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Buddhists and Moslems arm against terrorists:

StrategyPage, which is always one of the best websites for information on military activities around the world, reports on the terrorist war going in southern Thailand:

The Moslem south is turning into the Wild West. There are more guns per capita among the two million southerners, than anywhere else in the country. The 20 percent of the southerners who are not Moslem are particularly well armed, with shotguns, rifles, pistols and even some automatic weapons. Most of the guns carried by non-Moslems are legal, for defense against Islamic terrorists. But many Moslems have legal weapons as well, also for defense against Islamic radicals (who are increasingly violent against Moslems they deem disloyal.) The police are slowly winning, as they have done in the past. But Islamic radicalism is popular among many of the young men, so the violence will continue for a while, despite the opposition of most Thai Moslems. Thus violence has been increasing in the south, with 27 bombings and eight arson attacks in the past month. In that period, there were a hundred terrorist attacks, which left 51 dead and 83 wounded.

yankee (mail):
Is there any reason to use the term "Moslems" other than to cause gratuitous offense? I can't think of one.
9.21.2009 4:51pm
MCM (mail):
It's an older transliteration. I'm not sure if it's a dialect thing or what.
9.21.2009 4:53pm
gab:
Sounds like south central LA - what's the big deal?
9.21.2009 4:54pm
yankee (mail):
It's an older transliteration.

That's exactly my point. It's been supplanted by "Muslim," because that is generally regarded as a more accurate transliteration and is the term preferred by English-speaking practitioners of Islam. The only reasons to continue to use "Moslem" are either (a) ignorance that "Muslim" is more accurate and preferred by English-speaking Muslims or (b) a desire to use a less accurate transliteration as an intentional gesture of disrespect. In the case of Prof. Bernstein and strategypage.com, I doubt it is (a), leaving (b) as the available alternative.
9.21.2009 4:59pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
Perhaps habit? I only learned from reading the comments on this blog that the term is supposedly offensive, and I have no idea why it is.
9.21.2009 5:00pm
dangerous lack of something something:
Yankee, this is David Kopel's post, not DB's....so not sure why you are looking for a fight or something. That's a little rude of you to assume the worst motives from someone.
9.21.2009 5:02pm
Rock On:
I was going to comment on the same thing though. You wouldn't say "negro" even though it literally means "black", don't say "Moslem" either.
9.21.2009 5:04pm
Dave N (mail):
In the case of Prof. Bernstein and strategypage.com, I doubt it is (a), leaving (b) as the available alternative.
I would note that this post is by David Kopel, not David Bernstein.

I would also note the eagerness (on both sides) to assume the worst just because you figure that those you oppose are acting in bad faith.
9.21.2009 5:05pm
catullus:
Yankee,
Why is "Moslem" considered offensive? Just because it is on older transliteration? Adherents to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints prefer the locution "LDS" to "Mormon." Does that mean that people who speak of Mormons deliberately seek to offend? Many people of African decent prefer African-American to black. Is it deliberately offensive to use the term black?
9.21.2009 5:09pm
catullus:
Should be "descent."
9.21.2009 5:10pm
BGates:
I don't know why you're all bothering to argue with a guy who doesn't capitalize "Yankee", clearly to express his fear and loathing of the people who brought down the Confederacy.
9.21.2009 5:14pm
JGM (mail):
I thought it was pretty widely known that Moslem is an outdated and offensive term. I have to admit that the only reason I clicked through to read this item was the jarring effect of seeing the word in my RSS reader. "Moslem? WTF?"
9.21.2009 5:15pm
yankee (mail):
Yankee, this is David Kopel's post, not DB's....so not sure why you are looking for a fight or something. That's a little rude of you to assume the worst motives from someone.

Fair point, somehow I noticed the "David" and not the "Kopel." I therefore retract my decision to insult DB and hereby redirect it at DK.

Perhaps habit? I only learned from reading the comments on this blog that the term is supposedly offensive, and I have no idea why it is.

What I learned in ten seconds from Google: apparently "Moslem" (pronounced "Mozlem") is a false cognate of the Arabic word for "oppressor." For obvious reasons, Muslims really disliked that transliteration, so two decades ago they ran a successful advocacy campaign to get the media to switch to the more accurate "Muslim." Now pretty much everybody says/spells "Muslim," to the point where anyone who uses "Moslem" can be assumed to have considered and rejected using "Muslim" instead Since actual Muslims dislike "Moslem," "Moslem" is less accurate, and "Muslim" is (now) the majority term, the only reason to use it is to offend. Since the only reason to use it is to offend, it's offensive.
9.21.2009 5:18pm
arthur:
Kopel seems to be arguing that gun ownership by an insular group in the Southern part of a nation correlates with that group's propensity for terrorism. I wonder what he thinks about gun ownership patterns in the U.S.? Maybe I'll check the archives . . .
9.21.2009 5:24pm
catullus:
Yankee,
Many Christians in Muslim countries might have good reason to think that Moslem (the false cognate of the Arabic for "oppressor") is a more accurate term.
9.21.2009 5:25pm
TomH (mail):
Why all of the offended feelings all the time?

It is almost as if it is a tenet of the faith to be offended. Heaven forfend if he wrote Mussulman. I take it that mispronouncing any word by people unfamiliar with Arabic is offensive in Islam. Not to mention differences in accent and dialect, the cause of more middle east strife!

Perhaps we in the west should just deem it offensive to write in non-arabic characters anything even tangentially related to the very sensitive relgion-that-shall-not-be-named-for-fear-of-offending (sorry, sorry don't get offended) .

All of this offended-ness is itself, to me offensive. Nauseating even.

No Offense.
9.21.2009 5:27pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
As far as the "m" word being a false cognate of an Arabic word, I'm not sure how a non-Arabic speaker would know that.


This is the first I ever heard of the successful advocacy campaign to get the media to switch.

