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Jun 27 2012

Blowing the dust off our language

I am not an entomologist. If I was, I’d know that the word I wanted to use there was ‘etymologist’. Also I’d be covered in ants or something.

At any rate, I have not made a careful study of language, and by no means am I up on the origins of the various aphorisms and slang phrases that we use in our day-to-day life. I do, however, remember quite well a scene in the movie Malcolm X where Red (the name that Malik el Shabazz had before he was called Malcolm X) was instructed to look up the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ in the dictionary:

The part that sticks out about that scene for me is where Bains says “the truth is in there, if you can read behind the words”. We can look at the literal (and/or intended) meaning of phrases and choose to see only the surface, or we can give words a full contextual examination to get a glimpse of things unseen. In that way words can be like a verbal Rorschach test – revealing the inner thoughts and feelings of the speaker in ways that ze may not have even realized.

Now, it is not necessarily fair to read intent into individual speakers for using certain turns of phrase. I have seen my fair share of people who have been appalled when I point out the deeply imbedded racism apparent in the old-timey phrase “that’s mighty white of you”. I know I was freaked out when I first learned that it wasn’t necessarily a ‘tiger’ you were catching by the toe in the famous rhyme. So much of our language usage is unthinking – our lives would be next to impossible if we had to agonize over every word we wanted to use all the time. It’s almost impossible not to let the occasional objectionable phrase slip out.

However, it is fair game to look at language as indicative of where our society has come from:

The deputy mayor of Euro 2012 host city Gdansk in northern Poland described the city’s residents as “normal civilized white people” in a radio broadcast Tuesday before apologizing in a local newspaper. “I thank residents and city employees for behaving like normal civilized white people toward our guests who have in turn also behaved like normal white people,” Andrzej Bojanowski, 40, said in the radio interview.

Animated .gif of Shirley from Community looking shocked and saying "What? WHAT?"

Now I have no difficulty accepting Mr. Bojanowski’s explanation that the phrase really really doesn’t translate well into English:

Bojanowski promptly followed up the controversial statement with an apology in the local edition of the liberal-minded Gazeta Wyborcza daily. “I apologise to anyone I may have hurt with the clumsy phrasing I used this morning in a live broadcast. I simply wanted to thank residents and guests, whatever the colour of their skin,” he wrote.

Knowing what I know about the various racist bugbears that English has buried here and there like awkwardly racist blueberries in a muffin, it stretches my imagination not at all to consider that Polish might just have one or two surprises in there. For what it’s worth, it appears that a major anti-racist group in Poland also recognizes this as an (incredibly) unfortunate turn of phrase borne of an unconscious mind. The part that I find fascinating in this story is the fact that this phrase exists at all.

It is not strange to me that the phrase “civilized like white people” exists in Polish. To be sure, the very notion of what it means to be ‘civilized’ holds up all societies to the European model for comparison. What I find so fantastic about this story is that it provides us with an opportunity to ask real questions about the level of racial awareness we have at our fingertips. When prominent politicians (and not just in Poland – they’re out in force here, on both sides of the border) can’t parse the complete bafflegab coming out of their mouths, it doesn’t exactly paint a picture that is suggestive of the ‘mission accomplished’ that so many wish us to believe when it comes to conversations about race.

There may never be a time when we are completely free of unfair and storied language. We seem to constantly find new ways of not talking about what we’re actually talking about. The challenge, therefore, is not necessarily to police language, but to make people aware of the unintended consequences that their unthinking use of loaded phrases may have. With that must come the willingness to admit when we have screwed up, rather than trying to escape through an avalanche of dictionary references as mutterings about intent. Only once we have mastered this difficult task can we truly call ourselves civilized like white people.

An animated .gif of a man starting to object to something, then deciding better of it

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29 comments

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  1. 1
    embertine

    Ugh, the version I was taught of Eenie Meenie didn’t even have a tiger in it. *shiver*

  2. 2
    Timid Atheist

    Oh my god. We always used “Tigger” in that rhyme when I was a kid. I thought it meant Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, I didn’t even know the n-word at the time. At least I don’t think.

    Well now I feel like an ass. Time to teach my kid a better rhyme to choose between things she wants.

  3. 3
    karmakin

    Heh at the ending.

