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Why "I'd Prefer If You Called Us X" Isn't Enough of an Argument in My Book:

On the "handicapped" thread, Trevor Morrison asks:

My mother spent years as an advocate for the disabled. On the basis of her work there, I'm reasonably certain that people actually involved in the lives of the disabled tend to favor "disabled" over "handicapped." Your defense of "handicapped" relies on your account of the word's etymology. So is your position that the formal definition and origin of a word always defines its appropriate usage, or do contemporary changes in usage affect things?

A good question, which I think deserves a detailed answer.

First, let me make clear that I don't think etymology dictates meaning; my post about "handicapped" was a rebuttal to the argument that "handicapped has a pejorative etymology, therefore it's a rude term to use"; that argument, I pointed out, was premised on an inaccurate factual claim. But one can still argue that the term is pejorative even if its original meaning is fairly innocent. Let me also make clear that I don't want to fault anyone for trying extra hard to accommodate what he sees as the preferences of a group or some members of that group; if that's your choice, fine by me.

Rather, it seems to me that the interesting question here is whether people have some sort of good manners obligation to abandon "disabled" for "handicapped," "American Indian" for "Native American," "black" for "African American," and so on. I think the answer is generally no, unless the old term is so commonly used as a pejorative that listeners can reasonably infer that your use of it is pejorative, or possibly if the old term is so rarely used and thus archaic that listeners can reasonably wonder "what does he mean by that?" when they hear it (e.g., "Negro" or "Hebrew" as a noun to refer to Jews). The mere fact that some members of a group, or even a majority of the members of a group, prefer the new term doesn't impose on us an obligation to use the new term. Here are a few reasons why.

1. To begin with, note that Prof. Morrison cites the views not of the disabled generally (a hard group to poll), but of "people actually involved in the lives of the disabled." More precisely, I suspect that he is relying on the views of those people who are "advocates of the disabled" and who are outspoken enough to express their views as to the preference. This may well be a highly unrepresentative sample of the disabled.

Just by way of example, a 1995 Labor Department survey reported that 50% of American Indians preferred "American Indian" and only 37% preferred "Native American"; 44% of blacks preferred "Black" and only 40% preferred "African-American" or "Afro-American"; 58% preferred "Hispanic" and only 12% preferred "Latino" (no separate data was given for "Latino/a"). Matters may have shifted some since 1995, but not vastly; and I'm pretty sure that in 1995, the preferred terms among activists were "Native American," "African-American," and (here I'm less sure) "Latino," yet the actual majority (or, for blacks, plurality) preferences were different. (Source: U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 20, 1995.) Even if I thought that I had some moral or good manners responsibility to use the label preferred by a strong majority of the group, I see no basis for accepting such a responsibility to use the label preferred by a vocal minority, or even half of the group.

2. Moreover, shifting from an old label to a new label is not cost-free. It's not cost-free for the speaker. Sometimes the new term has shades of meaning that aren't quite apt for certain uses, and thus requires extra work to think through. ("African-American," for instance, isn't a racial group, but a racial subset of Americans; it thus isn't always an apt substitute.) Sometimes the new term carries an ideological literal meaning that the spaker may disliks evoking, even when it's fairly clear that he's using the term just as a label and not for its literal meaning. This is clearest for "differently abled" or "Latter-Day Saint" (I have nothing against Mormons, but I prefer not to call them Saints, even with the implied quotes). But it may also apply in other situations, such as with "disabled"; some people may genuinely prefer to stress the handicap (i.e., burden) under which a person labors rather than his disability.

Sometimes the word acquires a connotation of adherence to the ideology that spawned it; the word "womyn" may be the most famous example, though I suspect that these days it's so often used facetiously that people may want to avoid it for that reason as well. Speakers may then resist using the term because they don't want to be seen as proclaiming allegiance to an ideology that they do not adhere to. Sometimes the new term is just clunkier and sounds more stilted to many people; some, I suspect, take this view as to African-American, and I suspect that headline writers are especially unhappy with it.

3. But the more important cost to the speaker is that telling people that they should stop saying certain words, not because those words are likely to be reasonably interpreted as expressing hostility, but simply because some other people dislike those words, is itself something of an affront to dignity and a possible source of offense. Even the good-mannered among us cherish our freedom to speak as we please, and while we try not to be rude (in the sense of slighting others or saying bad things about them), we understandably bristle at being told to stop using this word and start using that one on pain of Being a Bad Person.

A sound explanation that shows why people are reasonably offended by a term (for instance, an explanation to someone coming from Russia, where "black" is insulting much like "yellow" would be, and "negro" is considered the proper scientific term, that in America "negro" is so rarely used that it sounds like a deliberate insult at worst or one of those what-did-he-mean-by-that? archaicisms at best) might soften the sting. But simply saying "most of us like this term, so stop using this other one that you've used all your life" is a legitimate source of offense for those whose speech people are trying to control. It's even more such a source if those people were once taught by then-representatives of the same group that "handicapped" was the better term, and some years later are now told that it's become bad. And it's especially so when the number of forbidden words grows and grows ("rule of thumb," "Chinese wall," "seminal," etc.).

4. On top of that, there's also another substantial cost to the "If you aren't a bigot, stop saying 'handicapped' and say 'disabled' instead" approach: It may actually increase how often the group that one is trying to protect from offense ends up feeling offended.

If handicapped people learn that some people say "disabled" and others say "handicapped," and that neither is evidence of hostility, a few might still bristle at one (or the other); but many will be satisfied by the explanation that decent people use both. But say that everyone is told that "disabled" is the one right term, and some decent people don't go along, whether because of force of habit, strong preference for "handicapped," or just bristling at being told what to say. Then handicapped people who hear the term may well become more offended, because they've been taught that the word is offensive.

People who might even prefer to shrug the term off might feel almost obligated to take it as an insult. If someone calls me "Gene" rather than "Eugene," I'm a little annoyed (that's just not the name I prefer in English), but I assume that it's just because they've fallen into that habit with other Eugenes they know, who do go by Gene in a way that I don't. I assume the speaker's intentions were good, and I think I'm happier for it.

But if someone started a campaign of insisting that calling me Gene is actually rude, perhaps even insulting (because the diminutive implies a diminution of my status), I'd both hear "Gene" a bit less often, and be much more annoyed when I do hear it, precisely because I'll worry that it's a deliberate violation of the New Good Manners Rule and thus a deliberate slight. Those who make the handicapped/disabled issue into a matter of identity politics rather than just a matter of apricot/apricot (or even Gene/Eugene) may thus increase the amount of hurt feelings on both sides.

5. So I think the approach that's more tolerant of speakers, ultimately more likely to avoid offense to the subjects of the speech, and less likely to be subject to the whims of a small minority of activists is generally to tolerate both the old terms and the new terms, and not consider either to be a breach of good manners.

There are exceptions. One, as I noted above, is when one term is so often used pejoratively that reasonable listeners might assume that the current user is using it pejoratively. Another is when the term is so archaic that it will make people wonder whether the speakers must have some ulterior motive in using it (the obvious motive, which is that it's a commonly used term that springs to people's minds naturally, being absent). There may well be others; rules of manners are often not competely simple and crisp. But as to handicapped/disabled, or American Indian/Native American, or black/African American, the let-at-least-a-couple-flowers-bloom approach strikes me as the clearly preferable one.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Handicapped vs. Disabled:
  2. Why "I'd Prefer If You Called Us X" Isn't Enough of an Argument in My Book:
  3. Handicapped:
  4. Picnic:
  5. Tar Baby:
Gump:
How do people feel about "Jew?"
8.3.2006 3:07am
Xrayspec:
I see the "good manners obligation" as a tool to help the majority maintain control, not a capitulation to an overly vocal minority.

In a way, you could say we (= polite, civil Americans) agree to avoid certain terms because it's a form of compensation to groups that have been discriminated against or otherwise treated poorly.

It seems like "political correctness" as a trend over the last 25 yrs has paralleled a decline in the large-scale social / political appetite for ongoing substantive reform. For example, since nobody in the majority REALLY wants to face up to the difficult problems still facing black America, members of the majority can pat themselves on the back for remembering to say "African-American".

Meanwhile, the majority can convince African-Americans that they've won some kind of important concession by persuading polite, civil Americans to adopt this term.

It's like the boss who boosts morale by giving her employees impressive-sounding new titles to do the same jobs for the same pay. Cosmetic appeasement distracts from the substantive failure.
8.3.2006 3:46am
davod (mail):
Disabled, handicapped, cripple! They are just words. It is what people make of the words that matters.

I now live in a wheelchair. When I was growing the term used for someone would be a cripple. Some would use the word in a disparaging way but most useage would in a matter of fact way to describe a physical characteristic.

Later the term handicapped came into vogue and the same thing happened , some used the word in a disparaging way, but most used the word as it was meant to be used.

Now we have disabled, and the same thing is happening with this word.

You may have missed the latest itteration - differently -abled.

I think changing the words is just a way for some health professional or sociologist to create momentum for their particular brand of treatment. Changing the word gives them something to talk about and the PR people something to hype up.

There was nothing wrong with any of the words.
8.3.2006 3:52am
Donald Kahn (mail):
Such corrections are merely a form of officiousness, which is and always has been an obnoxious aspect of human relations.

My advice is: pay no attention to such effrontery, unless the source is signing your paycheck, or paying your rent.
8.3.2006 4:02am
Donald Kahn (mail):
I forgot to refer to the Jew thing. I don't see that it is any different from "Scot" "German" "Indian" "Malay" but I'm sure you get my point.

These terms have the virtue of concision, and of not giving rise to laughable items. For instance, "The Jewish person of Malta", "a Jewish man of Venice" (Shylock). Only Woody Allen could do justice to such tropes.
8.3.2006 4:18am
randal (mail):
Fortunately, Eugene, I believe these last vestiges of the Political Correctness movement will continue to fade for the foreseeable future. People under 30 were teens or younger during the PC epidemic. Teens are particularly intolerant of being told how to speak and of having their motives impugned, PC's two defining characteristics. Political Correctness left a bad taste in the mouths of an entire generation, across the political spectrum.

This can be seen in two modern trends. The first is said generation's preference for reclaiming pejorative labels. There's hardly a pejorative term left for "gay" - even "fag" has been mostly defanged (see "fag hag"). Also the "n-word".

The second is the knowingly-iffy but objectively-acceptable disparaging use of plausibly pejorative labels in inapplicable contexts. As in "don't be so retarded" and "those shoes are totally gay".
8.3.2006 4:24am
dearieme:
I object to "Native American" on grounds of inaccuracy: anyone born in America is a native American. "Indigenous American" makes more sense. As for Black/African-American, isn't that a little parochial? I remember US journalists covering South Africa chattering about "African-Americans": very droll. "Negro" seems to me a handy short word for "Sub-Saharan African or anyone descended from same", is surely readily distinguished from the rude word that really is offensive, and avoids lumping together black people from elsewhere in the world e.g. Melanesia.
8.3.2006 5:56am
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
Bob Costas once described someone as "the first African-American from Europe" to win a gold medal in some event.
8.3.2006 7:39am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
How can 'negro' be archaic when it was the common term 40 years ago? Is 40 years long enough - in a literate age - to make a universal word archaic?
8.3.2006 7:50am
Just:
I object to "Native American" on grounds of inaccuracy

In my experience, these people refer to themselves more specifically by tribe. ie/Ojibway, Seminole, Ho Chunk.

Eugene's explanation aside, why not observe the people you wish to label, if possible, and see what terminology they are using? Thus, in Trevor Morrison's case, you do the polite thing if you work in those circles, and use the term "disabled".
8.3.2006 8:18am
Steve Lubet (mail):
Prof. Volokh's approach to religious groups could lead to some pretty odd results. He says "I have nothing against Mormons, but I prefer not to call them [Latter Day] Saints, even with the implied quotes."

Does he apply that same rule to Protestants (who don't protest much these days), to Catholics (whose tastes aren't all that catholic any more), to Conservative Jews (who are really pretty liberal)?

President Bush and other Republicans have an annoying habit of refusing to call the Democratic Party by its official name, referring instead to the Democrat Party (I guess it must be an in joke).

On the other hand, perhaps we should all stop calling Bush a Republican, given his disdain for the republican role of the legislature. From now on, let's call him an Executivist.
8.3.2006 8:27am
Andis Kaulins (mail) (www):
Nomen est Omen

1. Strictly seen, neither of the terms "Native American" or "Indigenous American" are factually correct since - according to modern genetic and archaeological evidence - the "Indians" (so called by the founding fathers of the USA) were also immigrants to the Americas, even if this migration occurred some many thousands of years before the Pilgrims. Seen historically, using the term "Siberian-American" would probably be more accurate in terms of actual tribal origins, although not even that is 100% accurate, given the apparently ancient but rare mtDNA European lineage "X" also found in American Indian populations. As the Encyclopedia Smithsonian writes at http://www.si.edu/resource/faq/nmnh/origin.htm:


Evidence for diverse migrations into the New World also comes from Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) research on living American Indian populations. These studies have consistently shown similarities between American Indians and recent populations in Asia and Siberia, but also unique American characteristics, which the very early crania have also shown. Evidence for only four mtDNA lineages, characterizing over 95 percent of all modern American Indian populations, may suggest a limited number of founding groups migrating from Asia into the New World. Recently, however, a fifth mtDNA lineage named "X" has turned up in living American Indians and in prehistoric remains for which there does not appear to be an Asian origin. The first variant of X was found in Europeans and may have originated in Eurasia. Naturally, generations of conflict, intermarriage, disease, and famine would influence the genetic makeup of modern Native Americans. Further work with mtDNA, nuclear DNA (which is more representative of the entire genome), and Y-chromosome data, the male-transmitted complement of mtDNA, will permit better estimates of the genetic similarities between Old and New World groups and help to determine when they would have shared a common ancestor.