I think your assumptions are overly broad.
9.21.2009 5:27pm
Erin Arlinghaus:
I think "habit" is a reasonable possible alternative. They taught me to spell it "Moslem" in elementary school, and I'm only 34, and occasionally it still comes out that way when I'm typing fast.

If you had to google it to learn that it was offensive, yankee, I wouldn't be surprised if there were plenty of people who aren't aware that it CAN be used to offend. I don't google every ethnic term I use every time I use it to learn what new connotations it has picked up since the last time I typed it.

Sheesh, how about a little presumption of good faith.
9.21.2009 5:29pm
egd:

"Moslem" is less accurate, and "Muslim" is (now) the majority term, the only reason to use it is to offend. Since the only reason to use it is to offend, it's offensive.

Is this like "Democrat"/"Democratic"?

I had never heard of the term "Moslem" being used as an offensive term, and merely thought it was anachronistic.

But since we can define terms to be offensive now, I hereby declare "Caucasian" and "white" to be offensive, and prefer the more appropriate racial classification "Melanin-Impaired".
9.21.2009 5:30pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
This is the first time that I've heard "Moslem" characterized as offensive. Standard dictionaries (e.g., Merriam Webster) appear to list it as just a variant of "Muslim." Wikipedia, for what little it is worth as evidence, merely notes that "Muslim" "is sometimes transliterated 'Moslem', an older, possibly Persian-based spelling, which some regard as offensive." But the source Wikipedia cites for this "some regard as offensive" proposition is not any more illuminating, as it just asserts without explanation or sourcing that "many" regard "Moslem" to be "a term of abuse" (see page 19 of the linked .pdf). Does anyone have a useful link providing some background or support for "Moslem" being a term of abuse?
9.21.2009 5:37pm
1010101010:
The use of full stops (aka periods) at the end of a sentence has been the accepted practice in written English for hundreds of years. Now pretty much everybody uses periods, to the point where anyone who doesn't use periods can be assumed to have considered and rejected using periods. Since actual English speakers dislike unpunctuated sentences, run-on sentences are less accurate, and punctuation is the accepted practice, the only reason not to properly punctuate sentences is to offend. Things that offend are, by definition, offensive.
9.21.2009 5:39pm
yankee (mail):
As far as the "m" word being a false cognate of an Arabic word, I'm not sure how a non-Arabic speaker would know that.

Until a few minutes ago I didn't either. All I knew about the history was that "Moslem" was outdated and "Muslim" was now preferred because it's accurate. The false cognate thing (though "homophone" would have been a better term) was just historical background I learned in my three minutes of googling the history.

Is this like "Democrat"/"Democratic"?


I think it's more analogous to "Hindoo/Hindu."
9.21.2009 5:41pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
Well I think you should cut people a little more slack.

I learned "Moslem" in school and I expect this author did also. And it's become virtually impossible to keep up with every group's preferred self-designation.
9.21.2009 5:49pm
egd:
yankee:

Until a few minutes ago I didn't either. All I knew about the history was that "Moslem" was outdated and "Muslim" was now preferred because it's accurate. The false cognate thing (though "homophone" would have been a better term) was just historical background I learned in my three minutes of googling the history.

So if you only learned of its offensiveness after Googling the term, why would you presume that DK is trying "to cause gratuitous offense"?


I think it's more analogous to "Hindoo/Hindu."

Is "Hindoo" now gratuitously offensive? What about "East Indian"?
9.21.2009 5:54pm
Matt_T:
Can anyone link a reputable, reliable source stating that the "Moslem" spelling is offensive?
9.21.2009 5:54pm
yankee (mail):
I learned "Moslem" in school and I expect this author did also. And it's become virtually impossible to keep up with every group's preferred self-designation.
The switch is, apparently, more recent than I'd realized, so I'll cut people a bit more slack on that. But you would have to be living under a rock to fail to "keep up with [this] group's preferred self-designation," inasmuch as the U.S. media switched twenty years ago and it's not like Islam hasn't been in the news since then.
9.21.2009 5:57pm
RowerinVa (mail):
Add me to the list of people who are well-read in this area -- I even did some academic work regarding the Middle East -- who weren't aware that "Moslem" is considered offensive. Good to know.

Also, don't complain when someone acts hypersentive about a perceived slight. It lets you know who the serious thinkers aren't, which is also good to know.

The taking of unmerited offense is always a form of aggression. The taking of unmerited offense on someone else's behalf is particularly aggressive. The taking of unmerited offense on someone else's behalf AND against someone who's not even involved (poor David Bernstein!) is ... well, wow ... that's three strikes. I call a blog strikeout on [Y]ankee.
9.21.2009 5:58pm
yankee (mail):
So if you only learned of its offensiveness after Googling the term, why would you presume that DK is trying "to cause gratuitous offense"?

I already knew it was offensive, I just didn't know the history.
Is "Hindoo" now gratuitously offensive? What about "East Indian"?

"East Indian" sounds more quaint than offensive, probably because the adjective "East" was rendered irrelevant by the demise of "West Indies" in favor of "Caribbean." I think "Hindoo" is too old to be offensive, I would assume someone using it was engaging in some kind of self-referential irony.
9.21.2009 6:08pm
UID:
For what it's worth, I took an undergraduate course on the Middle East. I knew "Moslem" was a dated transliteration, but not that it was a potentially offensive one.

Multiple transliterations of Arabic words are not unheard of. How is a lay-person supposed to know which ones are considered offensive. Examples:

Qu'ran
Quran
Koran

Mujahideen
Mujahedin
Mujahedeen
Mujahedin
Mujahidin

Muhammad
Mohammed
Muhammed
9.21.2009 6:14pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
I've done a little more Google searching. But I am still not finding much in the way of reliable authority for the proposition that "Moslem" is offensive. For example, The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style (2005) states the following:
Muslim has become the preferred spelling in American usage for adherents of Islam. The arabic word muslim means "one who surrenders." It is a participle of 'aslama, "to surrender," the source of the word Islam. The older spelling Moslem is still widely used.
Id. at p. 309. Again, can anyone provide some useful authority regarding the offensiveness of the term "Moslem"?
9.21.2009 6:16pm
UID:
For what it is worth, Wikipedia claims "Moslem" is offensive. It cites this document: link


Reporting Diversity
Published 21 October 2005



Summary

Reporting Diversity is a new, practical guide for journalists to help them report fairly on matters of faith, race, and cohesion and to do so without giving needless offence. It has been produced by the Media Trust and the Society of Editors with support from the Home Office.