    I’ve actually heard the argument made before that this type of language (outside of race, think of the terms “Godfearing” or “manly”) is fine because we’re talking about positive things in positive ways.

    Uhhhh. No.

  4. 4
    left0ver1under

    The question is, when did words become used and weighted? When did society start viewing people in a negative light based on skin?

    I read the following book when I was in college, and it was enlightening. Clearly, the bias arose during the christian era.

    http://wysinger.homestead.com/beforecolorprejudice.html

    Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks
    Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience

    by Frank Snowden

  5. 5
    remyporter

    I have been known to use the phrase “that’s mighty white of you,” but the context is usually when someone is patting themselves on the back for being soooooo open minded that some of their best friends are black/gay/female/asian/etc.

  6. 6
    John Horstman

    I have seen my fair share of people who have been appalled when I point out the deeply imbedded racism apparent in the old-timey phrase “that’s mighty white of you”.

    I’ve never heard this before; it’s shockingly and overtly racist. Is this regional? Is it simply a function of not encountering many overt racial bigots in my life?

    There may never be a time when we are completely free of unfair and storied language. We seem to constantly find new ways of not talking about what we’re actually talking about. The challenge, therefore, is not necessarily to police language, but to make people aware of the unintended consequences that their unthinking use of loaded phrases may have. With that must come the willingness to admit when we have screwed up, rather than trying to escape through an avalanche of dictionary references as mutterings about intent. Only once we have mastered this difficult task can we truly call ourselves civilized like white people.

    How about if we become civilized, unlike White people, instead? :-P

    Good post, as usual; I very much agree that the (contextualized/contextually-analyzed) use of certain words and turns-of-phrase can tell us about the unexamined biases of the speaker. My favorite defensive reaction to calling this out is probably, “But that’s just how we talk around here!” Yes, yes it is, and that’s exactly the problem, outraged dominant-group member. It’s similar to an argument I encounter when talking about sexual coercion as problematic – people often point out that coercion is endemic to many, many aspects of our social structure, I and I agree, saying that that is exactly what is meant by e.g. “rape culture”. Yes, we DO similarly coerce people in the marketplace; I think it’s similarly problematic. The fact that we view coercion as normal and okay in so many cases contributes to the view that it’s normal (it is!) and okay (it’s not!) in the case of sexual behavior. (I just realized this is drifting away from the main point of the post; I’ll try to bring it back around). Why do people think that the fact that a lot of people do something makes it okay? They know about things like the slave trade or various genocidal campaigns, right? “It’s culture” isn’t a defense, it just means that your culture – in this case, your language – is problematic and biased – in this case, racist.

  7. 7
    baal

    Wow never knew that about eneny emeany miney. I’m glad to only have heard it with ‘tiger’ (like the cat, not the winne-the-poo one). I’ve also probably lived in a bubble since I’ve only heard ‘white’ as a behaviour adjective in the sense #5 remyporter mentions.

    This isn’t to say I never heard biased language. When I lived in the south (Memphis), ‘coon’ was largely considered acceptable in grade school even in mixed race groups – I couldn’t see it that way.

    More recently, in college, I was looking for my math buddy and tried to ask for him by name in a dorm; it didn’t work since he was known as ‘oreo’. Like his parents racial groupings were his most important feature.

    There were more but two examples is enough. It’s pretty endemic.

  8. 8
    AZryan

    There’s a classic old 1949 British B&W comedy called ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ where Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), plays a lot of different parts. Near the end, for no real good reason, someone sings ‘Ennie, Meenie,…’ with the n-word instead of ‘tiger’. I wish they would re-edit it/dub the line to fix it, ‘cuz it’s otherwise a clever, harmless, odd comedy I’d recommend to anyone for something ‘different’ to rent.

    Obviously no one involved thought it even meant anything to have it in there. The film had no black people in it and nothing to do with black people. And that’s probably part of why those people never even noticed that it was bigoted. They didn’t even grasp that they were. And they got rid of slavery long before America, so it’s an odd shame stemming I suppose from their Imperial roots.

    It’s also what we call a ‘black’ comedy. Now, that phrase doesn’t stem from bigotry at all, but it points out that light and dark have always held certain reasonable connotations that sadly have gotten mixed up with ethnic bigotry between people of diff skin tones.

