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 }

Lynne April 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm

@sugaryfun
I think that the distinctions between sex and gender can be very important. In what contexts have you encountered folks who avoided the word “sex” or who insisted that you avoid it? I’ve yet to come across this attitude, so I am curious.

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RayChee April 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm

@Calliope – that’s exactly what I wanted to say! (But didn’t feel that my response would pass muster).

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Becca April 25, 2012 at 9:25 pm

@sugaryfun & @Lynne

I was going to ask something similar. I’ve never seen someone (over the age of 12!) offended by “sex,” and I find the gender/sex distinction really useful. In my understanding, “sex” refers to biology and “gender” to the cultural construction of sexual distinction. It’s a way to distinguish between what you’re born with (sex) and what your society makes of it (gender).

And I should add: it’s really interesting to watch people work through the problems (racism, sexism, etc) that are all tangled up in our language. I’m still leery of words like wench and niggardly, but I understand the other point of view much better after reading this thread.

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badkitty April 25, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I’m deeply saddened by the people on here who actually feel that our poor admin should have used another word instead; “miserly” and synonyms had already been used, and she should not be forced to resort to repetition when a thesaurus (or a reasonably-sized vocabulary) is handy. Why should I have to use a “common” word when I feel that an uncommon one better suits my purpose? I took a writing class a few years ago, and the instructor lamented to me that the semicolon has “fallen out of style” and thus is looked on more critically by editors. To me, both of these issues are symptoms of a continuing trend toward fashionable stupidity: somehow we’ve come to revere ignorance, poor spelling and grammar are considered cool, and a person who reads (and therefore SPEAKS like a person who reads) is considered a “show-off” (or, to use the “fancy” word, braggart).

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Toni April 25, 2012 at 9:43 pm

This reminds me of some neighbors who had a lawn jockey on their front walkway. When they learned that some people took offense because it was a reminder of slavery in our country….they painted the statue’s face and hands white. They were very nice people who would never want to offend anyone, and they thought this was the perfect solution.

That being said, most educated people know that the word niggardly is not associated with a perjorative term for a certain race of people. My choice, however, is to recognize that it may be misunderstood and I have banned the word from my vocabulary. Do not mind, though, if others choose to continue to use it.

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Marna April 25, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Yes, and you CLEARLY knew ahead of time that niggardly is the sort of word that freaks people out, and yet you chose to use it. Now you feel you get to educate everyone that it’s not a bad word, when you could have avoided the whole situation by just using the word “miserly.” Just because you have a large vocabulary of archaic words doesn’t mean you need to use them.–Mina

So I guess all that time my teachers in elementary school. high school and college spent trying to increase their students’ vocabulary was pointless? We should only use words of two syllables or less?I would never agree to such a nutty suggestion. I love language, the way words roll off the tongue and paint a picture too much to limit myself because someone else was too darn dumb to learn more than a rudimentary command of English.

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FerrisW April 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I just wanted to add my agreement to Striving for Sense about ‘being educated’- I hold a doctorate, which only means that I am educated in my specific field (and sometimes even then, there are things I don’t know)- I am completely uneducated in many areas, including many English words despite it being my native language. Education is an ongoing thing- the first time I see a word I haven’t come across, I look up or ask about its meaning, although it is my responsibility to educate myself. I don’t expect people to provide a definition when using a word I’m unfamiliar with, although I think it very kind that the Admin has done so in this case.

I didn’t see the post titled ‘coloured guests’ but upon reading those words I automatically assumed it was about guests who were embarrassed- because for me the term ‘coloured’ when applied to a person conjures up the idea of someone’s cheeks colouring when they become embarrassed, and so given the context of the site (I’m constantly surprised that more of the offenders in stories aren’t embarrassed by their actions, I guess!) that’s what I assumed. Clearly that isn’t really the case (I guess we should all remember what they say about what happens when you ‘assume’) but I think what we read into things really does say more about us, and our experiences, than about the writer- and although we can of course get offended by whatever we want, it’s often good etiquette to consider the intent of the writer before flying off the handle.