The problem with the terms "Native American" or "Indigenous American" is thus that they - quite intentionally - presume and encompass some allegedly fundamental truths and conclusions which may not even be true. If the mtDNA lineage X from "Euroasia" preceded the Siberian-Americans, then it would be the American Indians who took the land away from that group, which would make lineage X the first - previously immigrated - inhabitants of America.

2. It is arguable that naming certain segments of the American population in terms of their territorial "origins", whether it be "Native American" or "African American", is discriminatory per se, unless we also follow the same naming practice for all other Americans, thus abandoning the "melting pot" idea which is at the root of the American nation. How about Euro-Americans?

3. The entire concept of grouping modern peoples within America by their "origins" is problematical since many individual citizens have mixed-race lineages. See America's label game misses diversity of race. Tiger Woods, for example, calls himself a "Caublinasian".

4. New DNA genetic studies such as the National Geographic Genographic Project (in concert with IBM and the Waite Family Foundation) make simplistic labels of origin appear rather foolish. Maybe we will one day in the not so distant future be known by our Y and mtDNA haplotypes?

Andis Kaulins, LawPundit
8.3.2006 8:33am
dearieme:
OK, AK, back to "Injuns".
8.3.2006 8:47am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
The 1970s Atlanta Braves had a mascot named Chief Noc-a-Homa( a full blooded Navajo). He would do a war dance at the start of the game and sprint out to his TeePee in left field. During the game he would send smoke signals and smoke his peace pipe and attempt to catch homerun balls with a fishing net. In 1982 Ted Turner took out the TeePee to put in more seats and the Braves promptly lost 13 games but were able to make the playoffs when the Chief returned in September. Teds wife Jane put the pressure on however, and the Chief was released later in the 80's. Returning to the reservation a broken man he died, drunk, insane, and penniless in 1991,never getting to see his beloved Bravos win the pennant.:(
8.3.2006 9:20am
ABCD:
The problem with "American Indian" is that it is easily and often confused with "Indian-American" (as in, an American whose forebears were from India). I am a member of the latter group, and when I've told someone that I am "Indian", I am not infrequently asked whether I'm "an Indian from India" or "an Indian Indian." That's why I prefer the term "Native American."
8.3.2006 9:30am
Spoons (mail) (www):
I agree with the professor, but think he's shoveling something against the tide. When these situations come up in daily life, it's easy to forget that the terms we're being asked to eschew were often the same ones we were once told to substitute for earlier ones out of politeness. Negro, for example, was once what polite people called blacks (or should I say African-Americans).

My own typical strategy is to stick with the term I was raised with until it becomes untenable. I'm holding out with "black," though, even against the tide, because it seems to me that that was the first label that group chose for themselves.

One arena where this whole label thing gets tricky, by the way, is in front of juries. If you're trying to describe the defendant, do you call him black, and offend some jurors, or call him african-american, and irritate others?

Telling them to just get over their hangups isn't really an option at that point.
8.3.2006 9:34am
magoo (mail):
"Even the good-mannered among us cherish our freedom to speak as we please, and while we try not to be rude (in the sense of slighting others or saying bad things about them), we understandably bristle at being told to stop using this word and start using that one on pain of Being a Bad Person."

I find this notion rather bizarre. If someone introduces herself by saying "My name is Margeret Smith, but I prefer that folks call me Meg," I don't bristle. If a disabled person says "I prefer 'wheel-chair user' over the term handicapped, I don't bristle. Your bristle trigger is too sensitive. If I ask you to call me Roman Catholic rather than a papist, or Irish rather than Gaelic, I won't consider you to be "A Bad Person," just one who refuses to extend simply courtesies.
8.3.2006 9:36am
Milhouse (www):
Gump, I've read that "Jew" used to be considered offensive in the early 20th century, but I've never come across anyone in real life who considers it so.
8.3.2006 9:48am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Note that we never see (or rarely see) usage like “African-Brazilian” or “African” anything else (African-African?). So why “African-American?” What’s going on here? First as I said before this taking offense about this-and-that is really an attempt to control people, and thereby gain power. Secondly when it’s really undesirable to be something like deaf, or paralyzed, the advocates for the group keep insisting on a name change in a vain attempt to escape reality. Even if they call you “differently enabled,” you’re still crippled. In some cases, advocates, or even members of the group take a flight from reality. For example deafness. You actually have people insisting that deafness is really not a handicap, and that is actually preferable to be deaf! The following is a more detailed example.

In the early days of slavery, slaves were called “blacks.” Then came “Africans.” A little later “darky” or “darkey” (1775) appeared, followed by “Africo-American” (1835), which never really caught on. After the Civil War, “freedman” was used a lot, but died out by 1870. In about 1880, T. Thomas Fortune editor of the New York Age invented “Afro-American.” Later in the 20th Century we got “colored” and “Negro.” In the 1960s “Black” came back to replace “Negro” which later had to compete with “Afro-American” which was eventually replaced by the current usage of “African American.” in the late 20th Century. Of course we always have “people of color,” which is supposed to be better than “colored people” for some unknown reason. Both usages are a little ambiguous as “people of color” should include Chinese, but usually doesn’t in current usage. Clearly we have been going in circles.

At one time “Negro” was not capitalized, but in 1930 the New York Times adopted the capitalization after much lobbying by the Negroes (reverting to usage at the time). In 1933 the Style Manual of the Government Printing Office did likewise so capitalization would appear in government documents and the Congressional Record. The largest Negro Newspaper in 1937, The Pittsburgh Courier, hailed the conversion only to have its star columnist George Schuyler disagree writing:


Negro clearly belongs with blonde, brunette, ruddy, mulatto, octoroon and such descriptive terms, and has no stronger claim on capitalization.”



In closing, there is nothing new about these usage fights except they have been taken to ridiculous extremes in the past ten years. After a certain point in your life you say “the hell with it” I’m going to write the way I want and learn to say “tough shit” more often.
8.3.2006 9:49am
Kevin P. (mail):
magoo wrote:

I find this notion rather bizarre. If someone introduces herself by saying "My name is Margeret Smith, but I prefer that folks call me Meg," I don't bristle. If a disabled person says "I prefer 'wheel-chair user' over the term handicapped, I don't bristle. Your bristle trigger is too sensitive. If I ask you to call me Roman Catholic rather than a papist, or Irish rather than Gaelic, I won't consider you to be "A Bad Person," just one who refuses to extend simply courtesies.


If you were the only representative of your kind, it would be a problem. We would call you whatever you wanted to be called.

The problem: the said group in question has many members with different descriptions of self. Read the good professor's post again for better comprehension.
8.3.2006 9:52am
Kevin P. (mail):
... would not be a problem
8.3.2006 9:52am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
In medical school it was always a question how to describe patients when presenting to the Attending Physician, some preferred "black" or "white" others "african american" or "caucasian" a few of the fogies wanted "Negro". The best was this English surgeon, a korean war veteran..when told the patient was a 75 year old black male..he said.."STOP STOP STOP...that is NOT a "Male" that is......a "MAN".
8.3.2006 9:55am
magoo (mail):
I'm not disputing that a single group can cause problems by offering up conflicting designations. I'm questioning the notion that most people bristle when a single group (like the Catholics or the Irish in my examples) offer up a single preferred designation. The notion seems to rest on the idea that reasonable people value their word selection so much that they would bristle at the very idea (unless the term being avoided is clearly pejorative). I don't bristle. I like calling people what they want to be called.

Thanks for the reading comprehension tip. It really made my day.
8.3.2006 9:58am
MDJD2B (mail):
1. All other things being equal call people what they want to be called. I basically agree with Prof. Volokh's reasoned analysis on this. Other things aren't always equal. Two other points:

2. Some classes are socially or even intrinsically perjorative. Most people, for example, would agree that it is better to hear than not to hear, or better to be able to walk than otherwise. And (this is a normative statement-- not an ethical one) calling a widely despised group of people by a euphemism does not make them less despised. So the euphemism comes to acquire a negative connotation with time. So the widespread use of 'handicapped' started as a polite way to describe "cripples," etc. Now it has a negative connotation of its own. Prediction: in 30 years we will be asked to use a term other than 'disabled.'

3. Being asked to change ones usage itself breeds resentment. If someone innocently calls me a Yankee and I demand to be called an American, sr some such thing, I will come across as prickly and oversensitive. But...

4. If Prof. Volokh prefers 'Eugene.' or even 'Prof. Volokh' to 'Gene,' I'll do this as a matter of courtesy. But if he wants me to call him 'Your Briliant Highness,' then I'll draw the line. Analogize to 'saints,' etc. My main problem with African-American is that it is 7 syllables long, and hard to say. It also is not clear (here in NY) whether it refers as well to immigrants from the Carribean or West Africa. But 'African' is a better analog to most other ethnic monikers, which are based on geography (or, in the case of Jews, ancient geography) rather than physical characteristics.
8.3.2006 9:59am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Jew is fine.
8.3.2006 10:06am
poster child (mail):
I've had similar debates with my wife, who is Hispanic (or, if you ask her, Latino, or if you ask her sociology professor, Latino/a). The first one broke out over my usage of the term "Oriental" rather than "Asian." She informed me that "Oriental" should only be used in reference to things rather than people, which was news to me. Of course, I don't want to be seen as rude (or archaic), but it seems to me that "Asian" would tend to encompass a far greater number of ethnicities (e.g., Indians, Persians, Semites, Turks, Central Asians) than does "Oriental" (i.e., Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and other East Asians). Is she correct? Is "Oriental" really seen as racist or is my wife repeating what she's heard from the PC activists?
8.3.2006 10:19am
Uncle Kenny (mail):
This thread is retarded.
8.3.2006 10:25am
Nick_asp (www):
'Jew' is weird. Used as a noun 'Senator Lieberman is a Jew', it's neutral; used as an adjective 'the Jew senator', it's the prerogative of bigots.

'Cult' is a good example word that isn't pejorative in scholarly speech, in its Latin original ('cultus', religion, worship, etc.) or in any foreign language but has become so in everyday English where cults are invariably wacky.

I prefer to use 'Mormons' rather than 'Saints', but then logically should I object to 'Orthodox' (i.e. 'correct doctrine'), or 'Catholic' (i.e. 'universal')? There aren't any good substitutes, so maybe it's enough that the significance of their meanings is buried in the 'decent obscurity of a learned language'.
8.3.2006 10:26am
John (mail):
These word changes for the same groups are driven by dopey people who think that society's views of the group will be changed if only the descriptive term is changed. This of course is an illusion, but it doesn't stop them.

The question is what to do about it. On the one hand, you can point out that they are being dopey, and refuse to go along, which can have certain social or even professional consequences for you. On the other hand, you can go along and, in some sense, compromise your own integrity.

It is not clear there is any good rule to tell you what to do.
8.3.2006 10:28am
Eugene Volokh (www):
As to Saint vs. Catholic, my sense is that when a word has been used as a group name a long time, and especially when the word is rarely used as anything else, the literal meaning often fades from view. Even those who know the meaning of small-c catholic rarely think of it, I suspect, when they hear what's pretty obviously a large-C Catholic. The same is largely true for Democratic and Republican (though less so, since the lowercase versions of the words are still more commonly in use than catholic is), plus there's no adequate substitute in those instances.

When someone is trying to popularize a term that's not commonly in use, such as Saint for Mormon or "differently abled" for "disabled," it's much more likely to retain in many speakers' and listeners' minds its literal meaning. And those people might be reluctant to use the term precisely because they don't want to evoke that literal meaning.
8.3.2006 10:44am
jallgor (mail):
I am glad someone brought up the Asian/Oriental thing. I first heard that Oriental was verbotten in Law School in 1995. I stopped using it but I always wondered who made the decision that it was perjorative. I have also always been surprised at how fast Oriental ceased to be used. I am sure that prior to law school everyone I knew said Oriental (I grew up outside NYC and my HS was probably 25% asian). Then in the span of about 5 years the only people I knew who said Oriental were people who were "too old to know any better."
In general, I am happy to use whatever term doesn't make me worry that I am pissing someone off. But I run into trouble with things like Black versus African American. I think Black is generally accepted but I always worry a bit when I use it that someone in the audience will be offended. On the other hand African American is a mouthful and I think it smacks of someone who is "trying to hard." It's the term someone might use if they are too conscious of the whole race issue and may even be masking some rascist tendencies by choosing their words too carefully.
My last point, has anyone ever been in the situation where they want to describe a minority to someone else but they avoid saying that the person is Asian, Black, Hispanic, etc? So instead of saying, "you know Fred, the black guy in accounting" you give your listener the, "he's 6 feet tall, brown eyes, sits by the door . . ." No matter how useful it might be in describing the person, I always they a little awkward about using the persons race to describe them. Am I alone here?
8.3.2006 10:46am
Dan S.:
On the Indian vs Native American point, all you have to do is visit the web sites of various tribes and you will ses that many use the word Indian to describe themselves and many do not.