    ‘Darkness’ is associated with danger, or generally more negative than the ‘light’, simply because that’s how human eyes work. That probably made it easy for people to just think darker people in assorted ways embody more negative traits.
    I’m not trying to justify the bigotry, only saying there’s a plain element of physics that probably helped start and perpetuate it.

    As to Poland…the Country is almost 100% white people, so I could see this pointless/outdated phrase of ‘normal white people’ being used by someone who just didn’t ever notice that there was anything inherently bigoted in the phrase.
    That phrase probably does stem from bigotry, but I could see some, if not most, using it now and just stupidly not having any idea that it implied bigotry.

    If I were talking about someone being cheap and said they ‘Jewed’ me out of money…everyone in America would understand I’d just said something blatantly bigoted. But if I said ‘Gyped’ instead, no one would bat an eye. No one.
    But all I did was replace Jew with Gypsy. It’s 100% just as bigoted. And it’s not that Americans are bigoted against Gypsies. It’s that they don’t even know that’s what it means.

    ‘Indian-giver’ is a very bigoted phrase in relative disuse in America today, but it was plenty common for a long, long time.
    Certainly when it began it was blatant bigotry, but only a few decades ago many would just hear it as a phrase meaning ‘to take something back unfairly’, and not even notice that it’s clearly saying ‘Native Americans do that’. (extra strange/sad/ironic ‘cuz it was totally what the Europeans did like crazy to the Natives).

    As a kid I occasionally heard someone say ‘n–ger-rigged’ when ‘Macgyvering’ something together to get it working. Oddly, if it didn’t have the n-word, the phrase could actually be seen as a compliment to exceptionally clever ingenuity of blacks. But it was clearly a rip on blacks being too poor to get things fixed properly.
    But the non-bigoted version most would say is ‘Jerry’-rigged, or ‘Jury’-rigged. And, like ‘Gyped’, most don’t even know what they’re saying. The former stems from calling German war enemies ‘Jerries’, and the later just stems from an old nautical term.
    People don’t care. That’s not what they mean anymore as long as it’s not noticed to be insulting or bigoted.

    Personally I think we need to point out when people are doing something seemingly (or blatantly) bigoted, but understand that there can be a huge gray area between a ‘totally racist monster’ and a ‘flawlessly moral liberal’.

    Also, I think we should stop how we commonly use the terms ‘race’ and ‘racist’. ‘Human’ is one race in the only meaningful sense of the word. No human can be ‘racist’ to another human. We mean ‘bigotry’ of assorted varieties in these cases. And it’s important to understand all those varieties to ever solve them, so just saying ‘racist’ hinders progress.

    It’s another example of words we use without thinking about them. Please consider trying to use the term ‘bigoted’ instead, and correct other people to promote the idea that we are ‘all one race’, with lots of different types of bigotries. You’ll make people more self-reflective and maybe start a talk about DNA/genetics to boot.
    Black skin is just pigmentation, not a race. African describes a Continent, not a race. American is a Nationality, not a race. Jewish is a religious affiliation, not a race. We use ‘race’ so foolishly.

    Sorry if this is way too long.

  9. 9
    Crommunist

    I was right with you up until here:

    Also, I think we should stop how we commonly use the terms ‘race’ and ‘racist’. ‘Human’ is one race in the only meaningful sense of the word. No human can be ‘racist’ to another human. We mean ‘bigotry’ of assorted varieties in these cases. And it’s important to understand all those varieties to ever solve them, so just saying ‘racist’ hinders progress.

    It’s another example of words we use without thinking about them. Please consider trying to use the term ‘bigoted’ instead, and correct other people to promote the idea that we are ‘all one race’, with lots of different types of bigotries. You’ll make people more self-reflective and maybe start a talk about DNA/genetics to boot.
    Black skin is just pigmentation, not a race. African describes a Continent, not a race. American is a Nationality, not a race. Jewish is a religious affiliation, not a race. We use ‘race’ so foolishly.

    I understand what you are trying to say, but the fact is that almost nobody who understands race uses it to describe some kind of biological reality. Race is generally understood as a social construct, is taught as a social construct, affects people as a social construct, and must be dealt with as a social construct. ‘Race’ and ‘racism’ are both words with a great deal of functional utility, and I do not share your assessment that we would do better to have this discussion without using them.