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Mander April 25, 2012 at 10:30 pm

@Badkitty
Deeply saddened? Really? I think it’s shame that people don’t research what they are outraged about. But deeply saddened? It is not a commonly used word, and “our admin” is hardly poor by any measure that I’m aware of. It could have been an educational experience to those who haven’t been exposed to SAT-level vocabulary instead of a pearl-clutching what-is-the-world-coming-to-when-people-make-honest-mistakes incident.

I’m glad that people are so aware of harmful language, and I share the hope of many here that that awareness is coupled with an interest in education. I’d like to help in that endeavor, not hinder it with insults or degrading remarks.

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Calliope April 25, 2012 at 11:16 pm

I’d like to clarify that I don’t believe that people with large vocabularies need to hide that from others. I also didn’t mean to imply that all people who use uncommon words do so to show off. My point was simply that when writing, it’s best to choose words that will make your point clearly. It’s not about “dumbing down” your prose; it’s about using plain language to make your message plain. With all this ado over the use of “niggardly,” I’ve pretty much forgotten what the original post was even about. I don’t think any writer intends for the reader to get so fixated on one word that the larger point is forgotten.

As for showing off, well, when someone talks about getting satisfaction from reciting etymological facts to people who are baffled–and, most likely, uninterested–I have to roll my eyes a little. It’s one thing to love language. It’s another to love using language to feel superior to others.

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Cat April 25, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Mary, dear, a B.A. or a B.S. is not the equivalent of an educated person. Some of the most ignorant people I have ever met have Ph.D. after their names.

Education is a growth process in which one continues to expand ones knowledge and world-view throughout life. If all you know is what you learned sitting in a classroom, you have missed the true meaning of being an educated person.

I decided when I turned thirty to learn a new skill/gain new knowledge every year of my life. I have taken a class in boating and navigation, in stained glass making, in candy making, in cake decorating, learned to care for various animals from horses to chickens, and there is still a world of information for me to absorb.

I stand in awe of the mechanic who works on my car and of the plumber who helped to build my home. If they were not there I would be a pedestrian and drawing water from a lake. They have knowledge and skills I will never conquer. If I had to rewire my house, I’d be taking candle making classes.

Get over thinking that college makes an educated person and that a lack of a college degree makes an uneducated person. It’s just not true.

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travestine April 25, 2012 at 11:35 pm

The English language is a wonderful, complex tapestry, woven from many threads. It would be sad to think that we must cut any of those threads because of those unable or unwilling to think beyond their knee-jerk reactions to homonyms.

I use words like “loquacious”. When describing a person in love with the sound of his/her own voice, “chatty” would not be an appropriate descriptor. “Loquacious” (especially if the subject is public speaking) would be the best choice, “pontificating” if the conversation were more intimate (no, not sexual).

To do so is not “showing off” my knowledge of polysyllabic words – it demonstrates that I have a broad, rich vocabulary and do not hesitate to employ it. I’m proud of Miss Jeanne for standing by her guns (used fasciously, for all those offended by “guns”).

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twik April 26, 2012 at 12:32 am

becca, you say “save niggardly for a situation in which it cannot be understood”.

What exact situation would that be, if the way it was used (clearly having NOTHING to do with race) is not one of those situations?

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Melalucci April 26, 2012 at 1:22 am

I think it would have been just as easy to use words other than “niggardly” and “coloured.” Most adults know full well that the words are liable to be taken the wrong way, and I do think people have a right to be offended by those word choices, regardless of where they originate from.

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Monica April 26, 2012 at 1:29 am

Ah god, I checked the comments on that entry to see how many people it offended. Funny thing, I also went to confirm that the etymologies were different…about 13 years ago, as a kid. I was under the impression most people knew of that word. I don’t think you should have to explain yourself for using any word so it was kind of you to post this for those who apparently were unaware.

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CSmithy April 26, 2012 at 3:05 am

The use of this word is one of those “Yeah, you can, but -should- you?” situations. The arguments I’m reading are similar to those I often here for free speech in defense of being deliberately insensitive: yeah, you can say whatever you want, but you, as a human being, have the capacity to rationalize and decide whether it really needs to be said. I’m not for killing off all archaic or obscure words, but it’s obvious this word is very close to being a homophone for a seriously hurtful, offensive word, so I think it’s a special case. Trust me, we have enough words to say what you need to say in the English vocab, guys. You’re not going to die without this one.

