The last few posts reminded me of two incidents in 1993-94 (which I also blogged about back in 2002) in which people complained about my using the term "handicapped," rather than "disabled." "Handicapped," they pointed out, comes from "cap in hand," referring to handicapped people begging with their caps in their hands. (A NEXIS search reveals several newspaper stories in which other people also make this claim.)

Actually, it comes from "hand in cap," a betting game (see, e.g., the New Shorter Oxford, but I've found the same derivation in other sources); from there it evolved into handicaps as burdens that one party labors under in a game (as in golf or horse racing); and from there it apparently evolved into burdens that people labor under as a result of cruel fate. People are getting offended -- and then trying to use that offense to change others' speech -- based on sheer myth.

Steve Lubet (mail):
another comment in the romney thread intimated that the etymology of "pork barrel" would reveal some sort of nasty original meaning. but according the the american heritage dictionary, the origin of the term was in fact a barrel of pork (presumably salted or preserved). if there is some other origin -- or even a hoax -- i couldn't find it.
7.31.2006 8:38pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
another comment in the romney thread intimated that the etymology of "pork barrel" would reveal some sort of nasty original meaning. but according the the american heritage dictionary, the origin of the term was in fact a barrel of pork (presumably salted or preserved). if there is some other origin -- or even a hoax -- i couldn't find it.
7.31.2006 8:38pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
another comment in the romney thread intimated that the etymology of "pork barrel" would reveal some sort of nasty original meaning. but according the the american heritage dictionary, the origin of the term was in fact a barrel of pork (presumably salted or preserved). if there is some other origin -- or even a hoax -- i couldn't find it.
7.31.2006 8:38pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Snarky[2] comments?
7.31.2006 8:42pm
What about the use of pejorative "Arab", appropriately derivative of Barbarian.
7.31.2006 9:31pm
Trevor Morrison (mail):
Eugene, I'm sure you've provided an answer to this question somewhere in one of your various word usage posts, but I've missed it and so I'm having trouble figuring out when you feel it appropriate to rely on formal definitions and technical etymological origins, and when you think it appropriate to rely on common usage.

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?
7.31.2006 9:43pm
Kind of like the mythological origin of the phrase "rule of thumb."
7.31.2006 9:59pm
A rose by any other name is still a rose. So PC renaming does nothing but show how silly some people are.
7.31.2006 10:04pm
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
See also "niggardly" (of Scandinavian origin, no connection to slur), "calling a spade a spade" (predates related slur by centuries), "rule of thumb" (no historical basis for supposed legal rule), "woman"/"women" (neither etymologically related to "man"/"men"), etc.
7.31.2006 10:04pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I think Eugene is only concerned here with rebutting one particular argument: the argument that "handicapped" is offensive because of an offensive etymology. When people make that claim, we're entitled to insist, at a minimum, that it be correct. If it's incorrect, and if they have no other argument, then we're done.

(Of course, it's possible that there are other arguments for not using "handicapped," but I don't read Eugene's post as speaking to those.)

Now suppose the claim were correct, and the etymology really were offensive. Then we're still entitled to ask whether that offensive etymology should control our own word choice; this is where usage becomes relevant, for instance if the word is useful and widely used and the vast majority of users of the word aren't referring to (and probably aren't aware of) the word's offensive etymology. This is how I read Eugene's past posts (for instance, here) on, say, the word "Slav."

In fact, now that I read the 2002 post I link to just above, I see that this isn't just my reading of Eugene's post -- it's exactly what Eugene was saying.
7.31.2006 10:05pm
BJGuckian (mail):
I'm reminded of the poor bean counter in Washington D.C. (I believe) who, a few years back, used the word "niggardly" during a budget presentation and was complained on by another attendee because, she believed, he had made a racial slur.

I don't know the derivation of the word — meaning stingy — but, I'm told, it has nothing to do with race or ethnicity.
7.31.2006 10:20pm

I've noticed that the common thread in Eugene's posts on speech--whether now or in terms of word usage is a discouragement against getting upset.

In particular he argues that you shouldn't get upset about evolving usage of words and now today has argued (though not in this particular post that you should only condemn someone for those usage of a possible pejorative if they so intended to do so.