See http://www.delawaretribeofindians.nsn.us/ ("The Delaware Tribe of Indians")

But see http://www.hopi.nsn.us/history.asp
("Our continual occupancy of the area since 500 A.D. gives Hopi people the longest authenticated history of occupation of a single area by any Native American tribe in the United States.")

So it is far from clear that "Native American is the preferred term.

On the African American point, one question that arises is how frequently do you reasonably get to change the word. African Americans have been known over the last 50 years as "colored" "negro" "black" "African American." How long do you have to stick with a preferred term before it becomes offensive rather than preferred?

Dan
8.3.2006 10:50am
lucia (mail) (www):
EV-- I have one quibble. It might be good to distinguish with "good enough reason for me-- EV" and "good enough reason for a politician".

Politicians have special communication issues because their words are often read and later quoted by political opponents. The natural evolution of language presents difficult challenges for them.

Here's why I think this.

Until we eliminate prejudice, perfectly good non-pejorative words will take on pejorative meanings because those who dislike a certain group or trait will use tone, inflection, eye-rolls or special context when they apply that word to describe those people. Initially, very distinct eye-rolls etc. will be required to denote the pejorative sense. (Think Dana Carvey and "that's special".) Once the pejorative sense catches on fully, the tone and or eye-rolls are no longer required.

In spoken language, the listener can often hear the difference between a pejorative use and a non-pejorative use. In written transcripts, they often can't. If the pejorative use is beginning to catch on, a political opponent quoting a politician can easily make them sound like someone using the word pejoratively. Some who have heard the pejorative use will suspect it was used this way.

For better or worse, this means that if you are a politicians whose speech is reported in writing or quoted by others, it may be prudent to vigilantly track which new words are now sometimes used pejoratively and substitute other words. If you don't, you will sometimes find yourself sidetracked by accusations of bigotry. These will be followed by long discussions of your guilt or innocence. The overwhelming majority of people may agree you are innocent.

But, being cleared in the minds of the majority doesn't solve your biggest problem which is: Whatever message you meant to get out during a speech will be forgotten. This might not be important to most people, but... What did Mitt Romeny intend to accomplish when he spoke to hundreds in Ames, Iowa? Surely he did not intend America to debate the precise meaning of "tar baby"!

So, avoiding words that advocates claim have acquired a pejorative sense for no other reason than the fact they claim this -- can help politicians avoid being derailed!

--- ---
Warning: My ridiculously long comment contains a split infinitive.
8.3.2006 10:50am
Steve Lubet (mail):
Re: saints and catholics. the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been around for over 150 years. how much longer will it take, Eugene, before you would be willing to call them by their chosen name?

as to your distinction between LDS and Catholics (that lower case "catholic" has pretty much been superseded by the upper case religion), what do you say about Conservative Judaism? Are you willing to refer to Christian Scientists, for that matter?

i don't challenge your right to be idiosyncratic about groups and names, but i think that your approach to Mormons undermines your broader argument -- it just makes you look ornery.
8.3.2006 11:22am
Chukuang:
She informed me that "Oriental" should only be used in reference to things rather than people, which was news to me. Of course, I don't want to be seen as rude (or archaic), but it seems to me that "Asian" would tend to encompass a far greater number of ethnicities (e.g., Indians, Persians, Semites, Turks, Central Asians) than does "Oriental" (i.e., Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and other East Asians). Is she correct? Is "Oriental" really seen as racist or is my wife repeating what she's heard from the PC activists?

My sense is that "Oriental" sounds more archaic than offensive. I know older (as in over 50) Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese who use the term themselves, but younger people never would when refering to people. Of course one also rarely refers to "the Orient" these days unless trying to be consciously poetic/archaic.

As for the range of "Asian" v. "Oriental," remember that "the Orient" originally included (or primarily referred to) the Middle East and what we sometimes refer to as "Asia Minor." Hence Said's book was titled Orientalism though it had nothing to do with China, Japan, or Korea. As an academic field, "Asian Studies" typically includes India, Nepal, and all of South East Asian, in addition to China, Korea and Japan. "East Asian Studies" typically refers primarily to China, Korea, and Japan, with Vietnam and Tibet sometimes thrown in for good measure.
8.3.2006 11:22am
tefta2 (mail):
Jew is fine with me too, but then I don't consider the word, Jew, a pejorative nor do I consider the word, Negro, a pejorative.

Negro is one of the major races found on earth. African American is silly. If it's meant to refer to Negroes, it must be amended to Sub-Saharan African American. Black as the counterpoint to White? That's also fine with me, although if the demographers are correct, Americans will all be shades of brown in the not to distant future, and that too will be fine with me.

Before PC, polite language was neutral and meant only to convey information and Americans weren't hyphenated, so there was no problem with geography, for instance, people from India used to be referred to as East Indians to distinguish them from American Indians, but if these folks feel left out, they can be referred to as Indian-Americans with no danger of confusion.

Why did we allow the haters to appropriate the perfectly good English words that described us and turn them on their heads?
8.3.2006 11:30am
goesh:
I always get confused when minorities use words themselves that the majority is not supposed to use.
8.3.2006 11:33am
Houston Lawyer:
Jailgor

A good friend of mine came across two young black men in a grocery store where he sells wholsale. One black guy was trying to describe one of the managers of the store to the other, but the other guy couldn't put a face to the name. My friend stepped in and pointed out that the guy was the black manager. That worked for them and the misunderstanding was immediately cleared.

The news media have stopped giving the racial characteristics of the people the police are looking for. How do you describe the difference between an Asian and a Hispanic without resorting to stereotypes that are worse than the racial classifications?
8.3.2006 11:38am
Monkberrymoon (mail):
In the early '90's I had an argument with a Japanese woman who claimed that "oriental" was offensive (I maintained that it was merely archaic, if only slightly). She was not a native speaker of English, so I couldn't understand how she could be offended -- until I figured out that her white philosophy professor had told her it was offensive. It seems to me that offendedness (offensiveness?) should be more subjective than that.

An interesting analogue is the changing terms for the outcaste group in Japan that used to be called "eta" (or worse) and then "burakumin" and now any number of seemingly-innocuous things.
8.3.2006 11:39am
Hghflyr:
Could someone tell me if this is word game of renaming/relabeling groups due to implied offensiveness or perjorative use is a peculiarity for English alone with it's rather loose word genders, or is this an issue that comes up across other languages?

The reference to "womyn" reminded me of the neutralization of common terms such as "actor" referring to both men and women, also chairman/chairwomen/chairperson, etc. I have a hard time believing that this same process would be applied to much stricter languages with masculine, feminine, or neuter forms. Is this not an issue with those languages, or is there an active attempt at change among some significant percentage of those populations?
8.3.2006 11:44am
Master Shake:
Anyone have any thoughts on the use of "Moslem" instead of "Muslim"? "Muslim" seems to be universally accepted in press accounts, books and the like, but there seem to be occasions where people go out of their way to say "Moslem" (for instance, in threads on this blog, someone will say "Moslems belive X", ten other people will make comments such as "No, Muslims believe y", and the first person will say "Moslems are bad". "Moslem" seems somewhat like "Oriental" to me, I just don't know why.
8.3.2006 11:50am
Don Miller (mail):
As a member of the LDS church from birth, growing up in an LDS family that has been LDS since the 1830's, I am baffled by were the whole "Saints" thing comes from.

The early members of the LDS Church called themselves Saints, I have heard General Authorities in talks referring to the membership as saints, but I have never ever heard someone refer to themselves as a Saint.

When asked most people I know refer to themselves as LDS or Mormon. I personally prefer LDS.

Maybe I missed a memo.
8.3.2006 11:56am
Opus:
On the Indian vs Native American point, all you have to do is visit the web sites of various tribes and you will ses that many use the word Indian to describe themselves and many do not.

In a similar vein, a number of reservation high schools have adopted "Red Skins" or "Braves" for their teams' names. As this seems to be an implicit invitation for persons outside of the ethnic group to use these names (i.e., “We’re playing the Red Skins tonight”), this seems different from the custom that members of the same ethnic group can use otherwise unacceptable terms to refer to themselves and each other.
8.3.2006 12:00pm
lucia (mail) (www):
EV-- Have you ever experienced people explaining to you that you should prefer Gene? I ask because both as an adult and as a child, I've had adults explain at some length that I should prefer Lucy.
8.3.2006 12:01pm
poster child (mail):
Just to clarify my earlier point about "Oriental" a bit--I don't really have a problem calling people whatever they'd like to be called (provided that they don't bite my head off if I unintentionally offend them before I discover their preference), but "Asian" just seems awfully imprecise when what you're really trying to say is "Do you know Jim, the guy in our Torts class who looks like his ancestors came from one of the East or Southeast Asian nations?" After all, Asia is a huge place with ethnicities that vary drastically in culture and physical appearance, so it just (mildly) irks me that "Asian" is the preferred term for the people hailing from a mere fraction of Asia. I suppose that "East Asian" would be a good, more precise alternative (much like "South Asian" is understood to mean someone from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh), but is it widely used (and more importantly, is it acceptable)?

As to the etymology of "Oriental," I always understood it to mean "Eastern," just as "Occidental" means "Western." Hence, persons from the East (and it doesn't get much farther East than East Asia) are from the Orient. Similarly, Occidental College is located in California, on the West Coast of North America. Admittedly, no-one calls whites "Occidentals," but if they did, it wouldn't strike me as particularly offensive to be referred to as, essentially, a "Westerner."
8.3.2006 12:03pm
hilmar:
This takes me back to the Chinaman controversy here in British Columbia. In the 1800s a lot of Chinese labourers came over to work. So a lot of geographic features had the Chinaman name. In the 1990's some nameless bureaucrat decided that this might possibly offend some people of Chinese descent and began erasing the names from the official maps. The Chinese community was very upset that their history was being erased...
8.3.2006 12:04pm
pete (mail) (www):
I had a friend in college who was born in Egypt and always liked to refer to himself as an African American even though he was not black because he actually was an American from Africa.

This also reminds me of the classic Simpsons exchange:

Apu: Today, I am no longer an Indian living in America. I am an Indian-American.
Lisa: You know, in a way, all Americans are immigrants. Except, of course Native Americans.
Homer: Yeah, Native Americans like us.
Lisa: No, I mean American Indians.
Apu: Like me.
8.3.2006 12:08pm
Medis:
I don't get the structure of EV's argument.

Of course the "new" term could have a different content than the "old" term, which is usually part of the point. If you want to call a preference for this new content "ideological", and want to reject it because you disagree with the implied ideology, then fine--but then that means you are in fact taking an ideological stand by insisting on the "old" term instead.

So, for example, obviously it is true that the term "African-American" is consciously designed to emphasize that the members of the group are a racial subset of Americans, rather than simply members of a race. And so perhaps a preference for "African-American" over a term like "black" indicates an ideological commitment to the idea that people should be emphasizing in part that members of this group share a nationality with their fellow Americans, even while acknowledging that they can be distinguished from some of their other fellow Americans by their race.

But if all that is true, then of course one who insists on using "black" instead of "African-American" should have to justify this preference on ideological grounds. Indeed, it is precisely because these are not identical terms that one cannot simply point to mere inertia as a reason to stick with the "old" term.

And I think it is equally obvious that one could be subject to criticism on ideological grounds for having such a preference. So, for example, if you are resistant to the notion of emphasizing that members of a certain group share a common nationality with their fellow Americans, and would prefer to emphasize only their race, then you might well be validly criticized for that preference. Of course, you might also be validly criticized for having the opposite preference. My point is just that insofar as your preference is ideological, you can be criticized on ideological grounds.

In short, it makes no sense to me to offer ideological grounds as a reason for refusing to adopt a "new" term, and then to claim that you should be immune from criticism for preferring the "old" term. Rather, it seems to me that you could be criticized precisely to the extent that we think your ideology, as expressed by this preference, is worth criticizing.
8.3.2006 12:15pm
Anon for now:

This is clearest for "differently abled" or "Latter-Day Saint" (I have nothing against Mormons, but I prefer not to call them Saints, even with the implied quotes).


Miller is right, about the "LDS" use, though I would note that historically "Mormon" is a pejorative. Which brings up the issue of how long a pejorative needs to be used before it is ok to use it instead of a polite term.
8.3.2006 12:22pm
Medis:
To clarify something that I think was unclear in my last post:

I don't mean to suggest that a person could not have nonideological reasons for preferring a term (eg, it is shorter, or you think it is more poetic, or you view it as traditional and favor tradition, or so forth). In those cases, one would not necessarily need an ideological justification for the preference. But even in that case, one might be asked to explain why one thinks that these other considerations should trump any differences in ideological content--or, in fact, vice-versa for those who prefer a different term on ideological grounds. And one's answer to such questions (again, either way) could be subject to criticism as well.
8.3.2006 12:24pm
Rogue Latino (mail):
MDJD2B and lucia are both on to something.

It sucks to not be able to walk, and much of the word-games that go on with changing the nomenclature is an attempt to deny the fact that the subject of the sentence got a crappy lot in the life lottery.

It sucks not being able to see, or not being able to hear. And if you point out a person's shortcomings, they are going to "bristle." Unfortunately, using an accurate term for someone's shortcomings points those shortcomings out. So we (meaning group members and/or activists) push for change in the language to try to erase the "shortcomings" (apologies to midgets, er.. little persons, er... what is the term nowadays?).

The situation is a little more fuzzy with "Blacks" and "Indians" because the shortcomings there are either (a) less obvious or perhaps more often (b) imagined. Still, people do not want to be reminded of the fact that other people don't like them. (Some of us got very used to that in junior high school.)