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melissa April 26, 2012 at 3:48 am

I didn’t know what the word meant. I noticed the similarity to the other n-word, but only in passing as I found out what this new word meant. It’s just like with my second language of Spanish, the word ‘embarazado’ does not mean ‘embarrassed’ as I originally thought, but ‘pregnant’. So lucky my host family confirmed my meaning instead of telling everyone I was pregnant! English is an incredible language, get out of your yr10 comfort zone.

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Bint April 26, 2012 at 4:54 am

What’s rude about the word knickers? The web isn’t showing me anything to explain this. Knickers to it!!

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Angela April 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

I have a pretty good vocabulary and I use it, not to show off but because often that word is the exact word that I mean. Recalcitrant doesn’t mean the exact same thing as reluctant, so I don’t use them interchangeably. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the specific word on discussion, the whole idea that one should dumb down one’s vocabulary is depressing.

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desireesgranny April 26, 2012 at 7:04 am

This is exactly what I thought would happen when I saw the word niggardly. Uh oh, I thought, someone’s not going to get the real meaning of this word. I understand the difference and thought your usage the correct one. Keep up the good work of enlightening us.

Thanks

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Binne April 26, 2012 at 7:04 am

To posters who says “niggardly” is archaic: Your lack of familiarity with a word does not make it outdated. It shows up your ignorance.

To those who would avoid using the correct word because some ignorant readers would be offended: Grow a spine.

To those who think using colorful words is showing off: Subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. And consider that (a) you might be one of the aforementioned ignoramuses and (b) such a deficiency is easily remedied.

To our esteemed Admin: Brava! Niggardly was exactly the right word to use there. Miserly has a similar meaning, but doesn’t connote quite the same dereliction as that exhibited by the hostess.

There was a great to-do in the 1990s because an NPR commentator used “niggardly” on the air and quite a few ignorant listeners thought she was using a racial slur. Wikipedia has an interesting article titled “Controversies about the word ‘niggardly’.”

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Chicalola April 26, 2012 at 7:05 am

I’m a little annoyed at some of you telling the admin, and others they shouldn’t use such big words so they can avoid offending someone. They are show offs. Really? Since when is using the brain they have such a horrible thing? God forbid someone use the actual words they know and know the meaning of. It should be the other way around. Maybe people that are so ignorant should teach themselves.

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Margo April 26, 2012 at 7:18 am

Bint, ‘knickers’ is the English (UK) word for (US) panties – and tends to be used in the UK as a very mild ‘swear’ word. (also the sort of thing children say when they want to ‘swear’ but don’t know any ‘proper’ swear words.

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NotThumper April 26, 2012 at 7:19 am

I guess etiquette has little or nothing to do with common decency. I knew the word and didn’t have to look it up but was still surprised to see it used. I don’t care if you love the word or it simply rolls off your tongue, there is no way you didn’t know that it put some people on edge. Should you have to change the way you speak? No, but in an instance where you KNOW it is going to cause issues the NICE thing to do would choose another word considering we have many to choose from.

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Sarah Jane April 26, 2012 at 7:27 am

Count me as someone who reads here everyday, and I honestly didn’t remember the admin’s use of the word “niggardly”, clearly because having read it was as uneventful to me as if I had read the word “lunch”. I had seen the word before and know what it means. Never registered as a word that might receive any special attention.

I used the word “butler” the other day in front of my four-year-old. She thought I said “butthole” (a word we don’t allow at home.) I quickly corrected her. So…do I never use the word “butler” again in front of my children? What if they misinterpret it again?? What about the word “asinine” ???

Um, no…it doesn’t work that way.

For those who chastise (whoops…I mean “fuss at”…) the admin for using such an “archaic” and “show-offy” word: get a dictionary. Get some perspective. Get a life.

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Mabel April 26, 2012 at 7:31 am

I knew what the word meant. It didn’t offend me and I didn’t think the Admin was trying to be racist. It was a rather old-fashioned word. I did wonder, however, whether the hair trigger of the Internet would fire off over it and I wasn’t disappointed. Thanks, everyone, for the entertainment. :P

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FlyingBaconMouse April 26, 2012 at 8:15 am

I can actually imagine someone using the word deliberately to confuse someone who’d never heard it before (sadly, this is the kind of thing some of my family members find funny) in, say, a dinner conversation.