Reporting Diversity was developed by the Society of Editors and the Media Trust and funded by the Cohesion and Faiths Unit of the Home Office.



Is it correct to write Muslim or
Moslem?
Muslim is preferred. People refer to
themselves as Muslims. Many regard
Moslem as a term of abuse, like
people of African descent dislike
being called negroes. Also avoid
Mohammedan and Musselman.

9.21.2009 6:21pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
Yes, I noted the Wikipedia source above. The difficulty with that source, however, is that it doesn't provide any explanation or support for the claim made; it just states a bald assertion. I'm not saying "Moslem" isn't offensive. Maybe it is. But it seems peculiar to me that I had not previously heard so, and that some fairly reasonable sources (like contemporary dictionaries and guides to style and usage) omit any mention of the term's supposedly offensive nature.
9.21.2009 6:26pm
Crimso:

Now pretty much everybody says/spells "Muslim," to the point where anyone who uses "Moslem" can be assumed to have considered and rejected using "Muslim" instead

Terrible assumption. As others have noted, it is not common knowledge that Muslims consider "Moslem" offensive. In fact, I plan on asking all of the Muslims (which will be a not-insignificant number) I see tomorrow whether or not they find it offensive. I'm genuinely curious about this.
9.21.2009 6:41pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
If you are using "Moslem" because you didn't realize that "Muslim" is preferred, fine. No big deal, just use "Muslim" in the future.

If you are using "Moslem" because you don't give a crap about the feelings of Muslims, then you are the equivalent of Palestinian activists who insist on calling Israel "the Zionist entity" because they don't give a crap about the feelings of Jews, or people who insist on calling blacks "Negroes" because they don't give a crap about the feelings of blacks, or people who insist on calling gays and lesbians "homosexuals" because they don't give a crap about the feelings of gays and lesbians.

You get the point.

There's no reason to use terminology that pisses people off if you know better. If you don't know better, than you live and learn, right?
9.21.2009 6:45pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
As for Moslem vs Muslim....


Is it correct to write Muslim or
Moslem?
Muslim is preferred. People refer to
themselves as Muslims. Many regard
Moslem as a term of abuse, like
people of African descent dislike
being called negroes.


Being offended by alphabetic mismatch seems rather counterproductive.
9.21.2009 6:52pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
Dilan Esper:

But isn't the question in this case whether we do in fact know that the term "Moslem" is offensive (and how we know so)? Apart from some purely unsourced assertions, I haven't seen any evidence for the proposition that "Moslem" is offensive or a term of abuse. And, while I am sympathetic to some degree with the sentiments you express, I don't think that the offense of others invariably is a valid reason for altering usage (e.g., the controversy over the term "niggardly").
9.21.2009 6:56pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Dilan:

If you are using "Moslem" because you didn't realize that "Muslim" is preferred, fine. No big deal, just use "Muslim" in the future.


Ordinarily I would agree with you, but I think that Moslem/Muslim is really stretching it. The issue is one of alphabetic mismatch/transliteration convention and really should be no big deal.

Honestly, I think that if one gets deeply offended by transliteration conventions, such a person is full of crap.

Heck, if I want to write it "Mooslim" I am not doing any disservice to the Arabic.
9.21.2009 7:00pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Curmud and ein:

The problem is, you can't impose a requirement that the offense that is taken be rational. For instance, I really wouldn't recommend that someone use the word "niggardly" in an environment where there are a number of blacks, because even though I thought the controversy rather silly, if the word is likely to cause offense, that's reason enough to use another word. (As Steven Pinker said about "niggardly", "as a word, 'niggardly' was a disaster waiting to happen".)

Many things that people take offense at they probably shouldn't. For instance, even though I am quite sympathetic to gay rights and assiduously advocate the use of "gays and lesbians" or "GLBT / LGBT" to describe the population, there's nothing actually wrong with the clinical term "homosexual". It just happens that a lot of anti-gay folks prefer it because they like the phoneme "homo". So, we don't use it. Now, is that particularly rational?

Similarly, "negro", the term preferred by Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall, probably fell out of favor because of its superficial similarity to the n-word (just like "niggardly"). Now, is that rational? Is there anything really superior about "African American" or "black" rather than "negro"? No. But if those are the preferred terms, that's reason enough to use them.
9.21.2009 7:09pm
CDU (mail) (www):
The problem is, you can't impose a requirement that the offense that is taken be rational.

The people who are offended can't impose a requirement that others take their irrational offense seriously.
9.21.2009 7:16pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
The people who are offended can't impose a requirement that others take their irrational offense seriously.

All offense is irrational. What is it, particularly, about the n-word, or the c-word, or the k-word for Jews, or the sp-word or the wet-word for Hispanics, or the ch-word for Asians, that justifies people being offended? People just ARE offended.

Now, certain people really don't want to take Muslim offense as seriously as other groups' offense. And that, of course, gets back to issues of prejudice and privilege. But it isn't as though anyone is applying an objective standard here and treating all groups equally if they decide to offend certain groups but not others.
9.21.2009 7:22pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
Dilan Esper:

I think that your proposed rule, which apparently is to assume all claims of offense are made in good faith and must be respected no matter how irrational or ill-informed, is a formula for endless bullying and in extreme cases, like the "niggardly" episode, essentially privileges the ignorant in matters of proper English usage. But this aspect of the debate about "Moslem" seems somewhat subsidiary to me.