And it doesn't really matter *why* people don't like a group, either -- the group gets upset at the negative feelings anyway. Some people don't like Blacks because Blacks can appear to be imprisoned more often, leading to the (reasonable if not completely proven) inference that they commit more crime per capita. Some people don't like African Americans because the Negro is inherently inferior — those people are bigots and that's what their parents taught them. Whether the reasons are reasonable, understandable, silly, or offensive, lucia's right that this is the root of the problem: it's the attitudes, not the language. And changing the language is an attempt to escape attitudes (or the recognition of an unfortunate physical reality for the blind, deaf, and handicapped).

And frankly, Professor Volokh's (very well-argued) analysis is right when it says that people bristle at being told not to call a spade a spade. When Latina/o came into being, I just about vomitted. I still call myself Hispanic or Chicano (when I'm bothering with racial labels at all), and once you've understood that name changes like this are really just attempts to deny/escape from a reality that you don't like, they're kind of offensive. At the very least, you start to understand that using them makes you look sad, pathetic, and either desperate for or demanding of the approval of a generally indifferent world.

Which is why we have that silly saying about sticks and stones.
8.3.2006 12:25pm
tefta2 (mail):
I use Moslem because it was the polite term for Musselman, Mohammedan, etc. I don't know why and when Muslim came about, but I find nothing pejorative about Moslem and don't intend to change a lifetime of habit.

I started to include comments on the feminist assault on language, but perhaps I'll wait until Eugene will write on changing the English language for reasons of political ideology.
8.3.2006 12:25pm
Steve in CA (mail):
1 -- I can't help thinking that everytime I read someone refer to "Moslems," they're insulting Muslims in some way. I'm not sure why, though.

2 -- "Mormons" is pejorative? I had no idea. What's the story behind that one? I've never met a Mormon who seemed bothered by the term, but I don't know that many Mormons.
8.3.2006 12:35pm
non_Lawyer:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been around for 176 years now -- nearly as long as the USA itself. There are now more than 12 million members, with congregations throughout the USA. How much more established does the church need to be before the correct terminology of "Saints" for its members can reasonably be applied?

You don't have to agree with a group to call it by its proper designation (for instance, all the various terrorist groups whose name translations imply they are acting in behalf of God -- we still call them by their various organizations' names.)

As noted above, surely the Protestants aren't spending much time "protesting" anymore. Shan't we just call them "Unorthodoxes" or some such? No, because every member of the group self-identifies as "Protestant."

The term "Mormon" for Latter-day Saints has a history of perjorative use, although it is not strictly so. But, the church itself (by that, I mean the leadership) prefers the use of "Saint," (the official instruction to the media is: "When referring to Church members, the term “Latter-day Saints” is preferred, though 'Mormons' is acceptable." Found here.) Since this is not a preference that changes every few years, it seems reasonable to use the term.

So, why do people so fluidly change from preferred term to preferred term for various races, yet have such a hard time calling the LDS people by their preferred name? It's not as though the Saints actually believe that they are all "saintly" and perfect -- it's actually a historical term that refers back to the original followers of Christ (eg. Paul's epistle to the saints at Corinth was not addressed to a bunch of "saintly" people, just followers of Christ - hence, the "latter-day" part of LDS). The word "saint" has come to mean "a person officially recognized, especially by canonization, as being entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth," or "an extremely virtuous person." The LDS church does not canonize people, but they'll tell you that they aspire to virtue. I don't see the big deal with recognizing that.

I think people in general are reluctant to call the Saints by their proper designation because they feel that using the term "saint" somehow validates a group that they oppose. But isn't giving people validation the reason we are so careful about the labels we give them (eg. African-American, Native American, disabled, etc.)?

Admittedly, it's not fun trying to avoid stumbling over the which term is okay today and which is no longer vogue, but I think it is important to be as polite as possible to other people. My general rule is to just ask a person what their preferred identifier is (be it for their race, religion, politcal alignment, or even their name), or if they even care. Then I go with that. But dealing with folks individually is easier that dealing with groups of people whose individuals may have different preferences.
8.3.2006 12:36pm
Dean Moriarty (mail):
"The problem with "American Indian" is that it is easily and often confused with "Indian-American" (as in, an American whose forebears were from India).
>>>
As someone with many, many Indian-American friends, this is something that I've noticed had led many ironic insensitive situations when provide clarification by saying, as in the movie Good Will Hunting, "Dots, not feathers." People immediately understand the meaning, but the explication relies on stereotypes that are easily considered offensive.
8.3.2006 12:36pm
liberty (mail) (www):
A few things. I grew up in NYC which is usually ahead of the curve, but I remember using "oriental" in elementary school and it took a long time for me to get used to saying "Asian" - I am 30, so I'd say its only 10-15 years old for common usgae.

Secondly, I noticed that (if I'm not the only one) it tends to be a direct replacement for "oriental" which tended to mean East Asian, so most usage in the US of Asian (as a PC word) means East Asian, eg not including Indian, Pakistani etc. However, I noticed that in the UK, Asian often descibes Indian. I think its far too vague.

As for why we keep changing the words, I think its the liberal guilt complex; similarly to wanting to change "crippled" to "handicapped" to "disabled", the left believes that minorities are still so oppressed by the man that it is the same as being blind or in a wheelchair and hence you have to keep changing the name to sound nicer and feel less guilty that you have two working legs. Then "differently abled" additionally tries to pretend that there is nothing wrong, and similarly "African-American" and "Asian-American" attempt to make everyone sound as similar as possible, accentuating similarities instead of differences, a form of relativistic PC that denies cultural differences in the attempt to force a sense of equality. Obviously we want equality before the law, but must we put ourselves in a blender and aim for grey?

Finally, I want to point out that this drive for PC is in part guilt but also in part condescending, differences between cultures - recongizing that sometimes there is not moral equality (eg if the country you come from happens to be a dictatorship, repressive against women, etc) but that this is not inherant in a race - is good. Forcing homogeneity and pretense of moral relativism through language just makes the melting pot stew become a blended potato soup. Then layers of "multi-culturalism" are added on top, forcing acceptance of cultures that are not morally equal - consider Australia where they decided that beating your wife is okay if you are Muslim (secondhand link as the original is missing).

Again, this comes from a guilt complex and misunderstanding about what causes differences. Westerner would never be considered a pejorative term because we tend to be proud of our culture. However the liberal sense is that we are the oppressor, and hence pointing out that another group is not western must tend to be pejorative. Out of guilt that we are oppressing the other groups, we should keep softening the name, describing less and homogenizing more. Its condescending and innacurate.

Anyway, that is my sense of the misguided PC attempts. Still I do always find myself trying to use the "right" words. I would like to shake the feeling hat I must and instead depend on my own confidence that I do not mean harm, and let the recipient of the words tell me differently if I offend.
8.3.2006 12:43pm
cathyf:
Speakers may then resist using the term because they don't want to be seen as proclaiming allegiance to an ideology that they do not adhere to.
BingBingBingBingBing!!! You just slid over this in your analysis, but I think that right there you've hit on what is really going on. Controlling language is a major sign of power in a group, and having your language controlled is like a gang sign or secret handshake, proof of your good standing in the group. This behavior peaks in about junior high, but lasts a lifetime at some level. I went to the University of Chicago, and one of the secret handshake / gang signs of the place is that no one except an MD is referred to as "doctor." It was pretty useful -- allowed us to know pretty quickly who wasn't one of us. I've got to agree with A. Zarkov, though:
After a certain point in your life you say “the hell with it” I’m going to write the way I want and learn to say “tough shit” more often.
cathy :-)
8.3.2006 12:46pm
Medis:
liberty,

Doesn't a term like "African-American" actually try to have it both ways? In other words, it seems to be trying to emphasize both the differences and the commonalities at the same time.
8.3.2006 12:59pm
davod (mail):
As I mentioned earlier. The average, whatever you want to him/her person is not really worried. They just want to thought of as a person. It is the proffessionals and beaurocrats that oplay with names. The lawyers also like names as a basis for litigation.
8.3.2006 1:01pm
Rick Shmatz (mail):
My 7th grade health science teacher said that the word "retarded" was the correct word when referring to "mentally handicapped" individuals, and not a derogatory word because it merely means push back or slow. The reaction I get when I use the word seems to prove otherwise.
8.3.2006 1:02pm
cathyf:
Also, I would make another distinction. In the case of Muslim/Moslem, Beijing/Peking, color/colour, etc/&etc, what you have is pretty much nothing more than a naked power play. These words are spoken identically, and in English, spelling is just a somewhat-fluid represention of pronounciation with amusingly inconsistent rules. Especially in the case where the word is from a language which uses a different alphabet, condicting a scorched-earth English-spelling flame war just makes one look stupid and provides entertainment for people like me.

cathy :-)
8.3.2006 1:05pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Medis,

Not really. You wouldn't be distinguishing blacks from whites at all (might as well call them "person") if you just said "American". You start with the word "black" and change it to "African-American" if you want to move in the direction of homogeneity.
8.3.2006 1:07pm
MDJD2B (mail):
The situation is a little more fuzzy with "Blacks" and "Indians" because the shortcomings there are either (a) less obvious or perhaps more often (b) imagined. Still, people do not want to be reminded of the fact that other people don't like them. (Some of us got very used to that in junior high school.)

Or (c) the shortcoming is a social construct imposed by others, rather than being intrinsic or imagined. But members of these groups appreciate the normative disrespect nevertheless.

To change the subject, the "oriental" to "Asian" shift may reflect the evolution of East Asians from a reletavely exotic and oppressed minority to one that is well-integrated into the Americn mainstream. Do any of you remember the radio ads in Los Angeles in the late 60's- early '70's in which an accented voice sang, "Orient yourself [pause] To Bank of To-okyo [gong]?"
8.3.2006 1:18pm
Master Shake:

condicting a scorched-earth English-spelling flame war just makes one look stupid
Although I would go with the more traditional "conducting".

And "Moslem" and "Muslim" are most definitely not pronounced the same. Even more so for "Beijing" and "Peking". Are you serious?
8.3.2006 1:18pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
"Murder on the Asian express" just doesn't sound as good.
8.3.2006 1:25pm
PeterH:
I don't know how precisely this fits into being a member of any other minority, but another aspect of all this that I can relate to is that in some cases, there is a fairly close correlation between people's views and their choice of words.

I think it fits into the "not cost free to the speaker" part of the original article.

Speaking as a man who is attracted to other men, I call myself "gay" and have noticed that there is a very high correlation at present between people who support us (who tend to use "gay") and people who oppose us (who tend to use "homosexual").

I don't actually take offense to either term, and I really don't know too many other people who do. But it is hard not to notice the word choice, and cue in on it. When I find someone using "homosexual" I tend to look for the antipathy. I have shared with people that they should be aware how the word choice is often perceived. At the same time, I have never met a single person who told me that they preferred "homosexual" as their self-identity.

This isn't quite the same as the "it is rude to use that word" thing, but it clearly lives in the same neighborhood.

I can imagine some other similar situations. I ran into someone a while back who was talking about "Coloreds" -- and you can imagine my immediate assumption of her views, which turned out to be quite accurate.

I rely on actual members of a given group to tell me their preferences.

Not sure how it fits into the general topic, but thought I'd toss that in.
8.3.2006 1:27pm
Erick:
"It's even more such a source if those people were once taught by then-representatives of the same group that "handicapped" was the better term, and some years later are now told that it's become bad. And it's especially so when the number of forbidden words grows and grows ("rule of thumb," "Chinese wall," "seminal," etc.)."

Wait, what's wrong with seminal? And are there really a lot of people getting upset about rule of thumb? I rarely use it because it seems everyone wants to tell you the story behind it, which is tiring, but I usually didn't note any hostility behind it.
8.3.2006 1:29pm
anonyomousss (mail):
And "Moslem" and "Muslim" are most definitely not pronounced the same. Even more so for "Beijing" and "Peking".

Absolutely. I believe that the "correct" pronunciations are the same, but that's not really a defense when the "incorrect" pronunciation is so widespread. Much better to use something less likely to be mispronounced.
8.3.2006 1:30pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Steve Lubet: The question isn't how long the term has been around; it's how long it's been in widespread use. Had the Mormons been commonly called Saints by others since the 1850s, calling them Saints today wouldn't seem odd, just as calling non-protesting Protestants Protestants today doesn't seem odd. That's the way words work: Familiarity makes the literal meaning fade.

But given that Mormons have generally not been called Saints by the Gentiles, insisting on the label today will rightly lead lots of outsiders to bristle, because the word Saint today has a strong non-Mormon meaning that speakers may not like feeling pressured into evoking. Few people have this reaction to Catholic or Protestant, because those words have been largely leached of their original lower-case meanings. It also doesn't help that "saint" is a positive term, and "call me by this positive-sounding term" is likely to understandably lead to more resistance than "call me by this neutral-sounding term"; people who don't much care whether they're associating someone (at his request) with protesting or conservatism might dislike feeling pressured to associate him with sainthood.

"Conservative Jew" is more complex, partly because the label is relatively apt under one definition of the term -- today, Conservative Jews in America are seen as being "conservative" in the sense of having a somewhat more traditionalist approach to religion than the majority of American Jews (who are either secular or Reform) -- partly because the term has been in common use (among outsiders as well as insiders) for at least a century, and partly because the term is not as strongly positive as saint. The label leads to some ambiguity when people are talking about both religion and politics, so it's not perfect. But, as with Catholic and Protestant, and unlike with Saint, it's a relatively old term in broad public use.