What I can’t understand is anyone objecting to its use on the internet, a medium bristling with dictionaries and research tools. This strikes me as only a few steps removed from finding it in an actual paper dictionary and howling because most people don’t use it and, to borrow a phrase from Blackadder, it “sounds a bit rude.”

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Margaret April 26, 2012 at 9:17 am

My jaw drops at the comments that state it is showy or somehow inappropriate to use a word that the listener might not know. Seriously? I have a reasonably good vocabulary (e.g. I knew what niggardly meant without having to look it up), and if a word has the meaning that I need, I use it. I assume any adult with a basic education and a somewhat intelligent brain can marshall the resources to look up the word if they are unable to infer the meaning from the context and prefer not to ask me. Certainly, if you let me know that you are ignorant and prefer small words, I can accomodate that. However, you certainly cannot forbid me from using words that I know in the proper context.

Although . . .

I am not very athletic. Some people are very athletic, having either been born with more natural ability than me or having worked hard at increasing their speed, agility, strength, etc. Perhaps instead of defending my vocabulary, I should be campaigning against athletes who have the audacity to display more physical prowess than me. After all, it makes me feel bad about my own abilities, and it is easier for me to forbid them to display their own abilities than it is for me to work on increasing mine.

http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

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wowwow April 26, 2012 at 9:29 am

There are many words in our language that people now use in other ways, unrelated to their original intention–these words are used so frequently that when people hear them, they will assume the modern use of the word –not the old use.

Ask any teacher, writer or presenter—-take a word, couple it with a childish person or two–and you’ve lost your whole audience.

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Enna April 26, 2012 at 9:47 am

@ Chrysla “wench” does mean a young wopman, it also does mean prostitute/strumpet: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/wench?s=t in it’s more arcahic sense.

@ Admin: I think you are right: it is racist to “dumb down” langauge or to use different words around certain ethnic groups in case of causing offence.

As for the “n” word – no one should use it, Asian, Black, White does not matter.

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Wink-N-Smile April 26, 2012 at 9:56 am

Another issue about using the “simpler synonyms” for the word you really want to use is nuance. Words often have pretty in-depth definitions, and niggardly is not really the same as miserly.

A miser, for example, may be very unselfish and hospitable, as long as he doesn’t have to spend money to do it. Niggards, on the other hand, hoard ALL their resources, for themselves. At least, that is my understanding of the words.

With an overly-simplified vocabulary, nuance is squashed.

Would you tell an artist only to use red, and deny him carmine, vermillion, scarlet, and puce? They’re all red, but different kinds of red, and sometimes they even clash with each other. The ROYGBIV of the rainbow are all lovely colors, but not the only colors out there, and who would want to limit us to those 7 colors? Even 10 – ROYGBIV, Black, White, and Brown – it’s just sad to limit oneself so.

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admin April 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

Wink, “Miser” has the same connotation, i.e. someone who gives but do so with effort and as little as possible whereas a niggardly person has resources but refuses to share any of it.

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Susan April 26, 2012 at 10:02 am

When I read that word in the original post, I knew it would create a stir. I agree with the admin, and asking people to dumb down their vocabulary so no one will be offended by a word that sounds like another word, but means something completely different, is intellectually lazy.
Does anyone else remember the media circus that happened a few years ago when a high-profile individual used that word? All hell broke loose. And the people who were on the committee who were up in arms were well educated, worldly people. They had easy access to the internet and dictionaries. Maybe my memory is longer than others, and I do tend to be a news geek, but that is what came to mind.
There are offensive words, and I’m not belittling what people have experienced in the past (I’m a woman; we, as women, have experienced plenty of discrimination and still do to this day). But to get upset because something “looks like” another word is wasting time and energy. There are more pressing issues at hand, IMO.
Caveat: I don’t expect people to be a language geek like I am. We’re all different. But if I encounter something that is new and unfamiliar I try to learn about it instead of attacking the source.

