Saturday, July 24, 2010

A River of Words

One Saturday morning, I stumbled on Melvyn Bragg on the television. He was talking about the origins of words in the English language. He is English English and not American English so it was even more fun. Of course the naughty words were the most fun. Did you know that calling a penis a "Johnson" stems (giggle) from a man who wanted to purify the English language? Oh, how Johnson (stifled giggle) would hate that. So it's even more fun. He also talked about American English.
Riff Raff: Rift Raft. People too poor to ride in a ship on the Mississippi River, the highfalutin (reference tops of large river boats) could afford. It seems our language is as fluid and fast flowing as the Mississippi itself.

Melvyn(if I may call him by his first name) said that language changes the most rapidly during technological growth spurts. Have you 'friended' anyone recently? What about texting?

Let's try some more words.

Filthy wetback. There are two words. They conveyed a thought. But it also forever sealed the fact I will never work for the government as more than a peon in sensitivity training. It makes no difference the point of this little essay. My words can be found by someone with an agenda and used to destroy my credibility with those I serve and who are unwilling to go beyond bias and seek the truth.

I read a comment regarding word censorship that said rational adults should not be offended by any words.

Let's try some more:


I culturally identify with Germans. The majority of my family tree is rooted in Germany. When people hear that, they use words like kraut and jokingly, nazi. It sort of offends me, but not really. There is no longer an action associated with calling me a nazi. I know there is a neo-nazi movement, but they are little threat due to intelligence issues. They are not main streamed. Their existence does not mean I may get a worse or better job. I will not get pulled over because I'm blonde with blue eyes, although that fact has helped me in the past. No one follows me around the store because I'm white. No one wants to check my papers to ensure I'm in this country legally. No one assumes I'm not educated. Blonde jokes started to die when Chrissy left Three's Company.

Here's another one:

I love that gay (also co-opted) people have stolen "queer" from those that hate them. The power of that word is so greatly diminished now.

But, let's go back to moron, idiot, and retard. Those words started off as medical/educational terms and have evolved into words of hate, judgement, and disdain. Those words have grown horns.

Another commenter stated that we should raise our children to be color blind but that people over 40 just need to suck it up. What a wonderful thought. A new history starts right now, no.... right NOW.... no wait... right now... okay... in 10 seconds, the new history starts... tomorrow... Monday is always the best day to start things. Forget about it, MY history is a part of me. It is a part of my child, my neighborhood, my town, and my world.

Words. If only they existed in a vacuum away from attitude, intention, and action. If only.

Call me a kraut. It's kind of fun. It means nothing to me. The attitude and intention and actions surrounding that? Harmless.

But let's pretend someone wants to build a wall to keep you out. Wants to hate you for risking your life to cross an arbitrary line. Wants to bemoan and hate your culture but wants you to serve a lighter version of your culture to him or her for $5.99 and then have you clean up the mess when he or she leaves. How fun is wetback now?

Let's say you get pulled over constantly by a legally armed individual who assumes you are not only breaking the law but are likely dangerous. Let's say that happens when you have broken no laws. What about recent history? The Tuskegee Syphilis Studies? The word 'nigger' just got offensive.

My first offensive words were "filthy wetback". My friend, a rational adult, was called that as a child when a girl in his class wanted to invite him to a birthday party. Her father said, in my friend's presence, "I won't have a filthy wetback in my backyard". That rational adult was once a child. He's still the same person, and while the wound healed, the scar remains.

If words were not powerful, there would be no speeches, radio commercials, newspapers, or even blogs. Censorship dams the flow of vital words that can heal, progress, and free people. Words must be pretty powerful.

So, no censorship. Agreed. How about some sensitivity (another word co-opted and made anemic)?

Maybe our language river will flow to a nice shady place where words like 'nigger', 'wetback', and 'spic' aren't so bad and maybe even kind of fun, like 'kraut'. It will only happen when they aren't tied to demeaning and harmful intention, perception, and action. Ahhh, but for some reason I suspect we'll have some offensive replacements.