  10. 10
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    I had never heard the phrase used in a non-sarcastic sense such as you describe. (Punching up – or across, as it were.) It is frightening that it has another usage.

  11. 11
    Matt E

    I vividly remember an event in elementary school (25+ years ago now) when a teacher overheard me singing “eeny meeny” using the word “tigger” (from winnie the pooh). She thought I was singing the n-word and I was in big trouble. My mom got called to the school and I was in tears. Of course, I’d never even heard the n-word at that point (talk about privilege!) and my parents didn’t have a clue about the etymology of the rhyme. At the time, I was upset that the teacher was being so unfair, but now I think: “good for her!”

    Like AZryan points out in #8, I hear people using the term “jewed” to mean being ripped off on a regular basis. When I point out what a bigoted term that is, the response is usually “but I don’t even know any Jewish people!” And your point is? When I explain that “gypped” is really no better, they simply don’t believe that is where the term comes from. And sometimes, if they’re from Europe, they’ll say “you don’t get it, gypsies really are scum!”
    *backs away slowly*

  12. 12
    Pierce R. Butler

    Yabbut do you call a spade a spade?

  13. 13
    Enkidum

    Kind Hearts and Coronets is a fantastic film – although I wouldn’t call it harmless, given the amount of murder in it (this is the one where Alec Guiness plays the entire family, all of whom get murdered, right?).

    At any rate, I strongly disagree that they should edit out the line to make it more palatable to our ears. This is how people used to speak, all the time. We need to be aware of this fact, rather than trying to whitewash it (there’s an unfortunate turn of phrase). We should be talking about the problem, rather than trying to remove instances of it.

  14. 14
    Winterwind

    Those books look interesting. I’ll see if I can get them from the library. Thanks.

    The concept of dark-skinned people as a distinct and inferior race is probably due to relatively recent occurrences like the slave trade and scientific racism. I’m sure ethnic prejudice itself is much, much older. Tribalism and in-group/out-group thinking seems to have been found in most human tribes and civilisations, and physical features along with language, religion and customs were used as markers. Most ancient people thought they were superior to the peoples around them. Today the world is more interconnected and educated, so that’s less true… hopefully.

  15. 15
    Jadehawk

    holy crap. I’d never heard anyone say that, and I couldn’t think of any phrase analogous to “that’s mighty white of you” that would be common and would translate literally to “normal civilized white people”, so I went’ looking for the original quote.

    he really literally just said “normal, civilized, white people”. O.o

    fuck, I really hope I’ve actually never heard anyone use that phrase (because one would hope that meant it’s dying out in the younger generations), rather than simply not having noticed when people do use it.

    *totally horrified*

  16. 16
    Elfreda

    A small quibble–it’s jerry built and it’s not a slur against Germans
    http://www.yaelf.com/aueFAQ/mifjrrybltjryrggd.shtml

  17. 17
    AZryan

    Do you want to ‘blow the dust off language’ or not? You seem opposed to it.

    Crommunist wrote -”I understand what you are trying to say, but the fact is that almost nobody who understands race uses it to describe some kind of biological reality-…-it’s a social construct-…-‘Race’ and ‘racism’ are both words with a great deal of functional utility,…-”

    I don’t think you really want to use the “-But that’s not how most people understand it” argument. Creationists use that argument to explain the ‘fact’ that Evolution is ‘just a theory’. It means ‘a guess’ to them. And that’s what ‘most people’ think it means.

    So do you support that wrong/harmful definition of ‘Theory’ like you do the common wrong/harmful definition of ‘Race’??

    Do you let Theists define ‘Faith’ so that it doesn’t mean the stupidest, most-baseless way to form a belief? They ARE in the majority and DO use the word ‘Faith’ incorrectly all the time.
    Does that make them right?

    The term ‘Race’ is a COMPLETE AND TOTAL MESS as we commonly use it. I say that people do NOT use it with ANY clear definition. That’s why I brought it up along with other phrases and terms people use without knowing what they’re really talking about.