Apart from the assertions of an anonymous (and apparently non-muslim) commenter on the Internet ("yankee") and some unsourced assertions in a couple of documents that "some" and "many" find "Moslem" offensive, what is the evidence for the proposition that a substantial number of people regard "Moslem" as being offensive or that it generally is used as a term of abuse? Why should I accept that it is so when the standard authorities that I have consulted--a contemporary dictionary and a guide to style and usage--omit any mention of this controversy?
9.21.2009 7:38pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I think that your proposed rule, which apparently is to assume all claims of offense are made in good faith and must be respected no matter how irrational or ill-informed, is a formula for endless bullying and in extreme cases, like the "niggardly" episode, essentially privileges the ignorant in matters of proper English usage.

Proper English usage is whatever a majority of English speakers at any particular time decide it to be. At one point, all of those slurs I mentioned above were perfectly accepted English usage.

The question isn't what is "proper English usage" but what causes offense. And unless you are consistent about this, it just becomes a matter of which groups are powerful enough that you can't offend them and which groups are not powerful enough so that you can.

Finally, look, googling will reveal numerous Muslims who ARE offended at the "Moslem" spelling. The fact that others may not be, or that only some authorities recognize the offense, really doesn't matter here.
9.21.2009 7:54pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
Dilan Esper:

I think your characterization of all offense as somehow being irrational, and the corresponding sentiment that all offenses accordingly are equivalent, is preposterous. When a black man is called a "nigger" by a white man, the latter's umbrage is not irrational. The word is an expression of racial hatred and contempt; it is calculated to give offense and does so. It is perfectly rational for a black man to be offended when someone expresses hatred or contempt for him in such a fashion. It is not, however, rational for the same black man to take offense at the use of the word "niggardly" by a white colleague with respect to funding or budgeting. You seem to be using "rational" in some hitherto unknown sense of the word.
9.21.2009 8:03pm
Dave N (mail):
Dilan,

Let me make sure I have your position straight. If a single person is offended, then damnit, don't use the word that person finds offensive for his group. So, for example, if I find a gay person who does not like "gay" and prefers something different (say "queer" as in "Queer Nation") I should use "queer" until another gay person tells me that he or she finds "queer" offensive?

If it is more than one, how many is it? Two, ten, a dozen? Who arbitrates if there is a disagreement within the group?

Frankly, your position is no more than "political correctness" writ large (and bad).
9.21.2009 8:05pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I think your characterization of all offense as somehow being irrational, and the corresponding sentiment that all offenses accordingly are equivalent, is preposterous. When a black man is called a "n****r" by a white man, the latter's umbrage is not irrational. The word is an expression of racial hatred and contempt; it is calculated to give offense and does so.

It's not that simple. How about the use of the n-word in rap music? Is a black man supposed to take offense of that? What about a misguided white friend saying "you's my n****r". Is a black man supposed to take offense at that?

Similarly, you are ignoring that if a black man does rationally see the n-word as calculated to give offense, there are also tons of people who would LOVE to offend Muslims. Indeed, you see that attitude in this site's comments threads sometimes. A lot of people don't like Islam very much, don't think very much of Muslim grievances, think that Islam inexorably leads to terrorism (or simply is a false faith), and don't give a damn if Muslims are offended.

Now how are THOSE people any different than some KKK character who uses the n-word precisely to offend blacks?

What we come back to is the only reasonable standard is that people take offense.

You seem to be using "rational" in some hitherto unknown sense of the word.

It really isn't rational to get upset about anything that someone calls you. This is about emotion, not rationality.
9.21.2009 8:08pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Let me make sure I have your position straight. If a single person is offended, then damnit, don't use the word that person finds offensive for his group. So, for example, if I find a gay person who does not like "gay" and prefers something different (say "queer" as in "Queer Nation") I should use "queer" until another gay person tells me that he or she finds "queer" offensive? If it is more than one, how many is it? Two, ten, a dozen? Who arbitrates if there is a disagreement within the group?

This is a silly point. Obviously, at some point, there's a critical mass, just as obviously, it isn't a bright line.

Really, the fact that something isn't a bright line test doesn't give someone license to offend people. You could even make the same argument with the n-word-- that because there surely are some blacks that AREN'T offended by it (and I am sure there are), that means that people should use it.
9.21.2009 8:14pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
Dilan Esper:

Assuming for the sake of argument that proper usage is "whatever a majority of English speakers at any particular time decide it to be," that doesn't necessarily say anything about whether non-standard usages are offensive or constitute terms of abuse. Is the offensiveness or non-offensiveness of a term also to be based on majority usage? If not, why not? (If so, do the dictionary and guide to style and usage that I cited above have no relation whatsoever to majority usage?)

Googling may well produce instances of muslims evincing offense at use of the term "Moslem." Of course, the Internet is a a big place, and one likely can produce an example of someone taking offense at this or that for just about anything by Googling. So Internet commenting and commentary (which often tends to be anonymous and unverifiable) doesn't necessarily seem like an authoritative guide. (I'd note that I did in fact Google this issue and came away fairly unconvinced. I also invited others to provide me with helpful links on the topic without much in the way of results.)

Even taking random Internet comments at face value, how does one know on the basis of these Google-produced examples that "Moslem" is in fact offensive to a significant enough number of people, muslim or otherwise, to be offensive? How many Internet comments suffice to render a term or phrase lingua non grata? Or does a single instance of umbrage suffice to banish a word from polite society?
9.21.2009 8:24pm
Dave N (mail):
Dilan,

If a person tells me he prefers to be called "gay," "Black," "Roma," whatever, I typically respect that person's request. It is a matter of simple courtesy, right up there, IMHO, with correctly pronouncing someone's name.

But I don't let that person speak for everyone he purports to represent. Your standard is "people take offense," which effectively means, he who has the thinnest skin wins.

You have argued that a "critical mass" of Muslims do not like "Moslem" without any real evidence other than a few websites debating the point.

You say that "numerous" adherents of Islam do not like "Moslem" without providing evidence of how many "numerous" actually is.
9.21.2009 8:26pm
CDU (mail) (www):
Now, certain people really don't want to take Muslim offense as seriously as other groups' offense.


