area, for example. You probably also lack an education in brain surgery and conversational Swahili (a language not generally offered in schools).

It’s not an insult.

Reply

Spike April 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I don’t have a problem with the use of the word niggardly, although I don’t use it myself, to avoid causing confusion. It did annoy me a bit to read the title of the post “Coloured Guests” and I too assumed that it had something to do with a racial faux pas. The reason being that the title in itself appeared to refer to the guests themselves and did not reference their clothing, and I think most of us are familiar with the term “coloured” to refer to non-white individuals. I consider this to be an outdated word, along with the word Negro. For me these terms conjure up a world of 50 years ago when these terms were in more frequent use and racism was openly institutionalized into everyday society. I know that the post in fact had nothing to do with racial issues. But as Goldie pointed out, if the title can easily be read by a casual passerby to be racist or about racism, maybe it’s not the most appropriate wording? If it was supposed to be a pun, I’m not sure what the point of it was.
It’s not really a huge deal, which is why I never bothered to comment on it in the first place, but I kind of resent the implication that if someone didn’t automatically assume “coloured guests” could refer to clothing or anything other than the guests themselves, then they are being sensitive. I come here to read about etiquette, not to be baited to see how politically correct I am.

Reply

Striving For Sense April 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm

We seem to now be living in a world where all speakers (or writers) are expected to actively research every possible avenue of giving offence, just so that they can avoid it.

And I’d never heard about the picnic thing, either. Thank you, snopes.

Reply

Striving For Sense April 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Vanzilla – “Some people truly cannot see the forest for the trees.”

This reminds me of something I read recently. An actual comment in a comments box at a U.S. national park asked if they could please cut down the excess trees, as they were blocking the view of the forest.

I don’t know if it was a joke, or for real, but it was certainly surreal.

Reply

Wink-N-Smile April 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Thank you, ferretrick!

Reply

Wink-N-Smile April 25, 2012 at 4:48 pm

“Sounds like some people should be sent to E(tymology)Hell.”

SNERK! I’m so glad I wasn’t drinking.

Reply

brandi April 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm

If I can use the word niggardly in front of a classroom full of black 12 year olds, who were fine with it once they heard the definition, adults who still find it offensive and archaic can just deal. As I used to tell my high school students, “I will not dumb myself down when speaking to you. Dictionaries are on the bookshelf.”

Reply

Ultra Venia April 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm

It’s not an archaic word, so the commenters that think so should stop saying it is, and instead say, “I wish it were archaic because people are ignorant and it makes them unhappy to hear, so stop saying it and it will be!”

I don’t agree with changing language to suit ignorance. Enough words in our rich language are going to end up in the dungheap soon enough, so why push more in that don’t need to go there?

Reply

Wink-N-Smile April 25, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I like bombastic grandiloquence. It sounds so lovely.

I also like period dramas, and Shakespeare and Chaucer, in the original Middle English. Sure, it sounds like you have a cold, but read aloud it really does sound lovely, once you get past the throat-clearing noises. I’ve learned to appreciate them, even.

Reply

Jenny April 25, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I just also want to comment that people want to restrict words without considering intent or meaning. This is the very heart of free speech. Someone isn’t wrong, or prejudiced, because they use a word you don’t like if their conveyance does not contain any error or prejudice.

Reply

Ultra Venia April 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Don’t be niggardly with our rich English language.

Reply

Jenny April 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm

(For instance, in music ritard means to slow. So someone overhearing a conductor telling his orchestra to slow down might hear the same sounds of a slur used against mentally disabled individuals, but that does not mean it exists. We would find it patently ridiculous if an orchestra member complained about the conductor telling them to slow down because it vaguely sounded like a slur for an unrelated issue.)

Reply

sugaryfun April 25, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I agree, some people are just looking for reasons to be offended. On a related note, I hate the way we are now expected to use the word “gender” instead of “sex” even where it’s incorrect because apparently “sex” is naughty. Grow up people!

Reply

Calliope April 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I can’t help but notice that a lot of the comments here seem quite self-satisfied; there’s been a fair amount of boasting about vocabularies and disdain for people whose vocabularies are limited. It does give me the sense that some enjoy using obscure words only to confuse, shock, or show off to others who are less “educated” than they perceive themselves to be. That may not be impolite, but it’s certainly not nice.

Reply

Mander April 25, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I really get annoyed at people who get angry about a situation they don’t bother to look into before expressing their anger. Such is the case with niggardly outrages.

On the other hand, this really isn’t a “manufactured offense”. It’s a genuine misunderstanding and the result of ignorance rather than malice, or unkind thoughts. If I know Ma’am is considered a polite address, and I choose to chastise anyone who uses it toward me for their insensitivity about my age or some such nonsense, that is manufactured offense.

Perhaps the tone of this post could have been more educational and less, well, offended itself.