This is all a long way of reinforcing the earlier point, which I would think should be descriptively uncontroversial: When a more recent meaning of a term is novel, people are more likely to think about the earlier meaning, and thus be reluctant to label someone "Saint" if they're saintly. When the more recent meaning is quite old, people are less likely to think about the earlier meaning, and thus not focus much on whether a "Protestant" is actually protesting.
8.3.2006 1:31pm
sjalterego (mail):

My last point, has anyone ever been in the situation where they want to describe a minority to someone else but they avoid saying that the person is Asian, Black, Hispanic, etc? So instead of saying, "you know Fred, the black guy in accounting" you give your listener the, "he's 6 feet tall, brown eyes, sits by the door . . ." No matter how useful it might be in describing the person, I always they a little awkward about using the persons race to describe them. Am I alone here?



I once was watching a boxing match between a black and a white man. They were both wearing similarly colored boxing trunks but with different colored piping. I think blue with yellow piping vs. blue with white piping. Neither were famous enough to refer to by name and hope for recognition. A friend came in and asked about the fight, something along the lines of who's winning. I started to try to explain which boxer was which by name, then I examined their trunks and pointed that out. Only after about a minute of confusion did I even think to say, the black guy is Joe and the white guy is Steve and I think the black guy is doing x,y,z and the white guy is doing a,b,c.
8.3.2006 1:34pm
Shangui (mail):
Also, I would make another distinction. In the case of Muslim/Moslem, Beijing/Peking, color/colour, etc/&etc, what you have is pretty much nothing more than a naked power play. These words are spoken identically

I'm not sure what you are getting at with the Beijing/Peking difference here. "Peking" is a (slightly altered) version of the Wade-Giles Romanization for 北京. "Beijing" uses the Hanyu pinyin Romanization system that has been used by the PRC for about the last 50 years and is now used pretty much world-wide (even, increasingly, in Taiwan). There is only one way that those characters should be pronounced in the standard Mandarin dialect, and in this case "Beijing" is a pretty close approximation of those sounds. Native English speakers almost always pronounce "Peking" as "pay-king" when they should be saying "bay-jing." What's the power-play here? One pronunciation is simply correct and the other isn't. One would not be readily understood by a native speaker of standard northern Mandarin and the other would. If one wants to make a political statement, call it "Beiping" 北平, as this removes the word "capital" and thus denotes that one denies the legitimacy of the CCP, prefering to consider the old ROC capital of Nanjing 南京 (Wade-Giles: "Nanking") as the true capital. But they rarely even do this in Taiwan anymore.
8.3.2006 1:36pm
Medis:
liberty,

I'm not sure I understand. I agree that the second part of "African-American" is intended to emphasize a commonality with other Americans (at least insofar as this term is not being used to distinguish African-Americans from non-American people with an African origin). But the first part is obviously intended to emphasize a distinction from other Americans (one based on differences in continental origin).

So, I agree that "African-American" includes an element of "homogeneity" which is lacking in "black". But doesn't it also include an element of heterogeneity that would be lacking in "American"? And that was my point: "African-American" appears consciously designed to simultaneously emphasize one element of homogeneity (common nationality) and one element of heterogeneity (a distinction based on continental origin).

Now, maybe you have a preference for a term like "black" because it ONLY emphasizes heterogeneity and contains NO element of homogeneity. But it seems obviously wrong to me to say that "African-American" represents an "attempt to make everyone sound as similar as possible, accentuating similarities instead of differences." As you noted, the term that would make everyone sound as similar as possible would be "American" (or "person" if you wanted to expand the possible contrast class to non-Americans as well, and so on). But "African-American", in contrast, clearly represents an attempt to accentuate both some similarities AND some differences at the same time.

And again, while you may have reason for preferring a term that ONLY accentuates differences, it isn't obvious to me that a term which tries to accentuate BOTH some similarities and some differences at the same time is necessarily a bad idea.
8.3.2006 1:42pm
MDJD2B (mail):

And "Moslem" and "Muslim" are most definitely not pronounced the same. Even more so for "Beijing" and "Peking".

Absolutely. I believe that the "correct" pronunciations are the same, but that's not really a defense when the "incorrect" pronunciation is so widespread. Much better to use something less likely to be mispronounced.


A year ago I was criticized for pronouncing "Iran" with "a" as in "pan" instead of having the vowel sound in "hot."

This is in the same vein as insisting that the land of Daniel Ortega and the Somozas be pronounced Hee-kah-rrrah-guah— don't you dare use a shord vowel, or use an English sounding "r" I know an otherwise very nice Francophone who insists that his name (spelled Roy) be prnounced "Rrrrghwah." a tdifficult task for many Anglophones. It's easy to take umbrage at people pronouncing things the way the would in their own language, I suppose.
8.3.2006 1:42pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
Dear Eugene: Might it be possible dressing up your preferences as principles? Or perhaps your principle is "I can call people anything I want, so long as it doesn't violate a standard of offensiveness which I will determine for myself," in which case it is just about as dogmatically un-pc as the pcs you criticize.

Your faithful correspondent,

Steve
8.3.2006 1:44pm
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Frank please don't even start on "Ten Little Indians."
8.3.2006 1:45pm
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Frank please don't even start on "Ten Little Indians."
8.3.2006 1:45pm
markm (mail):
"Differently abled" makes me think of a paraplegic levitating himself through the air rather than using a wheelchair.

I can talk about "Mormons" without recalling a member of that church I once knew who was far from saintly, but "Latter-Day Saints" is bound to bring that atypical individual to mind.

An immigrant from Africa is an African-American, whether black, white, or otherwise. Jesse Jackson and I are both native Americans - we were born here, although his ancestors came from Africa and mine from Europe. The PC usage of those terms leads to utterly silly results, such as calling a dark-complected French citizen an "African-American"...
8.3.2006 1:46pm
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
As the father of a mentally handicapped and physically disabled son, let me say that I don't really care what terms you use to describe his condition.

What I have found over the last 18 years is that the parents of kids like mine have much more important things to worry about than adjectives. Most of the people who enter into these sort of debates are "patient advocates" or ideologues (not that there isn't a great deal of overlap).

The one thing that does make me bristle is when people use "that's retarded" as a slur.
8.3.2006 1:54pm
cathyf:
And "Moslem" and "Muslim" are most definitely not pronounced the same.
Obviously you're not an native-American speaker, then. The two defining characteristics (and generators of countless jokes) of an "American" accent are pronouncing "t" and "d" identically, and pronouncing all five vowels like in "duh". Whether you spell it Maslam, Meslom, Muslum, or any other of the 25 permutations of the 5 vowels in 2 spots, Americans will pronounce the vowels the same. Of course the further south you go the more syllables the word will have, but that's a different issue!

(Remember french class when you couldn't remember all those silly genders of things without gender, and tried to get away with saying "luh" for both "le" and "la"? I think that my french teacher's most common phrase was, "Luh?!?!? Le ou la, mademoiselle!")

cathy :-)
8.3.2006 1:57pm
markm (mail):
What's wrong with "black"? It's short, unambiguous, and it's insulting only in the mouth of a racist for whom any reference to this race is an insult.

Then there is "Negro", which comes from the Spanish for "black". I suspect the main issue with "Negro" is that anyone with a southern accent, including black Americans, has trouble pronouncing it, without sounding at least somewhat like "nigger".
8.3.2006 2:02pm
Medis:
People in EV's model seem unnecessarily inflexible to me. I found non-Lawyer's explanation of how the term "Saint" is being used in "Latter-Day Saints" to be quite interesting and informative, and it seems reasonable to view the term "Saints" as applied to members of that religion in that context.

Moreover, for something like the name of an organized group in particular, it seems really odd to me to insist on some literal, noncontextual, meaning of the term "Saints". I don't, for example, assume that the "Detroit Tigers" have fuzzy tails and sharp teeth, and I actually think that terms like "Latter-Day Saints" (or "Roman Catholics" for that matter) fall into this "team name" category.

In other words, the whole idea in these cases is for groups to give themselves aspirational names (tigers are ferocious, catholics are universal, saints are virtuous, etc.). And the convention seems to be to call people by those aspirational names, even when you are not necessarily a fan of that particular team. And because that is the convention, no one assumes you actually agree with the aspirational description simply because you use the term. So, it makes no sense to me to insist on using a different "team name" on the ground that you personally do not think the literal meaning of the team name applies to the members of that team.
8.3.2006 2:03pm
liberty (mail) (www):
>But "African-American", in contrast, clearly represents an attempt to accentuate both some similarities AND some differences at the same time.

Yeah... but as I said, there would be no word at all if you didn't make a distinction. You can't replace "black" with "American", you've lost the meaning, the point; you are no longer replacing a word with anything.

As a word used to distinguish between two things, you require the heterogeneity aspect. My point is that replacing ONLY heterogeneity with hetero-homo mix is a movement toward homogeneity. You can't really argue with that.
8.3.2006 2:04pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Hetero-Homo mix? don't be dissin my musical taste.
8.3.2006 2:11pm
Master Shake:

And "Moslem" and "Muslim" are most definitely not pronounced the same.
Obviously you're not an native-American speaker, then.
Wow, it's unbelievably ironic that you claim English-spelling flame wars make people look stupid.

Do you actually engage in conversation and listen to how people speak? Do you really think "native-American speakers" (I am assuming you don't mean Indians) pronounce "Maslam, Meslom and Muslum" identically? Really?
8.3.2006 2:13pm
Toby:
When my kids were little, and had little control over themselves, they would fight when bored. Usually these fights were over trivialities such "His hand's on my side of the seat" or the ever popular "She's looking at me!"

I felt that one of the civilizing duties of a parent was to get them past seeking for casual insults in every-day indiiferent life, and to find ways to be happier as they wandered through life.

Modern academia and the over-educated strive to undo this simple lesson.
8.3.2006 2:17pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Steve Lubet: "Might it be possible dressing up your preferences as principles? Or perhaps your principle is 'I can call people anything I want, so long as it doesn't violate a standard of offensiveness which I will determine for myself,' in which case it is just about as dogmatically un-pc as the pcs you criticize."

Let's try to avoid casting aspersions on each other's motivations. I thought I'd actually set forth a pretty sensible argument, which was laid out at some length, and which tracks human psychology.

Since I suppose that argument wasn't effective, let me try with an analogy. Call your daughter Grace, and she probably won't encounter many problems as a result of that. Call her Beauty, and people would think that's a little conceited of you, and perhaps even of her.

What's the difference? Grace is an old, familiar name, and when people hear the name "Grace" they hear the name much more than the trait. Beauty is not a familiar name (and here what matters isn't how long it's been in use in your family or in your minority religious group but rather how commonly it's been used by society at large), so when people hear the name "Beauty" they do draw the connection to the trait, and might find that connection annoying. It's not that anyone has personal esthetic or philosophical preferences for Grace over Beauty; it's all about how common the name has been. Likewise for Catholic and Saint.
8.3.2006 2:27pm
poster child (mail):
Mormons v. Saints: If I created a religion called the Church of Latter Day Awesome Dudes, and then suggested that members of my religion be referred to as "Awesome Dudes," would it be surprising that some folks (even those who harbor no ill will towards the Church of LDAD) would find it a little uncomfortable to, in effect, heap praise on the members of my religion merely by mentioning them?

By the way, having spent a considerable amount of time in Utah, my personal experience has been that most Mormons refer to themselves as "LDS," as in, "Are you LDS?" Saints is a bit of an anachronism, something that you'd expect to hear during a discussion of pioneer days.
8.3.2006 2:36pm
anonyomousss (mail):
aren't people named "grace" named for a theological concept rather than a morally neutral personal quality? that's what i had always thought, by analogy to people named "faith," "hope," chastity," etc.
8.3.2006 2:37pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Interesting point. It's true eyebrows will raise if you name your daughter "Beauty", yet you easily get away calling your daughter "Belle", "Jolie" or "Linda" and your son "Beau". (For an even different reaction, spell it Bo!
8.3.2006 2:40pm
Bleepless (mail):
1. If Mormons won't work, and Saints won't either, how about Latters?
2. Stevethepatentguy: Ten Little Indians first came out in Britain, where it was titled Ten Little Niggers. It was retitled and rewritten for the American market.
3. The official, accept-no-substitutes, take-no-prisoners term for Orientals, especially in academia, is Asian-Pacific Islanders, as though Kazaks and Polynesians had anything in common.
4. African-American became mandatory the very day Jesse Jackson ordered the media to use it. The change was immediate and so thorough that theBoston Globe had an editorial the next day about getting the city budget in the African-American. I am not making this up.
8.3.2006 2:40pm
ray_g:
"Doesn't a term like "African-American" actually try to have it both ways? In other words, it seems to be trying to emphasize both the differences and the commonalities at the same time."

When the term "African-American" first came into use, it appeared to me that the intent was more to emphasize the differences ("African") rather than the commonalities ("American"). It was definitely an ideological thing, not an attempt at an "accurate" description. Really, discussions of whether these descriptions (for example, "Native American") are accurate are beside the point, because that is not the intent of those coining these phrases. (In Canada they talk about the aboriginal people, but if you used that in the U.S. I think it would be found offensive.) In practice, Native American is defined as "the people who where here just before the white guys showed up".

Mormon - I know a lot of Mormons, and that is what they call themselves. So I don't think they consider it pejorative anymore.