In brief, I've gathered his position to be: if it's possible to construe speech as well intentioned, do so--and I think his matches his policy preferences vis-a-vis the first amendment as well.
7.31.2006 10:22pm
“Of course, it's possible that there are other arguments for not using "handicapped," but I don't read Eugene's post as speaking to those.”

I remember being corrected in the early 90s about this; my favorite was once where a woman further corrected us, stating that the most appropriate term was “differently abled”, since it had no connotations of lesser ability. I don’t remember ever being corrected by anyone who was handicapped, disabled, or “differently abled” though - the only times I have asked anyone who was handicapped, they didn’t especially care which term was used. During one portion of my life where I was classifiable as disabled, the only term I disliked was “crippled”, mostly because it was often intended as an insult. YMMV.
7.31.2006 10:27pm
James Fulford (mail):

I remember being corrected in the early 90s about this; my favorite was once where a woman further corrected us, stating that the most appropriate term was “differently abled”, since it had no connotations of lesser ability.

If someone insists that handicapped people aren't in fact handicapped, and don't have lesser ability in the areas of e.g. seeing, hearing, and walking, perhaps that person should instead be called a "liar."
7.31.2006 11:16pm
chrismn (mail):
My personal theory about the constantly changing "correct" words for those who are blind, deaf or otherwise disabled is that this constant change plays the same role as fashion trends.

That is, if fashion trends were not constantly changing, nerds like me would know as much about what was "in" as the truly hip. Constantly changing what's in plays the role of separating those who are unable or unwilling to keep up to date with those who are. Thus a cultural norm has organically devoloped to do this.

The same is true for word choice. Some people really are so intent on not offending that they really do exert effort to find out what the blind, deaf, and otherwise disabled want to be called this year. Others, like me, don't worry so much about their feelings and don't bother. And thus, just like fashion, information is revealed.
8.1.2006 12:01am
Shangui (mail):
My personal theory about the constantly changing "correct" words for those who are blind, deaf or otherwise disabled is that this constant change plays the same role as fashion trends.

I think what's really happening here is that these are words that describe a condition/situation/type of person towards which the society as a whole has a negative attitude. As the described situation is undesirable to a large number of people, the word will inevitably be seen as having negative connotations. The words can be seen as insulting because they reflect the underlying bias. So "colored" or "oriental" or "Chinaman" or "retarded" etc. inevitably took on negative connotations because the society at the time had (and in many cases still has) negative attitudes towards blacks, Asians, and the the learning disabled (and frankly, I'm not sure what the current best term is here). Please note I'm not at all saying this dissapproval is warranted, but it does it does seem to me that this is how the language is working in these cases. I've seen the same thing happen in languages other than English as well.
8.1.2006 12:12am
"woman"/"women" (neither etymologically related to "man"/"men")
"Woman" comes from "wifman", i.e. with-man. "Wife" originates there too.
8.1.2006 12:15am
what about womyn
8.1.2006 12:30am
If a moslem were elected to congress, could he participate in pork barrel spending?
8.1.2006 12:33am
Chris S (www):
What does entymology even matter? Yankee, at one time, was an insult but now you can't travel anywhere in New England without running into a Yankee Something.

There are some people that are so obssessed with being offended they seek to find offense in everything from a words entymology (that is all but lost to memory) to a smirk that wasn't intended for them anyway.

People need to get over this idea that they have a right to not be offended.
8.1.2006 12:57am
Rick Rockwell:
I always thought "differently abled" made it sound as if someone had special abilities, like x-ray vision or aquatic telepathy or something.
8.1.2006 1:06am
hey (mail):
There are no nice ways to describe certain things. If you can't walk, you can't walk. If you can't see, you can't see. If you can't hear, you can't hear. Changing the words only serves to reduce the amount of information conveyed, in an attempt to reduce the amount of prejudice felt by confusing those with negative attitudes or prejudices.