Reply

Tikal April 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

@Wink

I’m assuming (I may be completely wrong, and, if so, please forgive me) that you’re upset over the backlash following your post about religion and respect for sacred spaces. I was one of the people who replied to you, and I’m very sorry if you were hurt by my response. However, you must admit that your initial words were ill-chosen, and I, at least, did not have to search to find offense. I don’t think I saw your apology, but I’m pleased that you didn’t mean what it seemed like you were saying. Please accept my own apology if my post was one of the ones which hurt you.

Regarding this post, I know the word ‘niggardly’ quite well, but I don’t generally use it because of the assumptions related to its use.

Reply

roselin April 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I knew as soon as I read your post that a lot of people would make stupid, judgmental or ignorant comments about it. Which, of course, made me laugh a little to myself.

Reply

SS April 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm

To admin — You are correct that I misremembered the incident to be the politician’s colleagues, not constituents, but I still stand by my statement that he was still chastised for assuming intelligence of his listeners.

“Some community leaders are arguing that anyone insensitive enough to use a word that could be so easily misconstrued should be out of a job.”

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1999-01-29/news/9901290131_1_racial-slur-niggardly-president-of-howard-university

Reply

Guihong April 25, 2012 at 6:41 pm

@Abed-The “N” word has a lot of baggage in the U.S. going back to slavery and Jim Crow times. It is not colloquial; it is a slur, like the K-word for Jews, the S-word for Hispanics, and “Chink” for Asians of whatever ancestry.

“Negro” is out of date, and I don’t know if it’s exactly a slur on the level of the N-word, but it is not commonly used, except for the United Negro College Fund.

By the way, no one that I know of is offended by the name the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which was founded when “Colored” was the commonly used term.

Reply

Lynne April 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm

@Chrysla — and all others interested in “wench.”

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (one of my favorite resources), “wench” has been used to describe “a woman of loose morals” since the 14th century:
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=wench&allowed_in_frame=0

According to my 1971 hard copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (Big Mama of all Dictionaries), “wench” has had MANY definitions, some conflicting! I list them below, along with the earliest record of usage.

1.
(a) a girl, maid, young woman; a female child. Now dialectal. (1290)
(b) a girl of the rustic or working class (1575)
(c)as a familiar or endearing form of address; used chiefly in address; used chiefly in addressing a daughter, wife, or sweetheart. Now only dialectal or archaic. (1581)

2. a wanton woman; a mistress. Obsolete, archaic. (1362)

3. a female servant, maidservant, serving-maid; also handmaid, bondwoman (1380)

Reply

--Lia April 25, 2012 at 7:08 pm

While I don’t think “niggardly” should be banned from the language, I tend not to use it myself. It’s just easier all around to use “stingy” or “miserly” instead. The way I look at it, I don’t allow myself to be held hostage to people’s irrational cries of offense, but if it’s just as easy for me not to offend them, I do. I consider that the gracious thing to do. It’s the same with avoiding certain words for sex acts, body parts, excretions, and religious deities. I actually don’t mind any of the words, but if I can make the next person happier by not using them, and if it makes no difference to me, I might as well not use them. It’s a different situation when someone is trying to get their own way or take advantage by telling me I’ve offended them when my giving in would cost me.

To answer Abcd’s question about why anyone would take offense at a word that’s just a colloquial term for black, “nigger” is NOT just a colloquial term for black. It may have started out that way, but that’s no longer what it means. It now is a pejorative of the worst sort with no positive connotation. My dictionary calls it “offensive slang.” It is not considered a word to be used in polite company. Note that most on this list spell it “n*****” Granted, context is everything (as when Jenny and I pointed to Huckleberry Finn), but really, it’s a word that’s best avoided in a modern setting. Great masters of the English language like Mark Twain may use it, but none of us on this list falls in that category.

Reply

Cat Whisperer April 25, 2012 at 7:27 pm

I have gotten dinged for using words and phrases that aren’t in the common vernacular. I get peeved when people who are unfamiliar with words or phrases feel that somehow they’re being insulted if you have a large vocabulary and you use it.

I love the richness of our language, and I particularly love some of the words and phrases that have an archaic origin that have fallen out of common usage. I feel very strongly that knowledge and facts are like money: you can never have too much, the more you collect, the richer you become, and you never know when something you pick up will stand you in good stead. I feel passionately that facts and knowledge should be loved and cherished just for themselves, that you don’t need to have a reason to want to acquire more. It is abhorrent to me that there are people who feel that those of us who have a large vocabulary should “dumb it down” because they don’t understand some of the words we use. My attitude is: when I encounter something I don’t understand, I want to learn about it, because of the pleasure I get from learning new things. I don’t understand people who shrink from looking up a word or phrase, I don’t understand why they don’t enjoy the sense of expanding their knowledge. I think it’s sad that some people don’t enjoy learning new things, new words, new phrases. Acquiring information and knowledge is like acquiring money: what’s not to like?

With regard to words, phrases and attitudes in literature that some people find offensive, I believe that it’s important to NOT bowdlerize the things that some people find offensive, simply because these are important indicators of the time and social culture from which they came.