I take Muslims' claims claims of irrational offense just as seriously as I take any other group's claims of irrational offense, which is to say, not very.
9.21.2009 8:31pm
loki13 (mail):

The problem is, you can't impose a requirement that the offense that is taken be rational. For instance, I really wouldn't recommend that someone use the word "niggardly" in an environment where there are a number of blacks, because even though I thought the controversy rather silly, if the word is likely to cause offense, that's reason enough to use another word. (As Steven Pinker said about "niggardly", "as a word, 'niggardly' was a disaster waiting to happen".)



As an aside, one of my favorite cocktails is the negroni. There have been times where I have exercised my discretion and not ordered it.

That said, I believe Dilan is correct. How do we measure the offensiveness of a word, other than how offended people are by the word? Put one way, I could take the letters U, K, C, and F... and they're fine. Rearrange them, and they're liable to offend. Why? It's just a word. But the socially constructed meaning ascribed to that combination of letters- that is what is "offensive". And, of course, context matter. As a parting example (borrowed from a blog, and a common enough story):

Once, when I was a teenager, I was at my friends house, standing in the living room. Her grandmother walked into the room, looks at me, and says to my friend, in a deep southern accent, "When am I gonna get my Wandering Jew?". As I stood trying to think of the correct reply to that, and admitting to myself that I sort of resembled that statement, my friend says "There's a clipping for you in a glass on the kitchen sink." which made no sense what-so-ever. As i tried to decode this in my mind, I realized they were all looking above me. That's when I looked up and saw the hanging plant I was standing under. It was a Wandering Jew.
9.21.2009 8:32pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
But I don't let that person speak for everyone he purports to represent. Your standard is "people take offense," which effectively means, he who has the thinnest skin wins.

True enough, but that's the reality anyway. There are plenty of people who don't care about these sorts of epithets, and even some people who revel in their transgressive qualities. The appropriation of "queer" by gay rights groups is a good example of this, and more than one feminist out there thinks the c-word is just dandy.

On the other hand, there are people who get offended at the use of this sort of language.

So whose view prevails?

Well, the concept of politeness is, in fact, all about catering to the wishes of that subset of the population which is offended by particular actions or speech. Why do we keep our elbows off the table? Most people don't care, but it is impolite to those who do. Why do we not talk about sex in group discussions with strangers? Again, most people don't care, but it is impolite to those who do.

Our polite discourse is in fact governed by the wishes of the minority who get offended.

Again, I suspect the real truth is that some people just don't care if this particular group gets offended, but would care about offending other groups.
9.21.2009 8:48pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
loki13:

And how exactly do you propose to "measure . . . how offended people are by the word"? At least part of the problem with Dilan Esper's standard is that it is so amorphous that one cannot tell when it is satisfied in any but the most obvious of cases (e.g., the word "nigger," which is regarded as offensive in most contexts by a very large majority of English speakers). Esper insists that a single instance of offense is not sufficient. So, to use his terminology, some "critical mass" must be achieved. (Though whether "critical mass" equals anything like majority usage is not at all clear from his explanation.) How do you know when this critical mass has been reached outside of the obvious cases? Reliance on random Internet comments and unsourced claims of offense, which constitute the whole of the evidence that "Moslem" is offensive at this point, do not really seem to cut the mustard. What does?
9.21.2009 8:54pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Dilan:


The problem is, you can't impose a requirement that the offense that is taken be rational. For instance, I really wouldn't recommend that someone use the word "niggardly" in an environment where there are a number of blacks, because even though I thought the controversy rather silly, if the word is likely to cause offense, that's reason enough to use another word. (As Steven Pinker said about "niggardly", "as a word, 'niggardly' was a disaster waiting to happen".)


Niggardly is one of those words that is far safer to use in print than in speech because there is a record of its use as opposed to a confusingly similar word.

Also that specific word isn't a problem by itself. I have NEVER seen anyone get upset over its use without misunderstanding the word. So the misunderstanding, not the word, itself tends to cause offence.

In short 'niggard' is a perfectly safe word as long as your audience is aware of the word and doesn't confuse it with a similarly sounding racial slur. Similarly if I say someone is a hoary old woman, I better be darned sure my audience understands what I mean or else I might get accused of slander. Once again fine in writing but verbally troublesome.

That is entirely separate from transliteration issues. Cashmere vs Kasmir, Muslim vs Moslem, Qu'ran vs Koran, Peking vs Beijing, Servia vs Serbia, etc. These do NOT involve misunderstandings of perfectly respectable words. Instead they are issues of mismatch between writing systems, and in each of these cases both examples are reasonable ways of transliterating the name.

In short, if you don't use the Latin alphabet natively, don't complain how folks transliterate INTO that alphabet. I am not going to complain about transliterating things into Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, or Cyrillic writing systems, so....

My point here is that there are certain cases where things understandably cause offence due to easy misunderstanding or due to the fact that a word is a clear slur. However, in these sorts of cases, the only thing that worrying about them accomplishes is hypersensitivity. I don't think hypersensitivity is a sensible goal..........
9.21.2009 9:29pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
(Someday we will wake up and realize that the capital of Greece is Attens.)
9.21.2009 9:31pm
loki13 (mail):
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk asks me:

And how exactly do you propose to "measure . . . how offended people are by the word"?


I don't. I make it a point to not try and offend people. It has been my experience that those who protest most loudly about the difficulty of being nice are simply reserving the right to talk about "those n******" when they're at the golf club.

It's not too hard- don't be a jerk. I used to use "moslem" (and I lived in an Islamic country for a while)- sometimes I still accidentally mistype it. But I do try and correct myself. In the same sense, I have no problem with DK's unknowing or unwitting use, but I do have a problem with people who delight in their chic un-PCness because it just's so transgresive to piss off other people.

