What’s in a Word?

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Words. We writers live by ’em. And sometimes (if you offend the wrong Muslim lunatic) die by them. But they are the essential part of how we do what we do. Words mean things. But not all words mean the same things to all people. And living in the Age of Political Correctness, not all wordsmiths are created equal, at least as far as permission to use certain words goes. Allow me to give you some examples…

Recently, famed comedian Jerry Seinfeld stated that he never plays college campuses any longer, because he’s afraid of being heckled and persecuted for not passing some sort of liberal theology purity test. No one is safe from the PC police, it turns out. Even the most strident of Progressives can find that their minions turn upon them, denounce them, and declare them an apostate from the Cause. (Of course, Jerry, being a good little Liberal, failed to mention in his observation, that the roots of Political Correctness lie solely the provence of the Progressive/Liberal camp.)

In the world of the Politically Correct, there’s no single standard for what is a “good” word and what is a “bad” word. It depends on who uses it, context be damned. Back when I briefly taught in the public school system, I worked at my old alma mater, C.E. Byrd High School. I was even teaching in a classroom where I’d once had a class. Back when I was in high school, Byrd was probably about 70% white, and 30% minority – most of that black. When I taught there, the demographics had switched to about 55% black, with white students in the minority. One particular day, two or three black kids were arguing as they came into my American History class. They were using what most white people now refer to as the “N” word, regarding each other. I calmly took a stack of textbooks and dropped them on the floor, with a resounding <CRACK!>, which suddenly and surely silenced everyone.

“I don’t care what you do outside my classroom,” I said, with all the gravitas I could muster at the tender age of 21. “But in MY classroom, you will not use THAT word.” I smiled grimly. I’m not allowed to use that word in this school, nor do I want to. And If I can’t use it, then neither can you. It’s disrespectful. It’s distasteful. And I won’t allow it. Now sit down, close your mouths and open your books.”

Understand – none of them were talking. Nope. They were all standing about, gape-mouthed at me. Apparently, nobody had ever called their bluff on their language before. I had no more trouble from any of them after that.

And it’s true. If a black individual chooses to call someone else a ‘nigger’ – they can get away with it. That’s considered okay in that ‘hood, I suppose. If I used that word, I’d be hounded by the press, and likely see my tires slashed, or home burned to the ground. Frankly, I don’t like the word. I don’t use it, even in conversation with my friends. I really do find it distasteful. But I find it offensive  no matter who uses it.

Recently, observing the coverage of the dust-up over Rachael Dolezal and her faux-black life, I noticed that she was pursuing a reality show deal. (Isn’t everybody?) So I quipped:

It was inevitable…I understand that Rachel Dolezal is working on a deal for a reality TV show. But what most people don’t know is that it will be a cooking show, where she’ll teach people how to make homemade Oreos.

I gotta admit, I laughed when I thought of it, and laughed again when I read what I wrote. It’s funny – black people have long referred to those blacks who don’t toe the ideological party line (usually Liberal/Democrat) as “Oreos” – black on the outside, and white on the inside. Dolezal is, quite literally, a living, breathing “Oreo” in that respect – “black” on the outside, and whiter than a loaf of Wonder Bread under the ‘fro and (tanned) skin. How perfect. And it got even more ironic. She attended an predominantly black college and sued them for being an oppressed white woman. Later, she tried to start a lawsuit over Hollywood casting white actors in non-white roles.

Um…yeah. Lemme savor the bittersweet irony of THAT one. (I’m trying very hard not to be racially insensitive, when I admit the first thing that popped into my head upon hearing that was “Pot…meet kettle…Kettle, I’d like to introduce you to pot…”) Wowzers. Methinks thine hypocrisy knoweth no boundaries.

Now I suppose it won’t surprise anybody to learn that I managed to offend several people with that FB post. Even lost a promising relationship over the quip. Yep. Some were offended by my use of the word “Oreo” as a “racial slur.” (Um…but wait…that’s a BLACK term that BLACKS use to describe another black they feel is an apostate from their ideology!) And I was using it, therefore, in the ironic sense. (“Irony”…it’s like “goldy” or “slivery”…but less precious.) Makes no difference. I’m not black, so in their mind I don’t have the “right” to use that word in that context. (Funny, but I don’t hear people getting worked up if I call someone a “cracker” or a “redneck.” And I don’t hear anybody getting upset if a minority uses one of those terms about me.)

You see, in the Liberal mind, White guys are the dominant life form. Therefore, they are fair game. But woe be unto the clueless WASP who mistakenly uses one or more of the forbidden, sacred words him-(or her)-self. Das ist VERBOTEN! NEIN!

(Sorry…I couldn’t help but once again malign the far Left for their tactics that remind me suspiciously of those used by an earlier leader who wanted to control the dialog and quash any and all opposition.)

One of my favorite movies is an early Mel Brooks film, “Blazing Saddles.” He had a Hell of a time getting it made back in the 70s. I suspect that there’s NO way he could get it made today. And it’s one of the funniest films ever made. Why? Because he mercilessly skewers everybody, within the context of a parody of Westerns. Whites, blacks, Latinos, Germans, Irishmen, Chinese, gays, Lesbians, Indians – you name it, and they get mocked. Even the sacred image of the American Cowboy is hauled up the flagpole for laughs. And it’s more than just poking fun at ethnic or gender groups. Brooks (and co-screenwriter/pioneering black comedian Richard Pryor) skewer race relations and how one group talks about another. It’s hilarious. And if they tried to put it on TV today, you’d only hear about one-third of the dialog, if that.

The problem with “Political Correctness” is it’s entirely bereft of humor, especially as to allowing for the self-depreciating variety. W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) said “There is humor in all things.” He was right. But America today has the same kind of relationship with language that Voltaire noted that human beings have in their relationship to the Almighty. He said, “God is a comedian, playing to an audience afraid to laugh.” He was right. And it’s easy to see the comparison to that with the America of today. Freud (supposedly)  said, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”  And sometimes, words are just…words. We should be free to use them as we see fit. If they offend, that’s okay. It’s okay to take offense, as it is to give it. (And from where I sit, it’s better to give than to receive.) But where we err is in thinking we can ever build a world that is free from offense. It’s just not possible. And it’s time to stop condemning those who fail your ideological purity test. And if that offends you…I’ve done my job. You’re welcome. And goodnight.

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