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Yarnspinner April 26, 2012 at 10:04 am

Well, to all those who indicate that we keep our speech simple in public so as to make sure others understand, I must ask how you feel about the rewrites on the Bible that took place some thirtty years ago. I will have to search for a citation because it was an old newspaper article…but apparently educational experts announced that they felt the Bible wording needed to be changed so that the masses would better understand. One of the lines they cited as hard for people to understand was “I am a servant for the Lord.” The word “servant” was judged to be way too hard for someone of average intelligence to “get” in the context. So they changed it to a simpler one syllable word.

“Slave.”

Last time I checked, both a servant and a slave might toil for a master, but the words imply two very different types of toiling.

And may I stop to agree with whoever said that having degrees after your name does not make you a particularly educated or intelligent person. The most intelligent and perceptive person I know is my 83 year old father whose “formal” education ended in the eighth grade when he went on to trade school. He has a vocabulary that is larger than that of his daughter (me) with two degrees. He can intelligently discuss topics of various types with a variety of people. He can cite his research.

One of the stupidest people I know has several masters degrees and can’t find Europe (or his own behind) on a map. He runs around shrieking about exactly the things we are talking about here: he would be in line to ban Huck Finn and the word “picnic”. Heck, he probably believes that Tommy Hilfiger really said on Oprah what urban legend claims he said. I wouldn’t leave this guy alone with a can of tuna to care for, let alone a dog or a small child. But he is allegedly smarter than me because of his massive education.

Yeah. No. Doesn’t actually work for me.

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Wink-N-Smile April 26, 2012 at 10:17 am

Tikal – I’m not going to revisit that comment thread to see if you were. Thank you, though, for your apology.

I think it was a case of all of us being a bit too fired up, at the same time.

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Calliope April 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

“I use words like “loquacious”. When describing a person in love with the sound of his/her own voice, “chatty” would not be an appropriate descriptor. “Loquacious” (especially if the subject is public speaking) would be the best choice, “pontificating” if the conversation were more intimate (no, not sexual).”

I just keep coming back to this thread! Once again, to clarify: I did not say that there is no use for the word “loquacious,” or that “chatty” is always the word people are looking for when they use it. I said that there’s no need to use “loquacious” when “chatty” would do, and I stand by that. The two words are not synonyms, but they are close enough in meaning that people will often choose the more “impressive” sounding word–what I referred to as a ten-dollar word–over the plainer one. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about when I talk about people using language to show off.

For the record, I, too, am an avid reader. I love learning about words, and there’s a well-thumbed etymological dictionary on my shelf. The fact that I believe in the strength and scope of plain language doesn’t mean my that grasp on English is rudimentary, or that I believe in limiting people’s vocabularies to monosyllabic words, or grunts, or whatever it is some of you seem to think.

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twik April 26, 2012 at 10:52 am

Again, I would be more sympathetic if the same people who claimed that “niggardly” was agonizingly offensive also held that the use of the “N” word by popular entertainers caused serious anguish those to whom it could apply. When the real word is can be found in thousands of offerings from major record labels (and defended by its users, most of African descent) it strikes me as looking for offense to then claim that using a word that simply has a similar sound is offensive.

What next? Banning the word “bike” when used to refer to a two-wheeled vehicle, because it contains sounds also found in certain slurs?

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GlassHalfFull April 26, 2012 at 11:00 am

Jones, thanks for the laugh! I wonder how many words would be considered taboo if everyone thought this way?
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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?

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badkitty April 26, 2012 at 11:02 am

@Mander: yes, deeply saddened. Not that people were offended – if you’ve got so little going on that this site can get your knickers bunched then I’m actually a little envious – but that the solution proposed by supposedly rational, thoughtful people was for the admin to simply not use uncommon words when reusing the same tired, ill-fitting word that had already been used earlier in the paragraph would save her from the wrath of the ignorant. As if ignorance is now a protected status, and a person who is ignorant on a topic must be shielded from information that might shatter that ignorance. That attitude and its prevalence causes me to despair for the future of polite society and wonder just how close we are to the future painted in that movie, “Idiocracy,” where people who even gave the impression of having any intelligence were disparaged, mocked, and even beaten by their ignorant peers. Note that I did not, at any point in my post, say that the INDIVIDUALS who berate others for using “fancy words” are themselves ignorant: I stated pretty clearly that they were affected by a culture which glorifies ignorance, and that this trend was shameful. I know plenty of educated people who feel pressured to use txt spk (u instead of you, 4 instead of for, etc.) where it is really not needed simply because they “don’t want to seem stuffy.” The possibility that thousands of years of evolution and cumulative education will be wiped out by our succeeding generations genuinely makes me very very sad. I’m sorry if you don’t personally feel that this is something to be worried about – not sorry for the misunderstanding that resulted, but genuinely sorry for you that you could shrug off such a possibility as unimportant – but I worry every time I see my son picked on for having read a book years before the movie came out that all of our great accomplishments may be undone, and that our downfall could then be traced to a trend (and a series of celebrity blunders.)