(I defend their right to say it, loving the 1st Am. and all, but it doesn't stop y'all from being jerks. Difficulty to measure offense doesn't mean you shouldn't offend. After all, I don't know how offended people are by some of my choice curse words- goodness knows it's difficult to measure- yet I somehow manage to avoid using them in public discourse.)
9.21.2009 9:42pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
loki13:

So without any real evidence that any significant number of people are offended by use of the word "Moslem," or any proposed standard for determining whether this is the case, you just assume use of the word "Moslem" reflects ignorance at best or jerkiness or bigotry at worst? And anyone who suggests that there ought to be some explicable standard in this regard is, in your words, "simply reserving the right to talk about 'those n******' when they're at the golf club"? I don't really think you can complain much about others failure to comply with rules of usage that appear to depend upon nothing more than your ipse dixit and an evidence-free judgment that folks who disagree with your assessmnent are ignorant, ill-intentioned, or hateful.
9.21.2009 10:13pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

The arabic word muslim means "one who surrenders."

And thus "French Muslim" is redundant?
9.21.2009 10:15pm
loki13 (mail):
Wow. It's amazing that you manage to compltely misread the post. Let's see.

1. I don't automatically ascribe bad motives to people who use offensive language. Many times, people are unaware that a particular use is offensive. That doesn't make the person ignorant in general, just unknowing in that case.

2. I differentiate group 1 from those who go out of their way to offend others. Those who do are jerks. I'm not sure why that is hard for you to understand.

3. Language changes over time. Moslem is now disfavored and slightly offensive. Is it something I go to war over? Naw. I have noticed, recently, that there are those who deliberately use the term *simply because* they know it is slightly offensive, and has more cover than, say "raghead" or "sandn*****" or any other variant that they might otherwise use.

It's like someone else pointed out- if someone tells you how to pronounce their name correctly, and you keep pronouncing wrong *on purpose*, then you're a jerk. Or, at least, a curmudgeon.
9.21.2009 10:23pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Loki:

It has been my experience that those who protest most loudly about the difficulty of being nice are simply reserving the right to talk about "those n******" when they're at the golf club.


If it was one more letter, I was going to say that most of the patrons at the rich golf club were probably niggards regardless of race ;-).
9.21.2009 11:11pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I suppose this video is right on topic...
9.21.2009 11:15pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Something occured to me regarding Muslim vs Moslem....

I wonder if there has been some subtle vowel shift over the past hundred years or so that is responsible for this argument.
9.21.2009 11:16pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
I don't give a crap about the feelings of Muslims (or anyone else) who take offense at such trivial things.

I call it Peking too.
9.21.2009 11:28pm
Cato The Elder (mail) (www):
You know it's funny that we seem to often have the same conversations again and again on the VC. We've already gone over the "Moslem" issue with Dilan Esperhere in this thread. I betcha the same people still hew to the same positions. How did we deviate so hopelessly from the OP?
9.21.2009 11:45pm
Fub:
Dilan Esper wrote at 9.21.2009 7:09pm:
Similarly, "negro", the term preferred by Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall, probably fell out of favor because of its superficial similarity to the n-word (just like "niggardly"). Now, is that rational? Is there anything really superior about "African American" or "black" rather than "negro"? No. But if those are the preferred terms, that's reason enough to use them.
The word "negro" had a far more broad movement than just the American civil rights movement backing its use. See N├ęgritude.
9.21.2009 11:59pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
BTW, anyone knows that it is REALLY written m-lsM ;-)
9.22.2009 12:10am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Bob from Ohio:

I call it Peking too.


The issue is that the transliteration rules originally adopted by the Brits for Chinese were really screwy....

P was used for a B sound, and K among other letters was used for a J sound. So "Peking" was intended to be pronounced "Bejing"
9.22.2009 12:12am
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
loki13:

I don't see how your latest comment conrtadicts anything that I wrote. The central problem with your argument is that neither you nor anyone else has adduced anything remotely resembling evidence that "Moslem is now disfavored and slightly offensive." You simply demand that everyone accept that it is so because you say it is so (or rather because you insist that others say that it is so--a classic sort of hearsay argument). And then you go one step further and suggest that those who either use the term and/or ask for some actual proof that the usage is pejorative or offensive either is ignorant (however innocently so) or bigoted.

The example you use also is rather problematic. You write that, "if someone tells you how to pronounce their name correctly, and you keep pronouncing wrong *on purpose*, then you're a jerk." First, this analogy is problematic for the reason already stated, specifically that it is not at all clear that muslims (hardly a monolithic group) have said anything of the sort with one voice or in any numbers. Second, the analogy is problematic because the Moslem-versus-Muslim controversy seems to be premised on the idea that how the word is spelled in English should depend on the ostensible pronunciation of the word in another language (Arabic). It would be rather like Russians becoming incensed because their Moskva is spelled Moscow in English and insisting that the English language be revised accordingly.
9.22.2009 1:34am
Steve in CT:
Does anybody want to discuss the fact that the Thai government is allowing the law abiding moderates to arm themselves to defend against radicals?

Oh wait, I hope that wasn't offensive to the people of Thailand...
9.22.2009 4:03am
Toby:

Bob from Ohio:

I call it Peking too.

The issue is that the transliteration rules originally adopted by the Brits for Chinese were really screwy....

P was used for a B sound, and K among other letters was used for a J sound. So "Peking" was intended to be pronounced "Bejing"

Nice try. How about the adoption of Manadarin over all other dialects as part of the consolidation of power in China. Arguably, that is a good thing, to establish a common dialect for all in a country. It is, however, a bizarre cultural conceit that "at last we know better than those dim bulbs in the past".

Perhaps I should take offense at such accusations of cultural superiority. I demand that no one ever spell it Beijing in my presence again. I will also protest at all Chinese resturants.
9.22.2009 6:41am
martinned (mail) (www):

Does anybody want to discuss the fact that the Thai government is allowing the law abiding moderates to arm themselves to defend against radicals?

Yes, that seems to be the topic of the original post: How Thailand gearing up for civil war is somehow a good thing.
9.22.2009 7:01am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Yes, it would be much better if the moderates were to die quietly without a fight.
9.22.2009 8:07am
martinned (mail) (www):

Yes, it would be much better if the moderates were to die quietly without a fight.