Latino and/or Hispanic - my impression is that these were basically to replace "Mexican", which had become pejorative (at least in the Pacific Northwest when I was growing up, and Mexican/Latinos/Hispanics were rarely seen ).

In my youth "retarded" as a description was not pejorative, but "retard" as a noun certainly was. (I've gotten in trouble when I've commented on the style of wearing baseball caps backwards, my comment was "When I was young the only people who wore baseball caps backwards were welders and retards.")

Looking over my post, I saw "guys". For years I have used "guy" as a non-gender specific term, because I was told that "gal" was offensive, so you could not say "guys and gals". I've even been called on for "lady", which I have always used as a term of respect.

George Carlin has a wonderful routine about how none of these words are in and of themselves offensive, it is the context and intention that matters. (My own example, "lady" is respectful, unless followed by "of the night".)

Names - my given name is "Ray" not "Raymond", but most assume "Ray" is shorthand. I just politely correct them. But if you start doing the "You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay..." routine around me I might hurt you, cause I've heard it a lot and it stopped being funny around the 200th time.
8.3.2006 2:42pm
Paddy O. (mail):
anyone else bothered by the word "caucasian"? I don't know why the Caucasus's get to be the defining region. Isn't this sort of like calling black people ethiopians, or asians chinese?

I've been told by Jewish friends that Jew can be indeed offensive and should be avoided, but maybe this is not as common as I thought.

"How much more established does the church need to be?"

It takes a good long while. It also takes more than time. It takes familiarity, which has only happened fairly recently. It also takes a certain history. In Utah, I imagine there is more willingness. However for the rest of the country, especially in the midwest/east who were the very ones who persecuted them, it takes a quite longer than good long while. A religion which somehow retained a neutral opinion among society could likely have better and quicker success getting established.

For that matter, sometimes history and culture can be an almost overwhelming barrier. Being a Protestant, even to this day, in a primarily Catholic country is seen as an oddity.

The problem, also, with the word Saint, and being called saint is that it is still a prevalent word with multiple meanings. To call a specific group of people Saints is, in a way, to give them almost a copyright over the word. Saying Protestant says something specific about a group of religious people and their basic beliefs on certain topics. It was a word invented for a specific description. Saying Catholic almost certainly now refers to the Roman Catholic church even if catholic does exist as a separate word, something that does in fact cause a bit of confusion when reciting the Apostle's creed.

Saying Saints, however, isn't descriptive unless one already knows the specific subject in question. The New Orleans Saints, for instance, are not referring to the LDS church. When the Saints Go Marching In isn't a song about the founding of Utah. In a way it's trying to own a word that others are not willing to release because it's a word that still has significant and varied usage in multiple contexts.

One could argue Catholics do this as well, only they do in fact have a good claim on the word catholic, a unified church which others departed from later.

With these in mind it will almost certainly never be the case that those in the LDS church will be popularly called Saints. Don't take it personally. How many people would call Quakers according to their preferred term of "Friends". Quakers have been around since before the founding of America and still have yet to get people to use their own preferred terminology.
8.3.2006 2:50pm
Dan S.:

And it's especially so when the number of forbidden words grows and grows ("rule of thumb," "Chinese wall," "seminal," etc.)."


Wait, what's wrong with "Chinese wall?"

Dan
8.3.2006 2:52pm
Dave in NYC:
Master Shake: Anyone have any thoughts on the use of "Moslem" instead of "Muslim"? "Muslim" seems to be universally accepted in press accounts, books and the like, but there seem to be occasions where people go out of their way to say "Moslem" (for instance, in threads on this blog, someone will say "Moslems belive X", ten other people will make comments such as "No, Muslims believe y", and the first person will say "Moslems are bad". "Moslem" seems somewhat like "Oriental" to me, I just don't know why.

I haven't heard anyone take offense at "Moslem"; it is just considered archaic. The spelling reflects a more South Asian pronounciation and the way words were transliterated into English in British India. "Muslim" reflects a more conventional Arabic pronounciation. Only terms like "Mohammedan" are really seen as offensive, as they imply worship of Muhammad. The "o/u" shift is also reflected in words received as loan words through French, though they also sometimes are seen as "ou", as in Massoud and Lahoud, though you pretty much never see Beirut as Beyrouth except in French sources.

Mohammed/Muhammad also reflects this pronounciation/transliteration issue. Mohammed is generally preferred in Iran, India, Pakistan, etc., while Muhammad is generally preferred in Arabic-speaking countries. Hezbollah/Hizbullah also falls into this category, but there are also a number of other transliterations. Translators are inconsistent, for various reasons, so even Arab sources sometimes use Hezbollah for the party in Lebanon.

Transliterating Arabic words from Arabic is problematic to begin with (do you transliterate to facilitate spelling or pronounciation? do you reflect Modern Standard Arabic or dialect?). Transliterating Arabic terms when you receive them as loan words through an intermediary language such as Persian, Turkish or Hindi just creates more complications. So the idea that someone would take offense at certain variations really more reflects on that person's desire to seek offense.
8.3.2006 2:55pm
Name (mail) (www):
From a foreigner (who does not like to be designated an alien, but who am I to say, I am a guest here) : what happened to "people of color", used to be the PC word a few years/10 years back and then faded away; why are "man" and "woman" not PC in the public sphere and have to be replaced by "male" and "female", a youth is a "juvenile"; and why is Bob not my uncle. Why is it OK to designate anybody with darker skin who lives south of Europe (but north of the Sahara) and East of Turkey a Muslim or an Arab, but not OK to use Jew ? and what of the Kabyles ? - and what of the Turks ? are they Muslims ? not Arabs surely. As Rodney Royalty said, can we all get along ?
8.3.2006 2:57pm
Sealion II (mail):
As a lifelong Mormon myself I thought I'd chip in my two cents on why the use of "Mormon" isn't exactly thrilling:

The real problem with "Mormon", to my view, is actually theological. In the Book of Mormon Christ's disciples in the New World ask Him what they should call the church they've formed, and He tells them to call it "The church of Jesus Christ", also noting that the church of a man will have the name of a man, but Christ's church should bear His name.

So the use of "the Mormon Church" is actually--well, not offensive, exactly, but used (and often, I'm sure, used intentionally) to undermine an important theological point about the nature of the church: that we worship Jesus Christ, and not Mormon or Joseph Smith, both of which are fairly common allegations even at the present time.

The use of "Mormon" to describe a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't offensive, per se, (although it did begin as an offensive term and was promptly reclaimed), but it does strongly tend to reinforce the use of the undesirable "Mormon Church" and is therefore not always the most pleasing to Latter-day Saint ears.

And yet it's easy to say--two syllables!--and people know what the heck I'm talking about when I say it, which is often not the case with "LDS" or "Latter-day Saint", so usually I call myself "Mormon" to people who aren't.

But for the name of the church itself, I think insisting on the correct name is right and fair. Opinions?
8.3.2006 2:58pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
i didn't mean to cast an aspersion, and i am sorry that it appeared that way, eugene. then again, that rather illustrates one of the points of this discussion. i didnt' intent to question your motives, but i was rather attmepting to point out that it sometimes takes a little introspection to distinguish between broad principles and personal preferences (that applies to everyone). still, you thought my comment was inappropriate, so i have apologized (rather than argue with you about it).

i am wondering, however, whether you refuse to use the phrase "Latter Day Saints," or whether it is just the shortened form "Saints" that troubles you?

in any event, the grace/beauty analogy doesn't prove much. i might think that beauty is an odd first name for somebody's kid, but i wouldn't refuse to use it. anyhow, a better analogy would be naming your daughter prudence. the name has been around for a long time (just like latter day saints), but it never quite caught on with the general public. again, though, i wouldn't argue with someone who wanted to use it.
8.3.2006 3:05pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Prudence used to be a common name. And at least one tv show has (or had) a young pretty Shannon Doherty with that name. Anyone know which show?
8.3.2006 3:26pm
Medis:
liberty,

You say: "My point is that replacing ONLY heterogeneity with hetero-homo mix is a movement toward homogeneity. You can't really argue with that."

Sure I can, because I think that is misleading. More precisely, it is a movement toward including both heterogeneity and homogeneity. In other words, calling it a "movement toward homogeneity" is misleading precisely because in that description you eliminate the retention of heterogeneity.

And this isn't just a word game: your original claim was that this term was an "attempt to make everyone sound AS SIMILAR AS POSSIBLE, accentuating similarities INSTEAD OF DIFFERENCES." (emphasis added). If that is what you mean by a "movement toward homogeneity", then I think it is clearly inapplicable to "African-American": the term expressly does not try to make everyone sound "as similar as possible", and accentuates BOTH similarities and differences, rather than similarities "intead of" differences.

poster child,

But that is just my point: calling them "Awesome Dudes" would not "in effect, heap praise on the members of my religion merely by mentioning them." Again, that is because everyone understand the conventions regarding team names, whether in sports, religion, politics, or so on. And that convention is that just because you use the team's aspirational name to refer to members of that team, doesn't mean you agree with the aspirational description.
8.3.2006 3:34pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Anyone know which show?


Charmed.

The first witches were: Piper, Prudence, Phoebe. Prudence died and was replaced by Paige. Do I get a prize?
8.3.2006 3:44pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Medis,

Once again, you lose the meaning of the name if you lose the heterogeneity. Thats like saying that if there were a PC problem with having a dog with the word "Great" in it (it offends other dogs) and so you changed "Great Dane" to "Dane-average-dog" and then also changed "toy poodle" to "small-size-poodle-average-dog" while french poodles were "french-derived-larger-size-average-poodle-dog" that somehow you were still emphasizing both sameness and difference.

But its obviously not the case. The only way to be completely homogenous is to name them all "dog" but then you could not differentiate which dog you were talking about at all. If we move from "black" to "African-American" to "American" then we are no longer describing the same distinction. Because the "white" would also fit "American". You need some distinguishing word in there or you are no longer replacing the word "black" with an equivalent substitute.

When you add unnecessary homogeneity to the names you are moving toward a homogenous consideration of the cultural differences. Without replacing all words of the category with bleach or Buffy, you can't go any farther.
8.3.2006 4:26pm
liberty (mail) (www):
And yes, lucia, you get the prize of being the girliest girl here :)

Great show, though.
8.3.2006 4:27pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
Only if you can each witches special ability.
8.3.2006 4:27pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
name each witches special talent I mean.
8.3.2006 4:28pm
liberty (mail) (www):
thats easy :)
8.3.2006 4:32pm
lucia (mail) (www):
And yes, lucia, you get the prize of being the girliest girl here


I knew I was in the running. I'm one of the few who use a recognizably female signature. :)
8.3.2006 4:33pm
Medis:
liberty,

I really don't get your argument. Going from "black" to "African-American" is not the same thing as going from "Great Dane" to "Dane-average-dog", because in the latter case, you actually lose the information provided by "Great" (and apparently substitute something inaccurate). In fact, the better analogy would be going from something like "Great Dane" to "Great Dane-American". And that might be a perfectly sensible thing to do (at least when describing Great Danes in America).

In general, your original argument, and part of your current argument as far as I can understand it, seems to depend on there being a loss of heterogeneity information when moving from "black" to "African-American" (eg, you say: "you lose the meaning of the name if you lose the heterogeneity"). And I just don't see that loss--the hetereogeneity information is still there. All that has happened is that the term has also added some homogeneity information.

But you have now added what I see as an entirely different claim: that ADDING homogeneity information--as opposed to LOSING hetereogeneity information, which just isn't happening--may be "unnecessary". If that is the worse you can say about "African-American"--that it adds unnecessary information--that sounds like a very different, and much milder, critique.

But more importantly, how do you know it is "unnecessary"? Both heterogeneity information and homogeneity information can be useful, and thus I don't see any reason to assume that the addition of homogeneity information serves no purpose. Indeed, I take it the point is precisely to emphasize that while members of this group or their ancestors had different continental origins than some other Americans, they are nonetheless now part of the same nation as other Americans. I don't see that as an irrelevant piece of information about members of this group, and so I don't see any reason to assume that adding this piece of information to the term used for members of the group is "unnecessary".

In short, you haven't show any loss of heterogeneity information in this term, and you haven't shown why adding homogeneity information is a bad idea. So, I don't get your point.
8.3.2006 5:05pm
old maltese:
Many interesting points.

"Oriental", as I recall, became un-PC with the argument that "Eastern" means east relative to an outside naming source (namely, Europe), and that's supercilious and also not nice.

Such naming of people by outsiders isn't unusual. "Indian", of course.

It happens at relatively local levels too. The Navajo people are not self-named "Navajo"; "Navajo" comes from the Spanish "Apache de Navajo", a description from outsiders probably based on a Puebloan word. The Navajo accept "Navajo" well enough, but "Dineh" is from their own Athabascan-family language.
8.3.2006 5:06pm
poster child (mail):

poster child,

But that is just my point: calling them "Awesome Dudes" would not "in effect, heap praise on the members of my religion merely by mentioning them." Again, that is because everyone understand the conventions regarding team names, whether in sports, religion, politics, or so on. And that convention is that just because you use the team's aspirational name to refer to members of that team, doesn't mean you agree with the aspirational description.


medis,

Fair enough, though I don't believe that the "Latter Day Saints" in the Church's name was originally meant to refer to the follower of said church in any event. Rather, based on my superficial knowledge of Mormon theology, it refers to the principal actors described in the Book of Mormon. Assuming I'm correct, we're now arguing over whether it's okay to feel uncomfortable calling someone a "Saint" because he adheres to a religion that includes the word "Saints" in its name, though it never formally intended that its members be referred to as such. Personally, I agree with the above posters who've pointed out that until the word "Saint" becomes distinctly associated with the Church of J.C. of LDS, (a la "Protestant" or "Catholic") many people will be reluctant to refer to Mormons as "Saints."
8.3.2006 5:10pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Medis,

1. "black" versus "white" is color-descriptive. "African-American" is attempting to describe the origin of one's ancestors from hundreds of years ago. Add to that the confusion mentioned on the thread; if you can't say "black" how do you describe those of that skin color who do not have strictly african ancestry or who are not actually American. So, you have lost information and you have added (potentially incorrect) information.