    Just test it yourself. Ask some people “What does the word ‘Race’ mean?” and see the stuttering and/or totally random replies you get. Then mention the very well-known (and universally well-understood) phrase ‘The Human Race’ and you’ll get people even more confused when they define ‘Race’ as skin color, ethnicity, religion, whatever else…

    Hell, let’s look at my Websters Dict. It has 3 defs for Race (aside from the ‘running’ versions of the word).
    It says ‘Distinguishing Humans by physical traits, blood types, etc.’ So they’re saying it means that ‘being short’ is Race! So are all A-Positive blood types! The ‘etc.’ they used can mean literally ANYTHING! That’s insane.
    Next, it says ‘Geographical population with similar habits, ideas.’ So now ‘Southern Republican’ is also a Race. And ‘California surfers’ are a Race, too!
    Finally, it just says ‘Any distinct group of people’ noting again that it means literally ANY people for ANY reason at all! That makes the word utterly demonstrable nonsense!
    Try to define it yourself just based on the way ‘basically everyone uses it’. Good luck. It won’t really work if you’re being honest and complete.

    Use words like ‘ethnicity’ and ‘bigotry’ to define meaningful groups and describe real bias and discrimination and you’ll be FAR more accurate and perfectly well understood by everyone.
    Just try it at least and see how it works for you. I used to say ‘race/racist’ all the time just like everyone else -until I realized it was really confused nonsense.

    Because ‘Race’ means anything (or random crap to random people), it only works to help cover-up and obscure the real issues we’re actually referring to.

    Do you support the KKK in the sense that they believe ‘the White Race’ is a ‘separate Race’ from all others?? Would you rather say “Whites ‘aren’t’ a superior race.” and then debate that issue? Or rather note that “Science proves that all Humans are genetically one race going back far beyond all known Civilization. ‘White’ is just a superficial, meaningless trait.”
    I’d pick the later argument hands-down for many obvious reasons.

    Do you believe Barack Obama is of ‘mixed-race’ like has been noted in countless news reports/articles talking about the white bigotry against him? Do you think his wife is not ‘mixed-race’? They just found she has a white G-G-Great G’father. And shouldn’t we all understand that there’s some ‘white’ in the vast majority of Americans descended from slaves. And know the tragic reason why that is? Why use ‘race’ to obscure all these issues??
    Is it really that useful a term to you?

    Here, ‘ethnicity’ works perfectly. Obama’s ethnically ‘black’. He looks black so has been treated as black. A LOT of racist white people note that he’s “half-white’, yet the media acts like he’s black”. This is because they aren’t understanding the real issue. Calling him ‘mixed-race’ does NOT help. Would you use the term ‘half-breed’? We used to use that term, and it makes sense if we’re all different races. But it’s an out-dated term based on the wrong idea that we are different races.

    You would also be disagreeing with R. Dawkins who likes saying “We’re all Africans.” -which results from him thinking that Humans are all just one genetic race, and trying to promote that Scientific and ‘world-unifying’ understanding of Humanity. PLEASE don’t be so quick to dismiss the profound value of this distinction.

    It’s like people saying Einstein and Hawking both wrote that they believed in God…because they both (stupidly) used the word God to mean ‘the Universe’. That’s just NOT what ‘God’ means in any reasonable way. So, they each made statements saying they don’t actually believe in ‘God’. But the damage had been done and is still commonly used in Theist propaganda.

    When you ruin the definition of a word, you ruin the word.
    ‘Race’ has been ruined. It functions only as a lazy catch-all (literally) of ideas. Why not promote much better clarity of thought that this?

    You can look at this in another way if you take ‘Nations’, ‘Regions’ and ‘Continents’. ‘Nations’ are made of imaginary border lines, but have dead-clear mapped out definitions. ‘Regions’ are artificial too, but usually also very clearly defined borders (using multiple Nation borders).
    ‘Continents’, meanwhile, seem like they’re actually made of real physical boundaries of land masses, so seem FAR LESS artificial. BUT…then why is ‘Europe’ a Continent? It’s clearly part of the huge Asia land mass. It’s much better to just call it a ‘Region’, just like the ‘Middle East’ is a region.
    Is Russia then part of the ‘Continent’ of Europe or Asia? Or part of both? Depends on the map of Continents you look at -making ‘Continent’ is a silly, useless word now.

    North and South America are clear, distinct Continents, but then what’s Central America? It’s not a Continent, so it gets split down the middle. But most people recognize it as a distinct ‘region’, and don’t really use North and South American Continents for anything specific anymore.

