Linguistic cleansing

Lake Michigan, ealy morning, 2000

Lake Michigan, early morning, near Sheboygan WI, 2000

Around three this morning when I couldn’t get back to sleep, I thought of seven possible blog topics. Of course, by the dawn’s early light when I awoke again, none of them sprang to mind, so you will have to take my word for it.  And they were really good topics, whatever they were.

I’m sure one of the topics had to do with politics.

This past week we, the American people, have seen some amazing things. For example, the discussion about ‘anchor babies’ brought several issues to the fore, and got me thinking about censorship again.

Finally, after being hounded for days, Jeb Bush turned to a reporter who had just “informed” him that the term ‘anchor babies’ was offensive and therefore politically incorrect, and said, “Do you have a better word?” The reporter shut up at that point or kept on sputtering, I don’t know which because the film ended and I wasn’t there.  Some wag suggested ‘anchor fetus’, but there is no better term.

Why are some phrases or words offensive and others not?  I became super sensitized to this at the Census Bureau where I worked in the ‘Race and Ethnic’ area of the population division. Believe me our words, both written and spoken  were heavily censored.  No matter what we said or wrote, someone objected.  Working there was George Orwell’s nightmare come true.

Because I worked with this particular government operation, I can understand how “political correctness” can become a destructive force, like the censorship experienced in Nazi Germany or Staasi Poland.

Okay, let me give you an example.  Because two of my great grandparents spoke German, I often us the word “folk” which come from the German “Volk.”  Because the class system is alive and well in the U.S., some people think the word is downscale or common, probably because ‘immigrants’ used it. These snobs prefer the word “people” from the Greco-Roman-Norman root.

Another example that actually makes some sense refers to American Indians, Alaska Natives, Indigenous tribes, First People, or whatever you wish to call them.

The people living in the Americas at the time of the European discovery were immigrants to the “New World”,  just like every one else.  Anthropologists think these migrants came in two waves across the Siberian land bridge because the First People found in South America are more ancient. Genetics suggest that both groups origins lie in Central Asia, which means they are related to Europeans and Asians. In other words, we all have the same ancestor.

Members of these groups distinguish themselves by their tribal names. What “outsiders” call them is arbitrary in their eyes. At least that has been my experience, having been corrected by a couple of them (co-workers).

They are not a homogeneous group either. Thus some support the ‘Redskin’ name of the Washington team, and a few don’t.  Most outsiders finding the name offensive are ignorant of this verbal divide. Me, I have no opinion because I am not a football fan and I dislike the team owner because he cut down a swath of trees on the George Washington Parkway to improve his view of the Potomac.

One of my wise acre co-workers called the censorship we experienced at the Census Bureau, the work of the “comma police.” So be warned!

22 thoughts on “Linguistic cleansing

  1. I keep a pen and notepad next to my bed … I learned to do this when all my good “night” thoughts were strangely lost the next morning. (although some of them are better off never getting put down in my blog !)


  2. Just thought of a great title for your next blog……”The Magnificent Seven”…..oh wait, I think that’s already been used somewhere. As for the political part, I won’t ruin your Sunday morning with another vitriol.


  3. I think some of the designated native American Indians are the ones offended by the term “Redskins” and the opinions of those of us who are not of their named group don’t count for them — of course we’re not offended.
    I’m fascinated by the words we use and how they impact one and all. Not only are the words critical but defining those terms is vital before meaningful discussion can occur, otherwise much verbiage, emotion and time can be spent comparing “apples and oranges.”


    • According to an article in the Washington Post, only a few people claiming to be from First People tribes object to the nomenclature. The team actually receives quite a bit of support from many tribes. The owner has many artifacts in his office given him by these supporters. Unfortunately, a few outspoken individuals claim to represent everyone and various left-wingers, often not from the East Coast, offer very vocal,support of them.


    • Regarding your second point, I agree. ‘Pro life ‘ springs to mind. Roman Catholics who say they are pro life mean that. The other side will say they are anti-abortion, but to be ‘pro life’ mans you also oppose the death penalty.


  4. I don’t think too far ahead with blog posts. As it’s mainly a photographic blog and a way of sharing with family and friends, and I take so many of them, I always seem to have something to share. I always enjoy reading your posts though. Thanks for visiting Dianne, I think it would be great for you to catch the train down to Norfolk.


  5. I also have wonderful ideas in the middle of the night, only to forget what they were in the morning. I keep telling myself I need to place a pad and pen next to my bed, but never do it.


  6. I don’t think Redskins, the nickname for the Washington football team, has a negative connotation. I think it’s rather cute. But, there are always some people who take life too seriously.


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