2. Adding homogeneity was my point from the start - that its a guilt-driven PC attempt to homogenize. "Dane-average-dog" being the attempt to remove a certain descriptive element for fear of hurting feelings (either "great" or "black" as descriptive of looks) and replace it with (or leave part of it as) a semi-descriptive term ("Dane" or "African") and then add something that does nothing to distinguish but only does something to add homogeneity ("average-dog" or "American")

Now one could argue that "African-American" is used to distinguish black Americans from British blacks or something, but I think that would be a hard fight to win. Instead you have people using "African-American" to describe black who are not American, because the term is clearly a replacement for "black."
8.3.2006 5:32pm
CJColucci:
We may be over-thinking this. A large chunk of my practice is discrimination cases. I find that when I'm involved in a case with, say, relatively dark-skinned persons of African descent, I tend without conscious effort or intent to fall into using whatever word the particular relatively dark-skinned persons of African descent that I'm talking with happen to use. I literally can't tell you which term I use in conversations that do not involve relatively dark-skinned persons of African descent, but, for some reason, require me to refer to them in some way. I'm guessing "black," because it's what my (black) wife uses, and I talk with her a lot, but I am by no means sure. Someone will have to follow me around with a tape recorder.
8.3.2006 5:37pm
Seamus (mail):

Anyone have any thoughts on the use of "Moslem" instead of "Muslim"? "Muslim" seems to be universally accepted in press accounts, books and the like, but there seem to be occasions where people go out of their way to say "Moslem" (for instance, in threads on this blog, someone will say "Moslems belive X", ten other people will make comments such as "No, Muslims believe y", and the first person will say "Moslems are bad". "Moslem" seems somewhat like "Oriental" to me, I just don't know why.



"Muslim" came to be used when some pedants decided to point out that there is no letter "u" in Arabic, so that "Muslim" is closer to the way the word is said in Arabic. As if we were speaking Arabic. It's the Arabic equivalent of the way newscasters used to talk about Nee-kah-RAWGH-wa when reporting on the Contra insurgency back during the '80s.
8.3.2006 5:39pm
Technical Correct (mail):

Also, I would make another distinction. In the case of Muslim/Moslem, Beijing/Peking, color/colour, etc/&etc, what you have is pretty much nothing more than a naked power play. These words are spoken identically, and in English, spelling is just a somewhat-fluid represention of pronounciation with amusingly inconsistent rules. Especially in the case where the word is from a language which uses a different alphabet, condicting a scorched-earth English-spelling flame war just makes one look stupid and provides entertainment for people like me.

Muslim/Moslem, Beijing/Peking (Beijing/Peking in particular) are slightly different issues.

Chinese is a tonal language based on Kanji symbols. The English spelling is a phonetic rendering of pronounciation of symbol into English (what it "sounds like" to someone who speaks English).

Cantonese is the coastal dialect of China and in Cantonese the name of the capital sounds like "Peking".

The Maoists were from an inland area and spoke the Mandarin dialect. In Mandarin the name of the capital sounds like "Beijing".

For example if the phrase "Can I park here" as spoken by a resident of Mississippi were written phonetically it would be "Kin ah pack hair". Peking is the "southern" pronouciation and Beijing is the "Midwestern" pronounciation of the same symbol.
8.3.2006 5:40pm
Medis:
poster child,

But that makes it like the Minnesota North Stars or Houston Oilers, and thus there is even less reason to take calling members of this religion "Saints" literally.

And I guess I just don't understand the common usage argument. As soon as the Toronto Raptors came into being, that is what they were called, because that is what they decided to call themselves. There was no waiting for the name to catch on first.
8.3.2006 5:53pm
Seamus (mail):

There is only one way that those characters should be pronounced in the standard Mandarin dialect, and in this case "Beijing" is a pretty close approximation of those sounds. Native English speakers almost always pronounce "Peking" as "pay-king" when they should be saying "bay-jing." What's the power-play here? One pronunciation is simply correct and the other isn't.



If you're speaking Mandarin, yeah. But I hardly ever do. "Pay-king" or even "Pee-king" is no more incorrect for an English speaker than it is to say "Moscow" (rhyming either with "cow" or with "oh") instead of "Mosk-VA".

The power play here is one in which Chinese people try to tell English speakers how to speak our language. The next step will be for them to tell us that we can't say "China," but must say "Zhongguo." (After all, that game has already been played successfully by the Ceylonese, though the Burmese and the Cambodians don't seem to have pulled it off, and it remains to be seen whether the Ivorians will ultimately manage to intimidate English speakers into referring to their country as Cote d'Ivoire (with a little circumflex over the "o" in "Cote").) Or that it's Xianggang, not Hong Kong.

BTW, I haven't noticed the Irish trying much to insist that we English speakers refer to their country as "Eire". I guess that's because when most of the Irish themselves speak English rather than Irish, and call their country "Ireland" when they do so, it's hard to argue convincingly that "Eire" is the only correct name for the country.
8.3.2006 5:53pm
Seamus (mail):

Only terms like "Mohammedan" are really seen as offensive, as they imply worship of Muhammad.



Right. The way the term "Lutheran" implies worship of Martin Luther.
8.3.2006 5:56pm
Sealion II (mail):


Fair enough, though I don't believe that the "Latter Day Saints" in the Church's name was originally meant to refer to the follower of said church in any event. Rather, based on my superficial knowledge of Mormon theology, it refers to the principal actors described in the Book of Mormon. Assuming I'm correct, we're now arguing over whether it's okay to feel uncomfortable calling someone a "Saint" because he adheres to a religion that includes the word "Saints" in its name, though it never formally intended that its members be referred to as such.


Actually, "Latter-day Saints" was and is explicitly intended for present members of the LDS Church; it's intended to reclaim the New Testament usage of "saints" as "members of the church of Christ", rather than the "canonized persons/moral exemplars" meaning it has since acquired.
8.3.2006 6:07pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Steve: Thanks very much for your gracious response; for the reasons you mentioned, it's hard for me to tell much about what subtle biases I might have here, but I'm pretty sure that I have nothing against either Mormons or Catholics.

In any event, I think we just disagree about the accuracy of my "unfamiliar terms are more likely to be seen as tied to their original lower-case meaning" claim, so I'm not sure we can add much to that. (The Beauty/Grace example was meant to demonstrate that; I agree that there is a difference between that and the Saints/Catholics example -- if someone is named Beauty, there aren't a lot of convenient alternatives that one can use, so people will use the name, but just be understandably annoyed at Beauty's parents.)

As to "Latter-Day Saints," I'd probably bristle about as much as I would with "Saints." People who want me to call them "Saints" (or as Poster Child suggested, "Awesome Dudes") will have to give me more than just "this is how we like to be called" or even "the alternative term was once used pejoratively." If the Orthodox, either Jewish or Christian, were to now insist on being called "Correct Opinion" (a literal English translation of "Orthodox"), I'd have the same view.
8.3.2006 6:18pm
Medis:
liberty,

On (1): Now you are changing to yet another argument, because we can discuss whether "black" or "African" is a better term for the heterogeneity element without even considering the homogeneity element ("American"). Personally, I think neither is great, but the latter is arguably better insofar as skin pigmentation isn't typically what people are talking about (e.g., they don't mean to include dark-skinned people whose ancestors didn't come from Africa). But in any event, this has nothing to do with your original point.

On (2): Again, you are conflating all sorts of different arguments. Adding homogeneity information does not necessarily result in a loss of heterogeneity information. Similarly, replacing one heterogeneity term with a different term does not necessarily result in a loss of heterogeneity. And again, I just don't see how there is a loss of heterogeneity here.
8.3.2006 6:25pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Medis,


1) You said it didn't replace or add something innacurate, so I mentioned that in fact it does if the person you are refering to (and many have cited examples of) is either not actually American or not actually of Arican descent, but is simply "black". And skin pigmentation is usually what people are talking about when they are describing "that black guy over there" especially as they may have no idea whether he is actually of African descent or is American. Its purely descriptive.

(2) Go back and read my orignial post. I never said there was loss of heterogeneity distinct from an addition of homogeneity. I said things like "accentuating similarities instead of differences" and "describing less and homogenizing more". hen we spent far too long discussing the fact that you have no descriptive term if everyone is "American" and therefore "African-American" is "describing less and homogenizing more" than "black which is descriptive and has no added homogenization. Again, "African" is only descriptive if THE PERSON IS ACTUALLY AFRICAN. And "American" is not descriptive at all if its assumed already that people in America tend to be American and in fact the black person in question MAY NOT ACTUALLY BE AMERICAN.

but, jeez, have we beat this dead horse (sorry, very un-PC metaphor!)
8.3.2006 6:33pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
dear eugene: when i was (much) younger, we used to have these conversations over beer. now we have them on the internet. seems to me that "latter day saints" is completely unambiguous and therefore unobjectionable. nonetheless, it causes you to bristle, which just goes to show that everyone has a different threshhold. our real difference is that i don't see any reason to elevate that to the level of principle.

there was a time, btw, before orthodox jews called themseleves orthodox. they were just jews. then along came the reform movement and suddenly the orthodox had to be differentiated, and they did indeed choose a term that means "correct opinion." and this happened at roughly the same time that joseph smith began calling his followers "latter day saints." still, orthodox is okay with you, while latter day saints is bristle-provoking.

sorry, but i just don't see a useful rule emerging here.

may i humbly suggest an alternative: we ought to call people whatever they prefer; in ambiguous situations, or where there is no clear answer, we ought to opt for the term that is least likely to give offense; no one should hyperventilate about these things, neither the pc nor the anti-pc crowd, both of which are sometimes unnecessarily dogmatic.

steve
8.3.2006 6:40pm
Medis:
I still don't get EV's point. I happen to know what "orthodox" means (and it is a perfectly decent English word). But when I use it to describe someone's religious "team membership" (eg, "Orthodox Jew" or "Eastern Orthodox"), I don't mean it as my own personal description, and no one thinks that I do.

And that isn't because of familiarity. I have no idea if there even exists a group called the "Orthodox Davidians", but I would know that if such a group existed, someone calling them by their chosen name would not mean that this person actually believed that members of this group had the correct opinions about David Koresh.

So this all strikes me as completely silly. We all know this is how relgious names work, and therefore there is no danger of someone thinking that we mean it literally when we use a religious group's chosen name.
8.3.2006 6:44pm
A.C.:
I rather like the term "African American" because it includes a cultural component that "black" doesn't. It seems to parallel the use of "Italian American," "Polish American," and so on... it has implications about what you eat on holidays and how you celebrate major life events, implications that "black" doesn't have to the same extent. But "African American" certainly doesn't apply to all black people, many of whom are British or Brazilian or Nigerian or whatever. And I have no idea what to call an American citizen who used to be a citizen of Nigeria -- but I imagine that such a person encounters something like the confusion of "American Indian" versus "Indian American."

I suspect that we really need a non-confusing, non-pejorative term for people of African ancestry whose families have been in the United States long enough that they are part of the cultural (not just racial) group that most of us think of when hear the term "African American." This is a smaller group than all black people in the world, and even smaller than all the black people in the United States. "African American" is a good step towards finding the right term, but I'm not sure if it hits the mark exactly.
8.3.2006 6:44pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"I rather like the term "African American" because it includes a cultural component that "black" doesn't. It seems to parallel the use of "Italian American," "Polish American," and so on..."

Sure, except that when people say "Polish American" they usually mean 1st / 2nd / maybe 3rd generation. By the time a family has been in America for a couple of generations they tend to just be "American." In the case of filling out one of the affimative action / equal opportunity pick-your-race form, you tend to pick "white" if you are white-skinned; you don't pick "Polish-American."

Should we call a family of Chinese descent who have lived in America for 250 years "Chinese-Americans"? Sure, we can. In in such a usage, we can use "African-American". However, we still call 5th generation Polish people "white" pretty often as a descriptive term; and we could call African-Americans and others who are black "black" as well. Not all blacks are actually African-American. SOme are not of African descent and some are not American.

>I suspect that we really need a non-confusing, non-pejorative term for people of African ancestry whose families have been in the United States long enough that they are part of the cultural

African-American works.

I also suspect we need a non-confusing, non-pejorative term for people with dark skin of many kinds of descent and cultural background and I suggest "black."
8.3.2006 6:58pm
Medis:
liberty,

It is precisely your claim that "African-American" accentuates similarities INSTEAD OF differences that I think is substantively wrong. Similarly, I think it is wrong to say that "African-American" is "describing less" than "black", although I agree that it may be describing something different.

