Monday, July 6, 2009

political correctness, minority group names

"Little people are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to ban the use of the word "midget" on broadcast TV.

The group Little People of America said today the word is just as offensive as racial slurs. "

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology | 1996 | | © The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology 1996, originally published by Oxford University Press 1996. (Hide copyright information) Copyright

midge OE. myċġ(e), corr. to OS. muggia (Du. mug), OHG. mucca (G. mücke), ON. mý :- Gmc. *muʒjaz, *muʒjōn, rel. to L. musca fly, Gr. muîa.
Hence midget sand-fly (in Canada); extremely small person. XIX.

D: I tried to back-track the etymololgy more, but ran into stuff over my head.
Something about palatisation and a word for a god.

D: I should tell you my own background with political correctness.
I had the ill fortune of being a white male in the liberal arts starting in 1991.
I was in some class taught by our race relations officer on campus.
Something about diversity in Canada.
The textbook cannot have been more than a year old or so.
He informed us, with a serious expression, that the textbook was now wrong.
The term "challenged" was now banned. Henceforth it would instead be "differently abled".
I thought all this was just surreal.
Fast forward a coupla years.
I'm in a student house now near the end of my first degree.
I find this pamphlet booklet lying around in the house with University proposed language guidelines.
At one point it suggests that the phrase "dark and stormy night" or thereabouts is racist. I get a good chuckle out of this.
My roomie comes home and I ask about the satire he left for me.
He said it was not satire. It was serious.

Now, I like etymology. I really do. After all, I'm a language geek. <:
I will often look up the origins of a word out of interest.
However, I don't think knowing a word's origin is relevant to modern language usage.

For example, the term for a cheap handgun "Saturday Night Special", *may* be a reference to the racist term "N****Rtown Saturday Night". Well, maybe.

Negro Look up Negro at
"member of a black-skinned race of Africa," 1555, from Sp. or Port. negro "black," from L. nigrum (nom. niger) "black," of unknown origin.

D: For the last few decades, the latest trendy fashionable word to use for ?!? group has changed.
Once upon a time, the term "negro" was neutral, not an epithet.
Then it fell out of fashion. Notice I do say fashion, in the same sense as bell-bottom jeans or any other cultural fad.
Negro? Black? African-American? I cannot be sure, being outside the academia for a decade, what the latest polite term is.

In the real world, most people were unaware that "differently abled is the new challenged".
I still know people that think Oriental is neutral, as opposed to Asian.
Far East implies a certain Western centrism, so I'm not sure about it.

An older person using the wrong term isn't racist.
They just don't follow the latest quasi-satirical academic edicts.
So too, non-academics.

D: the problem is NOT the term we use.
It is the negative stereotype associated with it.
If we do not address the stereotype, then inevitably the stereotype taints the new 'correct' term, and then we must find a new term.
We are always running away from the racism, or sexism, or ethnicism, or whatever.
We will always be running away. We leave a trail of compromised words.
And many confused non-academics, or retired university students that don't know bell bottoms are back in, or low-hip-huggers, or acid-washed jeans or whatever the linguistic equivalent is.

I'd like recount another example of an ulterior motive to change the emotional association for a term.
In the Depression of the 1930s, the term "slow down" was emotionally loaded.
Much of economics is about consumer confidence. Belief affects actual money.
They chose a new term, still clean of emotionally negative baggage.
The word was "recession".
In the most recent recession, I saw the term slow down being used to avoid the stigma attached the word recession.
We have come full circle in less than a century, ROTFL!
The revolution turned us a full 360 degrees, and we ended up precisely where we started!

I like deaf subculture. Typically if you ask a deaf person what to call them, they'll look at you like you're stupid and say deaf.
Not hard of hearing or hearing impaired (unless they are).

When I submitted my first language proposal, "Deafese", to, they did not respond right away. I realized they maybe they thought the name was derogatory.
I suppose I could have called it "hard-of-hearing-ese", but that is quite a mouthful.
Visemese was my first choice, but almost nobody knows the a viseme means visual phoneme.

I grew up without any racism in my house. I didn't even know any of the put-down epithets. That got me into trouble on occasion.
I didn't know that certain truncations of country national membership titles were considered epithets. And so on.

In conclusion, sure we can find new terms for, say midgets. But I predict that in a few years, "little people" will be a put down too.
And somebody who discriminates can sarcastically use the term "little people" as a put down. Somebody who does not discriminate can use the term "midget" neutrally.

As a language designer, I dislike the trail of used up words that have become worn out.
As one interested in some aspects of philosophical languages with their taxonomic lexical approach, I don't allow for stigma and newly coined words for old terms.

Take, for example, 3 terms I have seen for ? African American ?
1) People of the Sun
2) black
3) Starts with N, ends with R. I ain't saying it!

The first carries positive connotations in the sense of being a positive stereotype. The sun loves us! We are favoured. OK.
The second is basically considered neutral.
The third is nasty nasty nasty. And just about anybody alive knows it refers to a negative stereotype, because the term has been around for so long.

In a designed language, one can use word particle and infixes in a regular and methodical fashion.

Woman. Lady! And whatever put down you care for. W***E or S**t for example.

Man. Human. Adult.
Woman. Female human adult.
Lady - plus / prestige or honour.
S**T - less.

Zamenhof actually explicitly allowed for just this terminology, which really dates the language.

is "dirty woman, slut"; is "crone, contemptible female". ...

D: high and low status, and insults, are a part of human society.
Any attempt to ignore it will fail anyway.

I like Korean honorifics in that respect.
just tack them on the end, primarily.
The one-sided nature of Esperanto, with male as the default, is just a sign that it is a century old.
I'm sure something designed today will feel dated in a 100 years too.

As a language designer, just allow for neutral terms which are easy to learn with regular rules.
And have generic postive/ negative prestige expressions.

Aside: have you heard politicians speaking? They don't say "human adults".
They say men and women or flatteringly ladies and gentlemen.
Human adult plural (positive stereotype/ social prestige).


mademoiselle Look up mademoiselle at
1450, "unmarried Frenchwoman," from Fr. (12c.), from a compound of ma dameisele (see damsel), lit. "young mistress."

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