Yes, clearly that's the only alternative.
9.22.2009 8:35am
SG:
Yes, clearly that's the only alternative.

What are those other alternatives you allude to? Assume the Thai government is not capable of providing 24/7 security to all.
9.22.2009 9:02am
SG:
As someone who was also ignorant that Moslem had become offensive, is there a preference between Koran/QUran/Qur'an? Are any of those considered offensive?

How about Mohammed/Muhammed?
9.22.2009 9:05am
martinned (mail) (www):

What are those other alternatives you allude to? Assume the Thai government is not capable of providing 24/7 security to all.

How about stepping up efforts to disarm the "radicals"?
9.22.2009 9:21am
SG:
How about stepping up efforts to disarm the "radicals"?

I realize I'm making a lot of assumptions, but with 27 bombings, eight arson attacks and a hundred terrorist attacks leaving 51 dead and 83 wounded just in the past month, I have to assume the government is doing everything they possibly can.

I guess I also assume they don't possess a magic wand. Even if they're is more "stepping up" they could do to, this doesn't seem like something that will be quickly stopped.

To respond to the original question: allowing moderates to arm themselves against radical doesn't seem like a good thing, but it does seem like the least worst thing.
9.22.2009 9:33am
martinned (mail) (www):
@SG: If there were some magical way to tell the radicals from the moderates, I'd agree with you. As it is, you seem to be suggesting further escalation. I don't see how that helps anybody. (Except, presumably, the radicals.)
9.22.2009 9:37am
SG:
As it is, you seem to be suggesting further escalation. I don't see how that helps anybody. (Except, presumably, the radicals.)

I suppose if you consider defending yourself to be an escalation, then your conclusion follows. I consider self-defense to be a natural right, so when the radical initiates violence they have already baked in the self-defense. Therefore, I don't consider self-defense to be an escalation. This change only allows the self-defense to be more effective, which I see as an unqualified good thing.

Of course it would have been better if it were not necessary in the first place, but the radicals appear to have negated that. This is all fruit of a poisoned tree - there should be no surprise that it's bitter.
9.22.2009 9:53am
Andy Rozell (mail):
As someone who was also ignorant that Moslem had become offensive, is there a preference between Koran/QUran/Qur'an? Are any of those considered offensive?

How about Mohammed/Muhammed?


Or "Mahomet" or maybe "Mehmet"?
9.22.2009 10:21am
Andy Rozell (mail):
" I learned "Moslem" in school and I expect this author did also. And it's become virtually impossible to keep up with every group's preferred self-designation.

The switch is, apparently, more recent than I'd realized, so I'll cut people a bit more slack on that. But you would have to be living under a rock to fail to "keep up with [this] group's preferred self-designation," inasmuch as the U.S. media switched twenty years ago and it's not like Islam hasn't been in the news since then."

Well I don't always alter my speech to suit Dan Rather's whim. I guess that's a personal failing on my part.
9.22.2009 10:28am
Bleh:

If a person tells me he prefers to be called "gay," "Black," "Roma," whatever, I typically respect that person's request. It is a matter of simple courtesy, right up there, IMHO, with correctly pronouncing someone's name.



I'm just taking a shot in the dark here...

But could part of the problem with the false transliteration "Moslem" be that it implies a false pronunciation? Obviously this may not be much of a problem now, but it may have been 20 years ago, necessitating the change.

I don't think that the misspelling is necessarily something to be offended by. But I tend to agree that if you realize you're using an incorrect or outdated spelling, there's really no reason not to update it once you realize the mistake. It'd be like realizing you've been spelling someone's name wrong, and then continuing in that spelling after realizing the mistake... At that point, you have to ask yourself, why continue? Just to offend or be contrary?

In this case, Mr. Kopel may have used the spelling because the article he was referencing uses that spelling, and he just went with it without realizing it was an incorrect transliteration. He may also have done it out of habit, as some have suggested, a mistake. But if he were aware that the term "Moslem" was outdated and continued to use it knowingly, then I would tend to agree that that's sort of a jerkish thing to do.

In my mind it's not so much about the people taking offense, as it is about the person being "offensive". If the "offender" is aware that the term being used is outdated, and potentially offensive, then they have less ground to stand on when claiming that they're not a jerk. If on the other hand, there's reasonable evidence of ignorance or mistake, may as well move on and get over it. There are certain terms that have become so anathema as to immediately provoke suspicion of a malicious intent, but I don't think this is one of them, yet.
9.22.2009 12:20pm
Bleh:
Apologies to loki13 for not reading the whole thread before posting. Appears you said almost exactly the same things I did.

On a side note, I feel like I have seen the use "Moslem" several times before, and (from memory at least) it seems to almost always be used in reference to Thai Muslims. Does anyone have an notion if this usage is more common in reference to Thais, and if so, is there a reason?
9.22.2009 12:35pm
Bleh:

Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk:

I don't see how your latest comment conrtadicts anything that I wrote. The central problem with your argument is that neither you nor anyone else has adduced anything remotely resembling evidence that "Moslem is now disfavored and slightly offensive."


I tend to have problems posting links here, so hopefully this works:

http://hnn.us/articles/524.html


According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, "Moslem and Muslim are basically two different spellings for the same word." But the seemingly arbitrary choice of spellings is a sensitive subject for many followers of Islam. Whereas for most English speakers, the two words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means "one who gives himself to God," and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means "one who is evil and unjust" when the word is pronounced, as it is in English, Mozlem with a z.



I personally think this is a valid explanation as to why one spelling is preferred over the other. But that's just me.

----------------------------------------

I suppose if you consider defending yourself to be an escalation, then your conclusion follows. I consider self-defense to be a natural right, so when the radical initiates violence they have already baked in the self-defense. Therefore, I don't consider self-defense to be an escalation. This change only allows the self-defense to be more effective, which I see as an unqualified good thing.