Did you know that Dame Agatha Christie used the pejorative “n” word for a person of color in some of her books? That acclaimed mystery writer Dorothy Sayers used it? That both of them included passages in their books that indicate the prevalence of anti-semitism in the upper levels of English society of the time? And that for this reason, some school librarians are reluctant to allow books by Christie and Sayers to be in school libraries? That most “period” literature encompasses words, phrases, attitudes, prejudices that were common to the time and as such may now be offensive?

As long as we understand that we’ve moved past such things, why should we deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of such literature?

Reply

MonkeysMommy April 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I knew some people would cry about that. To that I say start your

Reply

Valerie April 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Well, here’s a pretty kettle of fish! As one who loves old books and old language, I cherish every vestige of our ancient linguistic heritage.

On the other hand… “I’d rather assume everyone is equally literate regardless of race.” Seriously? Why do you assume a falsehood? Anyone who has spent time in schools for the lower classes knows that they are not being taught the delights of etymology. They’re lucky to come out able to read. And yes, in the United States class is heavily associated with race.

And “I am positive everyone owns a dictionary, stop using it as a doorstop.” No. Everyone does not own a dictionary. And the lack does not equate with being lazy or contemptible, either.

I live in rural Alabama. I’ve marched, disguised as a member, in Klan and neo-Nazi rallies. I’ve worked in factories, and as a janitor. I’ve sat at the table with people SCREAMING “I’m going to shoot any nigger who comes into my neighborhood! I’m going to kill them and no one can stop me!” (These are respectable, employed white people, good church goers, and not Klan.)

You know why a lot of black people flinch at the word “nigger”, and anything that sounds like it? Because plenty of people living can remember when anyone who crossed the Klan ended up in the swamp. And there’s quite a few who want to bring those days back.

So turn the ignorant patronage down a notch or two, okay? Words are beautiful, and words are deadly. The word “niggard” has been caught up in another turn of history. It happens.

Reply

admin April 26, 2012 at 6:57 am

So, Valerie, what you believe I should do is when I interact with someone with black skin, I should immediately assume that person is 1) from a low class, and 2) poorly educated, and therefore promptly dumb down my vocabulary to the equivalence of elementary school level. What you are espousing is patronizing, not hateful, racism which doesn’t overtly hate black people but rather views them patronizingly like children who cannot be expected to understand or must be treated as if they were children. Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” book very clearly demonstrates this perspective as does the biography of Andrew Jackson written by his best friend. Black slaves were viewed as needing their white masters to take care of them since they were not believed to be capable of doing so themselves. Andrew “Stonewall” Jackson’s letters to his wife during the Civil War show his concern for specific slaves he owned but his perspective was based on the belief that they were like children whose stewardship was his responsibility to oversee. It’s a cruel compassion.

I am quite aware that racism exists among all races of people. However, the solution is not to perpetuate stereotypes that skin color determines class or education. It is a fallacy to believe that a group of people cannot be expected to achieve anything significant in the presence of even residual racism or until societal inequity ceases to exist.

I, therefore, will continue to use my normal vocabulary regardless of the skin color of the hearer under the presumption that the person is on an equal footing as me.

Reply

Cat Whisperer April 25, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Kate said:

“Hi, I’m cunt girl. I’m well aware that niggardly and nigger are etymologically unrelated. But niggardly is archaic. I think using it is sort of a “hey look at me I know a big word that might discomfort others but I’ll use it anyway just because I can to show off how smart I am move.”

I’m neither ignorant nor willfully offended, I just don’t like a show off, and I think deliberately archaic language is a show-offy move.”

This is EXACTLY the attitude that I’ve encountered that I simply do not understand. Kate, some of us have a love of language and phraseology, some of us read a lot and engage in discussions of literature, of science, of folklore, of archaic and esoteric subjects including but not limited to equitation, Greek and Roman history and mythology, the evolution of technology and how it’s changed society, and many other subjects that we find interesting. And the consequence of this is that sometimes, some of us use words and phrases that aren’t in common usage. Not because we’re being show-offy, not because we’re engaging in self-congratulation, but because the world is just chock-a-block full of interesting things that are ‘way out in left-field and it makes us happy to talk about them. And incidentally, to listen to things we don’t know much about, and to read about things we don’t know about or understand, because we find LEARNING IS A JOY.

FWIW, I think most people who use the long words and archaic phrases aren’t doing it to belittle the people they’re talking to or writing to, or to show off. They’re doing it because that’s their comfort level and because they trust the people they’re talking to or writing to will understand them, and they don’t feel comfortable in “dumbing down” what they say or write because they’re afraid people won’t “get” them. Would you really rather have people assume that you lack language comprehension and desire to expand your knowledge, and have them make a deliberate effort to communicate a lower level because they don’t think you’ll understand what they’re saying? Isn’t that far more belittling? JMO.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: