Monday, July 31, 2006

Epithet Evolution

Wikipedia says that Sensitivity Training is a form of training that claims to make people:
  • more aware of their own prejudices and
  • more sensitive to others.

I thought to myself, "How can I write this without someone saying I'm biased against something?"

I can't. There is no way I could write about bias and sensitivities and be so vague and without an example that someone, somewhere wouldn't be guaranteed to call me "insensitive" or some other worse names. Because I don't share the same views, opinions or experiences, because I have formed my own opinion and because it disagrees with someone . . . I'm the bad guy and need to take sensitivity training. So, of course, I'll welcome your comments.

I was joking with some friends of mine and apparently shocked and dismayed another commuter who was waiting to deboard. As the door opened she said to me "You need sensitivity training!" then dashed off the train. It was like a drive-by shooting. Zing!

I wasn't talking to her. She doesn't know me or anything about me. She did not know my philosophy or my intent. Yet she misconstrues a light-hearted conversation between friends as a bigoted view of a group of people.

I'm gay Lady. I was making joking, gay comments. It's like obese people making light of their weight.

Now, why is it that she doesn't need "Desensitivity" training? I might even need to take the class with her.

That same week, my friend, Paul, (who is straight but knows a LOT of show tune lyrics) used the term Ghey (pronounced 'gay') when talking about his motorcycle. "I'm not going to put a windscreen on my bike 'cause that would look ghey." He later made frilly hand gestures and a falsetto voice to further clarify the impact of the windscreen. So, in context, I think I got his meaning. He noticed my raised eyebrows and he explained to me that it wasn't gay, it was g-H-e-y. Like leet speak.

The Urban Dictionary has this to say. Ghey: Lame. An excuse for using the term "Gay" in a negative way, without seeming to be offensive. However, changing the spelling of the word doesn't change how offensive it can still be to homosexuals.

So, I started to use Pahl as a synonym for stupid or ignorant. "That's so pahl." (Pronounced 'paul') When I noticed his raised eyebrow, I explained, "It's okay, it's spelled p-a-H-l."

Yes, I'll admit, I was a little put off by him using the term 'ghey' as a derogatory. So now I'm really divided. Give that man freedom of expression and let him say 'ghey' or even 'gay' as a pejorative. But allow others the freedom of expression to say something too. Work to not be offended.

Any freedom, both physical and of expression, is hampered by idiots. Because idiots chiseled out pieces of Stonehenge as souveniers, visitors are now prevented from walking within the structure. Because bigoted people adopted the svastika or the southern cross as their banner, the reputations of both symbols are ruined. Because someone spills hot coffee on their lap - there are disclaimers and common sense warnings on everything. And because some idiot uses a term offensively, that term becomes taboo.

I have another friend who would not read the original 1936 Mary Poppins (quite different from the movie) to a child because it has the word picaninny.

Gays can't say breeder ( ). Heterosexuals can't say fag. (From the late sixteenth century, meaning an old, unpleasant woman.)

Carlos Mencia can say beaner. Dave Chappelle can say nigger. (From the Latin Niger, meaning black.)

Even in context, no one can say picaninny (from the Portuguese pequenino, meaning little) and Mitt Romney can't say tar baby (a sticky situation, a doll made of tar and turpentine).

I'm not saying that one should throw around racial slurs or bigoted epithets willy-nilly. Come on, be real. Practice consideration of the feelings of others and steer clear of stereotyping generalizations. I am saying, however, get some desensitivity training before no one is allowed to say anything.

It's not the word that should bother you. It's the contextual disdain, disrespect or poor and uninformed view that is behind the word. That is so very pahl.


Anonymous said...

Why all the existential angst from a conclusion jumping busy body? All she wanted was to make herself feel superior by berating you. I'm guessing there was no altruism there. A busy body who eavesdrops on your conversation then has the temerity to comment on it is being impolite at best. However, when it comes to slurs it's perfectly fine to laugh at the silliness of stereotypes with other enlightened people whom you know are not harboring prejudices but to use racial slurs casually and/or in front of someone who doesn't know you or your views is to be insensitive and to invite an unflattering assessment of your personality. As for trying to deflect accusations of insensitivity with creative spelling I say that goes beyond merely being the antithesis of polite behavior and is in fact an immature attempt to thumb ones nose and polite behavior. I avoid using the term PC here which is used pejoratively by the neo-conservatives and their sycophants but basically they both mean the same thing; behaving in a way meant to ease social intercourse and avoid unnecessary conflict in casual social settings. The urban dictionary you site defines "ghey" in this way; "Usurping the traditional term GAY to take the homosexual meaning out and leaving in the lame." This definition presupposes that being homosexual is lame or at the very least negative. It starts with the idea that gay is bad but then someone, thinking they were clever decided to spell it differently and thereby "take the homosexual meaning out". Well, gay people must feel better, it no longer includes any reference to a homosexual sex act but still means lame, hmmmm. It doesn't stop there. Using the term then says to the potential offended person, "I dare you to accuse me of insensitivity because I have this lame reductio ad absurdum reasoning that allows me to use what we all know is a negative slur." If it sounds like a slur it is a slur. Is there no other synonym in the entire English language that means lame? We all know how and why gay became a synonym for lame just like we know where all the other popular slurs came from. Your train mate is an insensitive prick who is merely trying to pique you. And how did freedom play into your angst? Freedom means having the right to be a complete insensitive asshole not that you have an obligation to be one. Don't confuse the two. You can call Paul an insensitive prick and still advocate his freedom to be just that. I see no contradiction there. Telling him he is an asshole is pointing out the obvious, it's certainly not limiting his freedom.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Prisspott,

So as I read through your scathing comments about me, even though I do not believe you know me, I find myself thinking about this statement you made: “Is there no other synonym in the entire English language that means lame?”