Obviously, the ability to defend themselves is preferable for the non-radicals, especially if the government is proving incapable of providing protection. However, I tend to agree that this is an escalation, just because this means that there are more people wandering around with weapons. As far as the overall stability of the region goes, this seems to increase tension. Of course, even though I believe in the right to bear arms (reasonably), I'm not among those who believe that school shootings would have a lower death toll if only all the other students carried guns as well.
9.22.2009 12:54pm
Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk (www):
Bleh:

Regarding the History News Network commentary to which you link, why should one take the claims made in it at face value? From my review, it seems to be no more reliable than the Wikipedia article that I criticized. The HNN commentary was written by a college student/intern and does not seem to have much in the way of actual data or sourcing. Also, the HNN commentary seems somewhat ambivalent and/or agnostic as to whether the use of "Moslem" actually is offensive or constitutes a term of abuse. Here are some of the shortcomings of the HNN article (at least as evidence for what is being debated in this comment thread):

(1) Like the Wikipedia article, it takes for granted that "many followers of Islam" regard this as a "senstive subject." Perhaps many do. But how does one know in the absence of anything like evidence? And what is the standard for assessing whether it is in fact offensive to many?

(2) The only real evidence offered in the HNN story is the switch in terminology in journalism: "Journalists switched to Muslim from Moslem in recent years under pressure from Islamic groups." Assuming this to be true, is this sufficient evidence standing alone? It leaves me unconvinced. The "Islamic groups" in question are not identified; so we have no way to assess how representative they might be of muslims as a whole. Moreover, newspapers may have a variety of reasons for changing terminology that have no bearing on the merits (e.g., avoiding any unnecessary controversy for business reasons; placating a demographic the most vocal of whom are sometimes violent where perceived religious slights are concerned). For this and other reasons, I am skeptical about accepting journalist practice as evidence of what politeness requires.

(3) Some claims in the HNN commentary seem doubtful. For example, the HNN commentary opens by noting that "[n]ow, almost everybody uses Muslim." Perhaps this is so; whether it is so outside of journalistic sources I cannot say. But a guide to style and usage published a few years after the HNN commentary seems to indicate the contrary (i.e., that "Moslem" remains in wide use).

(4) The explanation offered for the offensive nature of "Moslem" is one that requires a fair amount of expertise to assess, but the HNN commentary supplies no indicia of reliability on this point. Specifically, the HNN commentary states that:
[T]he Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means "one who gives himself to God," and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means "one who is evil and unjust" when the word is pronounced, as it is in English, Mozlem with a z.
This may be so. Candidly, I do not know. I doubt that many English speakers are qualified to assess this statement. I'd like to see someone with actual knowledge of Arabic and appropriate credentials weigh in on the matter. (The HNN commentary presents this matter as one of fact, but does not provide a source and the author makes no claim of expertise with respect to Arabic.)

I'm not trying to be overly difficult in this regard, but absurd claims routinely are made about the content of other languages (e.g., the mistaken notion that Eskimos have "n" words for "snow" where "n" is some very large number; the bizarre claim that Spanish has no adjectives). So I would prefer to see a little expertise brought to bear on this particular point.

(5) Assuming that the preceding contention regarding Arabic pronunciation and language is in fact accurate, is that a valid ground for adjusting English usage (and proscribing variations as offensive)? It might be. But it is not self-evident that this is so. English spelling and pronunciation often differ from how a word derived from a foreign language (like Arabic) might be pronounced in the original. The non-English languages that I am familar with leave me with the impression that this is not unique to English.

How far does this go? Do adherents of Islam have the right to insist that English speakers stop using the transliteration "Koran" and use the less English-friendly (but ostensibly more accurate) "Qur'an"? If so, is it offensive to do otherwise? And how will we know? Once English-speaking journalists decide on a uniform spelling?
9.22.2009 2:51pm
Andy Rozell (mail):
What if the supposedly better transliteration ends up being something offensive in English?

A minor example - pronouncing the name of the country "Qatar" as "gutter." Is that also offensive?
9.22.2009 3:18pm
DennisN (mail):
Dilan Esper:

Similarly, "negro", the term preferred by Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall, probably fell out of favor because of its superficial similarity to the n-word (just like "niggardly").


It's even more similar when it's said by a Deep Southerner who pronounces it "Nigra." And I'd bet lunch it's the origin of the dreaded N word.

Steve in CT:

Does anybody want to discuss the fact that the Thai government is allowing the law abiding moderates to arm themselves to defend against radicals?


It's better. Teachers and the like, I don't know about common citizens, can get a government loan to buy a firearm. It's been quite successful, too. Random shootings of teachers and students by terrorists (Is that offensive to terrorists?) has declined dramatically. For a long time, they had a serious gun problem in the South - not enough guns. The price had skyrocketed. I believe the situation has stabilized.

FWIW, the favorite sidearm is a Smith and Wesson .38 Special.

I read of an incident a couple of months ago, where a party of teachers was being escorted by a couple of Thai soldiers on motorbikes. A terrorist threw a grenade that blew the cyclists over. It probably startled them and they fell over, but the War Stories will say otherwise. The teachers drew down and killed a couple of Tangos, (Is that offensive to terrorists?) and drove the rest off.
9.22.2009 4:15pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Bleh:

I don't think that the misspelling is necessarily something to be offended by. But I tend to agree that if you realize you're using an incorrect or outdated spelling, there's really no reason not to update it once you realize the mistake. It'd be like realizing you've been spelling someone's name wrong, and then continuing in that spelling after realizing the mistake... At that point, you have to ask yourself, why continue? Just to offend or be contrary?


As if hearsay reports of offensive nature of translitterations fall under that category....

Look, I use the term "Muslim." However, I think anyone who gets offended by antique transliterations being hypersensitive.
9.22.2009 5:34pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
A lot of this has to do with whether we expect folks to be capable of adult conversations or whether "that's offensive" is morally equivalent to all manner of bad things.
9.22.2009 5:37pm

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