    ‘Continent’ here is like the word ‘Race’. Useless and out-dated. ‘Regions’ and ‘Nations’ are very useful, just like using ‘Ethnicity’ and ‘Bigotry’ to make much clearer points on relevant issues.

    Earth has two Oceans, but where does the Atlantic ‘join’ the Pacific? In our global world it’s either a nonsense concept, or just used to VERY roughly denote which part of Earth’s huge body of water you’re talking about. If we called all bodies of water the Atlantic or Pacific it’d be insane. But we use the term ‘race’ like that all the time.

  18. 18
    Crommunist

    If you want me to take your position seriously, try to avoid writing long, unhinged rants where you alternate between ignoring what I said and implying that I am sympathetic to the positions of the KKK.

    It’s obvious that you haven’t read the FAQ where I specifically address most of your arguments here, so I suggest you start there before launching into another tirade. Kthx.

  19. 19
    AZryan

    That’s the film. It’s about murders, but it’d be rated PG in the theaters today. It’s certainly no bloody thriller or horror flick from 1949.

    Why can’t we take out that crap, AND ALSO note that it used to be there say on DVD liner notes?

    You seem to be arguing against erasing history, and I’m 100% with you on that. But I think we can have it both ways. It’s literally the only tiny, one thing in the film that’s blatantly, pointlessly, foolishly bigoted. Change it to ‘tiger’ and it’s 100% fixed. That’s reasonable.

    I don’t buy the ‘they talked like that all the time’ line. We’re talking about a nursery rhyme that didn’t even matter that it was in the film at all.

    You’d have a good argument (that I’d agree with) if there was some old movie where they always said ‘negro’ about any black person, and people wanted to anachronisticly dub in the term ‘African-american’ like 20 different times.

    Would you call it whitewashing for Germany to remove all their nazi symbols from buildings, etc.? I would say it was the right thing to do. BUT also make some museums of what happened and record/teach the history so people know about it. Which they did.

  20. 20
    AZryan

    Interesting link. I’d say that it adds more detail to the issue of word origins.

    Like the article said, by 1898 Jerry was slang for Germans. The article says ‘Jerry-rigged/built’ came from many different sources -which is impossible for an ‘origin’. There had to originally be just one origin for a specific word/phrase. I don’t think the article was enough to prove what that origin was, but it did make me consider lots of other earlier possibilities.

    Words of course evolve in different places and get attached to other/new meanings. By the time it came into popular modern use from say WWI/II on, ‘German-rigged’ seemed to be the last direct source of the term ‘Jerry-rigged’, and the prominent understanding of ‘why’ it proliferated -especially throughout America. But hell…I’m no historical expert on that phrase.

    This is all besides the point of people saying ‘Jerry/Jury-rigged’ (or any words/phrases) and having NO IDEA AT ALL what they mean, or where they came from. That’s what I was really getting at.

    I mean…all words go back to the stone age I suppose. Just like all of us are from Africa in the very loosest use of the word ‘from’.

  21. 21
    AZryan

    Crommunist,

    I was NOT saying you were sympathetic to the KKK. I thought you could understand my point I made there in that using ‘race’ wrongly helps prop up bigotry like from the KKK.

    This is a point not unlike Sam Harris noting how religious moderates unknowingly prop up religious fundies.

    And you clearly don’t know what the words ‘rant’ or ‘tirade’ mean. I was being polite and nice in ALL of this. Yes, my post was long. I even apologized for that the first time. But ‘long’ does NOT mean rant or tirade??

    You can’t just claim I ignored you and not bother to note HOW? I certainly never meant to ignore any of your points. And I still don’t know how you THINK I did?
    Then you claim you answered everything I wrote already. Jesus, that’s dishonest.
    I’ll leave you alone now. I thought this would be a good spot to talk about meaningful things. Clearly not…unless it’s by Twitter posts.

  22. 22
    AZryan

    I don’t get how anyone ever said “-catch ‘a Tigger’…”? There’s only one Tigger, so it wouldn’t sound right to say ‘a Tigger’? I dunno? I guess I don’t know Winnie the Pooh very well? (not sad about that though).

    I’ve heard ‘tiger’ every time I’ve ever heard it.