Lets ponder shall we, the original meaning of the word gay and it’s evolution in our language. Did it not used to mean happy and joyful? Was it not adopted by the gay community themselves to be used as a euphemism? Why now, years after its original meaning has changed, is it not allowed to go through another metamorphosis?

According to, ghey is defined as: This Internet slang term developed in the 2000s as a variant of the pejorative usage of "gay". It retains the derisive sense while leaving out any overt link to the homosexual meanings of "gay".

You counter this definition by saying: "I dare you to accuse me of insensitivity because I have this lame reductio ad absurdum reasoning that allows me to use what we all know is a negative slur." Yet, had I used the word queer, which is still defined as: “Deviating from the expected or normal” would I have been attacked in such a manner as well? What if I had said “fucking weird” or “bloody awful”? Would the prude below us or the Brit next to me have been offended as well?

At what point can we stop assuming that everyone is being biased, bigoted or racist and just take the conversation as a whole into account instead of nitpicking through each and every word for their hidden or hurtful meanings?

Chuck and I discussed the use of the word Tar Baby yesterday when referring to the Big Dig; in context the word was correct and used in its proper meaning, yet the PC Police forced the politician to make an apology due to its singular word (phrase) meaning. Was it right for Governor Romney to have to retract his word, we both thought not; yet here I am, having to defend myself in the use of my word selection.

You call me an “insensitive prick” and accuse me of deliberately trying to pique Chuck’s ire; yet the conversation as a whole had nothing to do with him whatsoever, nor the gay community. Yes, Chuck could have called me an asshole in response, but he choose instead to make up a new word, or evolve one; my name to mean something drastically different. By doing so, Chuck rose above the trap that is political correctness and I applaud him for that.

I apologized for hurting Chuck’s feelings, but I will not, nor should I have to, apologize for my word selection. If that makes me an “insensitive prick” then so be it.

In summary:

TLDR, learn2paragraph, DIAF, KKTHXBYE


Anonymous said...

Miss Lady Prisspott,

"A busy body who eavesdrops on your conversation then has the temerity to comment on it is being impolite at best."

A little ironic. Dontcha think?

A little too ironic. ;)


Anonymous said...

Dear Paul, It's nice to meet you. No, I don't know you. It should be clear that I am simply responding to Chuck's retelling of the event. Even more specifically to his reaction to the events, but be that as it may I'll grant you that I don't know you even though I believe that this sort of rhetorical device is nothing more than dissembling.

The term gay has already gone through a metamorphosis from the way it was used by homosexuals and has come to be used by the homophobic as a pejorative and this is why it's use in public is impolite and invites, as I said earlier, an unflattering assessment of your character. Simply stating that you spell the word differently and therefore no one should be permitted to take offense is the most immature argument I have ever heard. It is like the child who tells a lie then states that he/she is immune from the consequences because he/she crossed their fingers when it was uttered. I challenge you to make a practical analysis of this line of reasoning by approaching an African American street thug and calling him a "neigher" then see if the explanation of your alternate spelling shops him from beating the shit out of you.

You offer as synonyms that you could have used; queer, fucking weird and bloody awful. This is all you could come up with? Why not simply lame? There is no point at which we stop assuming everyone is biased. This is called good manners and polite behavior. It's not the PC police coming to take away your rights to free speech as the anti-PC police would have us believe it's simply behaving in a way that eases social interaction, avoids confrontation and protects you from appearing course or prejudiced. Political correctness is only a trap if you insist on being impolite and unpleasant; your prerogative. Don't, however, blame me or anyone around you for assuming that you are an insensitive prick when you do so. I'm not asking for an apology at all, nor do I believe Chuck did.

And my dear anonymous, there is no irony to responding directly to Chuck about his reaction to a situation which he told in a public forum. I merely pointed out that he has no reason to feel conflicted about his reaction to the situation. Tell me, do you see irony or at least cowardice in the fact that you hide behind anonymity to throw about your ill-reasoned accusations?

Just-Chuck said...

Eavesdroppers rarely like what they hear, but those overheard like the eavesdroppers even less. -Rylus

From Jane Lindskold's When the Gods are Silent.

Funhog said...

Changing the spelling but keeping the same pronunciation removes the onus from a word? I think not! This is silly beyond words. The only place I've seen surtitles projected above a speaker's head are at an opera. How in the world would anyone have a clue how you're spelling an offensive word as it leaves your lips?

BTW I know a great joke that uses a trio of racial epithets. I don't find it the least bit offensive because the content of the joke is not at all derogatory to any of the groups named. However, I would never tell this joke in a public place because the words themselves are so emotionally charged, no matter how you spell them. It's only good manners and common sense.