As for my reference to “our poor admin”, it is yet another example of someone either deliberately misunderstanding a word or simply being unaware of its alternative uses. “Poor” doesn’t only mean “lacking in funds” and in this case I used it instead of the more cumbersome (and needlessly dramatic) “put-upon” or even “unfortunate”. In that case, one might have made the argument that a successful businesswoman with a loving family and community can’t possibly be all that unfortunate, but only if such a one believes that if the good in a person’s life outweighs the bad then they are entirely undeserving of any empathy from us poor schmucks.

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GlassHalfFull April 26, 2012 at 11:08 am

I’m not surprised by the reaction, but am somewhat shocked that some of those who are offended by the use of this word would apparently not be offended if people “dumbed down” language on their behalf. Curious. Having somebody assess me in such a way that they concluded it necessary to simplify their language so that I would be able to understand it would be what I would find offensive.

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badkitty April 26, 2012 at 11:10 am

@Binne: hear, hear!
@ Margaret: I officially love you, and I will join your campaign!

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whiskeytangofoxtrot April 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

Geez, one would think they didn’t own a dictionary, or couldn’t look somethig up on teh intarwebs, hmm? Sorry you had to be subject to someone else’s oversenstivity.

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Amber April 26, 2012 at 11:18 am

I think niggardly is on its way out in the US, simply because it sounds so much like the racial slur. An unfortunate happenstance, but it happens. I am indifferent about the word’s death, but I do get heavily annoyed at people who lash out at other people for using it properly.

I also get annoyed when people claim it’s archaic. It is NOT an archaic word. Archaic implies that the word is either not in use, or its use has changed from the past definition (the example given was Shakespeare’s* “cunt” — which, actually, wasn’t exactly a “clean” term for ladybits back in his day, either, ) further muddying up what exactly “archaic” means!). Niggardly has been regularly in use in print and speach for the definition “miserly” up until very recent history. The late 90s and early Aughts is when the first instances of people being punished for using niggardly began. Hell, 0ne reason people were so surprised by the punishment was because it was a fairly common word!

So, stop with the “it’s archaic!” argument. It is not. It’s only been recently knocked down. You can say it sounds too similar, you can say there are plenty of other synonyms that don’t cause people to cringe, but don’t say it’s archaic.

*Not surprising he used the word, as Shakespeare is quite the pottymouth throughout his plays. Get thee to a nunnery? Nice pun, there, Shakey (whorehouses were often called “nunneries” in Elizebethan times). I bite my thumb at thee? Oh, good, tell someone to F off within a few pages of the first act. Nearly everything Iago says is disgusting, and Midsummer’s Night Dream is one sexual innuendo after the other. Shakespeare was not very reverent, unless he was being paid for reverence (Historical Plays, anyone?)

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Sasha April 26, 2012 at 11:57 am

People with big vocabularies should flaunt them! I never really understood the point of hiding intelligence.

Also, on an aside, Admin, you have a slight factual error in your comment. You were thinking of Thomas Jonathon “Stonewall” Jackson, not President Andrew Jackson.

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admin April 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Sasha,

Oops, you are right! I am thinking of Stonewall Jackson, not President Jackson. This was the book I was referring to: Life and Campaigns of Stonewall Jackson by Robert Lewis Dabney.

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GroceryGirl April 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

@ Mojo Lol at “you for coffee” we in NY can often be heard saying “jeet?” (translation: did you eat?)