    On that ‘Jewed’ thing…that’s part of my point I was trying to make. The person who said Jewed might not have had anything against Jews at all. Or maybe they did? But just saying Jewed isn’t enough to ‘know’. And many people would just assume they DO know for sure that the speaker was a total bigot. The truth was obscured by ‘guessing’ what’s true.

    Now, certainly we should just try to get people like that to never say that stuff again because of what it does mean and imply. But even something that seems 100% obviously bigoted…might not be. Weird, but true.

    Hell, the name Gypsies came from the idea that those people actually came from Egyptians. I don’t know if other people started that, or if they did themselves? Maybe it started as a bigoted phrase and then became accepted. But it for sure started as a lie.
    Like the reverse of ‘negro’, where many used that phrase as the ‘right/respectful’ thing to call black people. But now it’s considered foul. And to many ‘black’ is considered disrespectful now too, but I think that’s pushing politically correctness too far because black as a color is obviously FAR more popular that white, and holds no bad modern connotations. It’s an innocent (if totally inaccurate) term, just like white.

    The term ‘African-American’ just seems to serve only to distance and separate this group from being 100% ‘American’ like everyone else (in the U.S. only of course).

  23. 23
    Crommunist

    Here’s how this exchange has gone so far:

    You – hey, race isn’t biological, so we should stop talking about it as though it were

    Me – race may not be biological, but since it was conceived of as a social construct and operates as a social construct, it is still worthwhile to talk about it as though it exists rather than ignoring it

    You – here’s a MILLION questions that are all predicated on the assumption that you think race is biological.

    Me – okay, you’re not listening. I’ve already answered a bunch of these questions in my other writings

    You – HOW DISHONEST! I’m taking my ball and going home!

    Want to try and start over?

  24. 24
    Forbidden Snowflake

    I’ve heard the expression ‘like white people’ used in Russian, but with a different connotation: it generally referred not to “civilized” behavior, but to civilized living conditions.
    E.g.: “I have to work the night shift while he works in an office from 9 to 5, like a white person”, “We used to have an outhouse but now we have indoor plumbing, like white people”

    It’s a very weird expression, racist as fuck while acknowledging, or semi-acknowledging, racism.

  25. 25
    Forbidden Snowflake

    I remember the, erm, non-tiger version of Eany-Meany from ‘Pulp Fiction’, but I had always assumed it was present in the plot as something Zed improvises to demean Marcellus. I didn’t realize up till now that it was an actual thing.
    The more you know, the more you despair.

  26. 26
    ryangerber

    I was 25 when I first heard “mighty white of you”. About the same time as hearing “very Christian of you”, though not from the same people. It makes it a lot easier to see the bias when you don’t grow up with it.

  27. 27
    Corvus illustris

    You really need a native Polish speaker to weigh in on this. Life with my late first wife (first language Polish) and inlaws (grew up in Poland, family functioned predominantly in Polish) convinced me that literal translation from Slavic to Ami English doesn’t always work. E.g., “white” contrasts with what? Could be Turkish or some other historic adversary, and if it’s African, since when? Africans were a bit thin on the ground in eastern Europe back in the day, indeed probably before WW2.

  28. 28
    Jadehawk

    You really need a native Polish speaker to weigh in on this.

    already happened.

    Could be Turkish or some other historic adversary, and if it’s African, since when?

    and which non-white people it refers to is relevant to whether it’s racist… how?

  29. 29
    Larry Clapp

    Terry Pratchett weighs in on this in Lords and Ladies, in a discussion of elves. In the Discworld books, elves are terribly alien, to say the least:

    [...] There was something about the eyes. It wasn’t the shape or the color. There was no evil glint. But there was …

    … a look. It was such a look that a microbe might encounter if it could see up from the bottom end of the microscope. It said: You are nothing. It said: You are flawed, you have no value. It said: You are animal. It said: Perhaps you may be a pet, or perhaps you may be a quarry. It said: And the choice is not yours.

    Lords and Ladies, p102

    I love that last line. “And the choice is not yours.” Deliciously chilling. But I digress. I quoted that so I could establish some context for this, about the words:

    Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
    Elves are marvelous. They create marvels.
    Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
    Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
    Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
    Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
    The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
    No one ever said elves are nice.
    Elves are bad.

    ibid, p122, emphasis in original.

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