And again, I don't think this is mere semantics, because I think your original argument depended on these inaccurate claims about the term "African-American". Indeed, what I think you are refusing to consider is that there may actually be valid reasons to ADD this homogeneity element to the term. And to avoid that issue, you keep insisting on this being a case where homogeneity has REPLACED heterogeneity, when in fact it is a case where homogeneity has been ADDED to heterogeneity.

But I also agree that this is beating a dead horse. Indeed, I think that my point was clear in the beginning, and I think that our subsequent discussions have only confused the issue.
8.3.2006 6:59pm
Medis:
Just an aside, but I am curious how many people posting here would understand the term "black" to refer to, say, a dark-skinned person from South Asia or Australia. I think that may be a customary usage in Europe and other former colonies (including Australia), but my sense is that most people in the United States apply it exclusively to people with African ancestors.
8.3.2006 7:06pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Medis,

One "description" has replaced another but as a replacement for "black" the term "African" is incorrect. As I posted just above, the use of "African-American" t describe those who have moved here from Africa or whose family did, very similarly to use of "Chinese-American" I have no problem with. But to replace the descriptive term relating to skin-color with a non-descriptive term (for that purpose) and an added unnecessary homogenizing aspect (for that purpose) is what I was complaining about. If we stopped using white and called all white people "British-Americans" just to be PC (or arguably "Caucasian" as it is just as innacurate) I think you'd agree that we replaced something descriptive ("white") with something non-descriptive of the skin color and potentially innacurate ("British") and something unnecessary to the description ("American").

Its the wrong-use of the words, not their existance that bothers me. And I think its used to replace "black" for a reason; a reason not related to actually wanting to describe ancestry and citizenship - a motive of homogenization and moral relativism.
8.3.2006 7:11pm
liberty (mail) (www):
"Just an aside, but I am curious how many people posting here would understand the term "black" to refer to, say, a dark-skinned person from South Asia or Australia."

- I tend to use it to describe anyone who looks black; just as I use white for anyone who looks white, regardless if hey are of European descent or whatever. Do also remember that African-American implies American too, which is also often untrue. A French Nigerian is black; an African Brit is black; and those who look black to me who may or may not have long-ago descendents from Africa but have no cultural ties to Africa are also black and it may be quite innacurate to call them "African-Americans."

This is why it bothers me -- because people are for PC reasons trying to replace a word with a conjunction that is not a good substitute.
8.3.2006 7:16pm
Medis:
liberty,

We've discussed why I think you are misdescribing the term "African-American", but I think there is also a good chance that you are misdescribing how people--in the United States at least--tend to use the term "black". But hopefully we will see what other people think.

Ultimately, though, I am not sure if any of this matters. It may well be that the extensions of the terms "African-American" and "black" are different, meaning that the sets of people described by each term respectively are not identical. But insofar as some people would fit into both definitions--in other words, insofar as the sets overlap--we would still have a choice of terms.
8.3.2006 7:33pm
Medis:
Oh, and I would never call a person who was not an American an "African-American". But I don't think anyone is suggesting that we do that (except maybe Bob Costas).
8.3.2006 7:35pm
Zen (mail):
I'm "handicapped" at the moment with a busted leg and even when I do have use of both legs, I'm *still* "disabled" due to joint issues. FYI, I I don't consider myself "handicapped" or "disabled." Crip works just fine for me.
8.3.2006 7:36pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I'm glad that you wouldn't Medis, but there is certainly pressure to do so. That is the reason that there are numerous examples of absurd statements by newscasters, professors, politicians etc using "African-American" for people wo are neither.
8.3.2006 7:43pm
Medis:
For what it is worth, wikipedia has an article on the subject of "black people". According to that article, apparently people in the United States do in fact use the term in an unusual way (most notably by tying it to African ancestry in particular and by applying it to people with only a small amount of African ancestry).
8.3.2006 7:45pm
Medis:
liberty,

Is there actually "pressure" to use the term "African-Americans" for non-Americans, or are people just screwing up periodically?

Because I have honestly never heard anyone argue that is a proper usage of the term.
8.3.2006 7:47pm
liberty (mail) (www):
To support my thesis that "African-American" is not today used as "Polish-American" but rather means "black" (or there is pressure to use it that way and disgard the term "black"):

Students were disciplined over interpreting the term correctly. And again here a black man from Africa who became an American citizen is denied the title. Meanwhile politicians flock to it and many blacks avoid it.
8.3.2006 8:11pm
liberty (mail) (www):
There is not pressure to use it for non-Americans but it is not used for white Africans and there is pressure to not use "black" at all and hence politicans, journalists and others who want to be PC feel pressured to use it without knowing for sure that the subject is either of African descent or American - they just know he's black.
8.3.2006 8:15pm
Medis:
liberty,

It seems to me that those two stories support a different thesis--namely that many people have in mind something very complicated that is captured neither by "dark-skinned" nor by "American citizen from Africa," and they are struggling to come up with a simple term for this complicated concept.
8.3.2006 8:20pm
Medis:
liberty,

Sorry, we cross-posted.

But as it turns out, I think my post was relevant. It seems to me that the precise problem is that the underlying concept defies simple description, which is why neither "black" nor "African-American" fits perfectly as a literal description. So, there may be cases where "black" would be literally right and "African-American" would be literally wrong, and vice-versa, and other cases where people would disagree. So, some confusion is understandable.
8.3.2006 8:25pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I agree with that which is why I think both terms should be used and African-American should not be used to mean "black" nor to mean "descendent of slaves" but to actually mean American of African descent just as POlish-American means American of Polish descent.

This is not how its currently being used. The PC police have banned (or are trying to ban) use of the term "black" and instead trying to force the term "African-American" on people, and I explain why I think they are doing this above in my original post.

Whew. This has been an exhausting debate -- terminology really takes it out of you.
8.3.2006 8:33pm
Medis:
liberty,

First, it doesn't really matter whether "black" and "African-American" in theory should be given their literal meanings, if that isn't what people actually mean when they use those terms. In other words, if light-skinned people are still getting called "black" because they have an ancestor who was dark-skinned and who came from subsaharan Africa, and if immigrants from Egypt who become American citizens are still not being called "African-Americans", it doesn't do you much good to complain.

Moreover, preserving both terms still doesn't deal with cases where either term could apply. In those cases, I still see no reason to prefer "black" over "African-American".
8.3.2006 8:48pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I'm an Indian Outlaw, Half Cherokee and Choctaw
My baby, shes a Chippewa, shes one of a kind
All my friends call me BearClaw
The Village Chief is my Pa Pa
He gets his orders from my Ma Ma
She makes his walk the line
You can find me in my WigWam
I'll be beatin on my Tom Tom
Pull out the pipe and smoke you some
Hey and pass it around...
8.3.2006 9:01pm
Toby:

Is there actually "pressure" to use the term "African-Americans" for non-Americans, or are people just screwing up periodically?

Because I have honestly never heard anyone argue that is a proper usage of the term.

Well, there is also the infamous headline in the Scaramento Bee, IIRC, procliaming the new balnaced budget:

"Councilman declares new budget in the African American" - a triumph of PC Spell CHecking.
8.3.2006 9:20pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Well, I have more trouble with the C than with the LDS in Church of JC of LDS, because, you know, it's wrong. Speaking as a Person of Jewishness.
8.3.2006 9:24pm
DonBoy (mail) (www):
African-American became mandatory the very day Jesse Jackson ordered the media to use it. The change was immediate and so thorough that the Boston Globe had an editorial the next day about getting the city budget in the African-American. I am not making this up.

I'm sure you're not, personally, making it up, but it's not true:
A copy of the article and the correction from the Fresno Bee library was obtained, just to make sure. That established that the phrase had truly appeared in print. The next step was to find out why. I called the Fresno Bee [not the Boston Globe] newsroom, and asked to speak to the editor of the column. Eventually I reached a journalist who was knowledgable about the incident. He would only talk about it without attribution, for reasons that soon became clear. What occurred was not a faux-pas, but a practical joke.

The Fresno Bee does not have any list of excluded terminology. And they use no program that automatically converts old phrases into new ones. The substitution of "African-American" in place of "black" was a deliberate premeditated manual replacement. After the column ran in 1990, the editorial management (knowing this) was furious, and tried to track down the journalist responsible. No one would own up. The staff assigned to the column adamantly denied any involvement.

Management then brought in a computer specialist to audit the access records. He pointed the finger at, but could not conclusively implicate, a quite different individual, who was a known practical joker! The joker was confronted by management and denied everything. In the absence of proof, the matter ended there without disciplinary action.

Since the Fresno Bee does not maintain a list of popular words to exclude from print, the substitution was definitely not a standard proofreader's change caused by the desire to pander to political fashion (as Caen and others had implied). The incident was therefore either the result of maliciousness, or a deliberate prank. It's still funny, but the joke is on those who think the joke is on the Fresno Bee.
8.3.2006 9:30pm
Helen of Troy (mail):
In Canada a relatively new term for the grouping of Indians and Inuit is "First Nations."

I like this term because it avoids the baggage of "how can you call one group 'Native' and not have it apply to native-born people?"

Of course, if one argues that "we cannot call 'Indians' 'native' because even their ancestors immigrated," then everyone on earth has to be 'African.' After all, humans evolved in Africa and only later wandered into Europe, Asia, the Americas and the rest.
8.3.2006 10:19pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
You know, the very first thing I thought when I saw this post in my email box was, "geez, that Mormon comment seems to beg a response." Followed immediately by "you know, given the number of LDS bloggers I read, and how many lawyer lurkers they probably get, and the unusual degree to which selected LDS bloggers link to volokh.com, I bet one of the first derailing comments will be commenting on that Mormon thing."

In fact, I'm sort of disappointed that it took 11 comments to get there.

In descending order of preference, I find that members of the Church call themselves and each other a) "members," b) "Mormons," c) "LDS," or d) Saints. "Saints" gets a major upgrade when members are talking amongst themselves about the collective -- you almost always see it as "the Saints" meaning the entire group, or sometimes just the ones who live around here (wherever here is, usually Utah, but also in reference to "all the members who live in this area of Ohio, as distinct from all the non-members.") I find members in the midwest marginally more likely to say "do you think he's LDS" over "do you think he's a member" and "do you think he's Mormon;" I personally tell people "I'm LDS -- most people call us Mormons," because I'm a stickler for being understood.

"Mormon" used to be perjorative, at a time when people snickered about "Joe Smith" and his "gold Bible." The last time I saw an anti-Mormon protest sign, it was a play on "LDS," so at least some people use something close to our preferred terminology. ^_^

And for some arguments re: the use of "Saints" to refer, internally, to the collective body of the Church, I give you...

http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/1/36#36

"And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world."

http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/57/1,4,7-8,10,12#1

"Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints."

Whether you want to call us Saints or not, it's hard to argue that even the very earliest days of the movement passed without self-referential use of the term. You also can't get past 1 Nephi 14 without running into uses of the term "saint" or "saints" to refer specifically to people living in Joseph Smith's own time (there's one in chapter 13 and two right in a row in chapter 14.) Interestingly, the Book of Mormon uses the word "saint" to refer to a) people living in the time of the speaker, b) people living in the time of Joseph Smith, c) people who follow God in general, and d) saints in the traditional "really spiffy followers of God whose names you probably ought to at least recognize when you hear them" sense (at least, I think you can argue that the uses in 3 Nephi 9 can be interpreted that way: 'the saints and the [righteous] people I sent them among.')

On the other hand, so long as you don't accuse me of sacrificing virgins or worshipping Satan, and don't call me a liar and tell me I have no hope in Christ (or at least, don't do it over a megaphone while you're standing four feet from me) I'm going to be hard pressed to find myself offended.

(not that I can't find a good excuse to argue and/or research...)
8.3.2006 10:52pm
Syd (mail):
Helen of Troy (mail):
In Canada a relatively new term for the grouping of Indians and Inuit is "First Nations."


Which brings up another quibble about Native American for American Indians: even excluding the question of whether native-born people in the Americas have just as much right to be called "Native Americans," the term Native American should apply to the Inuit as well as American Indians.

First Nations is okay as long as you don't start calling people First National men and women.

I like "American Aborigine" but people look at me strangely.

For campus organizations and departments at OU, we have four "Native American" and seven "American Indian," including the "American Indian Student Association" and "American Indian Student Services."
8.4.2006 1:13am
Carter (mail):
Monkberryman/Chukuang - I am surprised a Japanes woman would take offense at the term Oriental. Japanese folks (at least in Japan) can get quite upset if referred to as "Asian".

Oops, can I say "folks?"
8.4.2006 1:28am
randal (mail):
I'm not calling you a "Saint", dork, for this reason: "Saint" has an existing meaning in the context of the larger category (Christians) that you're using it to identify yourself within. That's why a football player can be a "Saint" or an "Angel" but you can't. It wouldn't work for a football team to be called "The MVPs" or "The Quarterbacks". (But if you wanted me to call you a "Latter-Day Quarterback" I would.)

I also don't buy the line that you're using "Saint" in its original meaning ("follower of Christ") rather than its especially-glorious connotation, so therefore it should be ok. If you were serious about that, you'd have to call all Christians "Saints".

I'm not saying you necessarily are using it to aggrandize yourself, just that it's a poor choice of label given that it has an existing, relevant definition or two.
8.4.2006 5:00am
Susan (mail):
My child is autistic and mentally retarded. Teachers turn pale when you say "mentally retarded". It is, however, a correct diagnostic term: he learns much more slowly than most students.

I use the term frequently as his parent though I have had a teacher try to correct me before. I'm afraid I don't correct well.
8.4.2006 9:50am