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Wink-N-Smile April 26, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Amber – you got that right. Shakespeare wrote for the pit – that is, the people who paid a pittance to stand in the pit, rather than the people who paid more to sit in a box, and often only came to “see and be seen” and didn’t even stay for the whole show. Of course, many of them were fans, as well, but they didn’t claim he was high-brow. He was, in fact, quite bawdy.

The Taming of the Shrew has some really bawdy bits, for example, but few people get the jokes. Katharina and Petruchio, however, in their verbal sparring, get really down and dirty.

In fact, if you want teenagers to study Shakespeare without complaint about how hard it is, introduce him as the Judd Apatow of his times. Forget the annotated texts. Give them a plain script and a link to the online Oxford English Dictionary, then tell them just THREE of the dirty bits in the play, and hint that there are so many more. They’ll probably fall all over themselves analysing the heck out of that play, looking for all the dirty bits, and learning a whole lot in the process.

Of course, then you’ll have to listen to a bunch of “I bite my thumb at thee, thou varlet” in the hallways for a bit, but it will wear off in a while, once you move on to Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales. Again – unabridged version, please. Those abridged and annotated versions we got in school only gave us the boring clean stories. I didn’t want to be uplifted, darnit. I wanted entertainment. I wanted the Miller’s Tale, and the Wife of Bath’s bawdiness. I got the Knight’s Tale. Big whoop.

Now, if we’d had the full version, and only studied the Knight’s Tale in class, with a very strict admonition not to even LOOK at the Wife of Bath’s tale, because our parents would not approve, and we didn’t have permission slips to study such a bunch of raunch, we would have been up all night studying.

Hehehehe – I’m just remembering the prank they pulled in The Tempest. Analysing the handwriting. Ha!

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Wink-N-Smile April 26, 2012 at 2:57 pm

badkitty – I want to hug you!

I like to play an online role-playing game, and we chat a lot. I have been laughed at because I take the time to write out full sentences, with proper spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Sometimes, I’ll even go back and say, “Whoops! I made a typo. I meant to say three, instead of tree,” or some such.

I have also witnessed people chatting lIke ThiS, inSeRtiNg aLteRnAtInG UpPer cAsE iN aLl thEiR wOrdS. I asked how they can even do that. The person responded, “PrActIcE.” I just hope that person never takes an office job. Then, they do that, and add in number symbols, instead of syllables, such as “aLteRn8InG” and it is just maddening. But they are, or think they are and ought to be, the wave of the future.

Idiocracy was a brilliant horror movie.

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Wink-N-Smile April 26, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Thanks for the explanation of the difference between the wods, admin!

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Wink-N-Smile April 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I was just reminded about “archaic” words. We are being told that some words shouldn’t be used, because they’re archaic, and that just reminded me of the fellow who didn’t know what the word archaic meant. He didn’t even recognize it as a word, because apparently, he’d never heard it before.

So, is the word “archaic” archaic? Should we stop using it, because someone who doesn’t know it might think we’re being snooty, smarter-than-thou, and show-offy? I think not.

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ferretrick April 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

@Wink-N-Smile: Oh, the Knight’s Tale can be amusing too, if it’s the one I think it is…the woman makes a foolish promise to sleep with a guy if such and such impossible thing happens, and then it does? Picture a Catholic university with an elderly, senile priest teaching Chaucer to a room full of Engish majors, Women’s Studies majors, and hard core feminists proclaiming that the Knight should have taken his wife out and beat her. True story.

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FunkyMunky April 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I must say, I am shocked that people in government positions can’t figure out the structure of an adjective. ‘Cowardly’ relates to a coward, not a cow.

Though I am fascinated that in the US all these racially-charged terms are still common enough that people are actively trying to avoid them – I’ve never heard a person called the n-word, or several of the other phrases. We don’t use those words here. Maybe that’s why words that sound similar are not so inflammatory ; we’re not expecting the ‘bad’ one, so we assume the good one is a word we don’t know.

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FunkyMunky April 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm

And to weigh in on the $10 10c word debate, I don’t see the problem in using a longer word if it’s better suited to the situation. I do, however, want to kill whoever gave Stephanie Meyer a thesaurus but not a dictionary. Chagrin is not the same as embarrassment.

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