For terms that are truly intended as insults it serves a useful purpose by increasing civility. But for people with physical or biological limitations outside of ethnicity (aka serious negative deviations from basic functionality) it's a waste of effort. Any kid who has problems learning quickly grows to hate the word "special", since everyone knows what it means. They'll hate the next word invented for their problems to, even if that word is shared with the brilliant kids also. It's pretty easy to figure out who's special because they read at a higher grade level than the teacher and derived newton's laws of motion during recess and who's special because they still can't spell "cat" in the 4th grade and act out in class.

The best attitude to all of this "offensiveness" is that of the elite suburban "public" schools and prep schools: "That's all right, that's OK, you'll all work for us some day!". It has served nearly every non-English "white" ethnicity well (remember that until recently Italians and Spanish weren't considered "white", while even Scots and the Welsh were looked at askance), as well as most East and South-Asian groups and many direct immigrants from Africa and the Carribean.
8.1.2006 1:25am
James Lindgren (mail):
Diabled is a strange word to prefer to Handicapped. Disabled means you can't do something. Handicapped means that you can do it if an accommodation is made in the odds or terms.

For example, if Tiger Woods had given me a handicap of 30 strokes a round, I could probably have beaten him in the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews, when he set the record low score. I shot about 15 strokes higher than he did on the same course a couple of weeks later. Accounting for a very slightly longer tee placements, harder pin placements, etc., it is likely that with a handicap of 30 strokes I could have beaten him even at his best.

Why someone would prefer the image of a complete inability to perform (Disability), rather than a Handicap is beyond me.
8.1.2006 1:44am
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
This is slightly off-topic and posted just out of curiosity: a while ago, in the context of a discussion similar to this one, I was trying to come up with a list of standard English words that originated in ethnic or religious stereotypes but are now most often used without any intention of causing offense, These were the ones that immediately came to mind: cabal, thug, assassin, zealot, barbarian, philistine, jesuitical. Can anyone think of others?
8.1.2006 3:40am
Armen (mail) (www):
What about the use of pejorative "Arab", appropriately derivative of Barbarian.

I can't tell if this is tongue-in-cheek, but there is no connection between the two. Barbarian comes from the Greek "Barbaros" which referred to the Persians who, when invading Athens, did not speak Greek. So their words sounded like "bar bar bar bar bar bar" to the Greeks (think adults in the Peanuts cartoons).
8.1.2006 4:56am
8.1.2006 8:53am
This is ridiculous. "Tar baby," regardless of origin, is a perjorative term for a black person that also has a non-racial meaning. It's unfortunate that a perjorative usage developed, but it did, so it is irresponsible for a person in the public eye to use the term. I've never understood what was meant by "porch monkey" either, but I know that it's not a nice thing to call someone. I suppose "spearchucker" is okay too, so long as one only refers to persons who actually chuck spears?

Come to think of it, many perjorative terms have a fairly straightforward derivation from nonperjorative words. "Yid" presumably comes from "Yiddish," and "nip" from Nipponese. So under Eugene's logic, it doesn't make sense to be offended by these words because their origin is from nonoffensive words?
8.1.2006 9:36am
tsiroth (mail):
James: That's a bit of a misuse of the term. In your scenario, Tiger Woods is the one with the handicap, not you. He becomes less likely/able to win because he has been handicapped by 30 strokes. Just as I am more likely to win a skeet shooting contest if my opponents have been handicapped with blindfolds.
8.1.2006 9:40am
Oris (mail) (www):
I generally refer to myself as a person with a disability. I don't mind being referred to as handicapped or having a handicap. Once you start applying a word (in a non-pejorative sense) to middle-aged white men (the primary population of golf courses), it loses its edge when applied to other populations. Like dew, I'm not crazy about the term "crippled," largely because it's a wildly inaccurate description of my level of disability.

Malvolio, your etymology for "woman" is not accurate. "Wyf" or "wyfman" meant "woman," and nothing to do with "with." "Wer" or "werman" meant "man" (hence "werewolf").

In Old English the principal sense of man was “a human,” and the words wer and wyf (or wæpman and wifman) were used to refer to “a male human” and “a female human” respectively. But in Middle English man displaced wer as the term for “a male human,” while wyfman (which evolved into present-day woman) was retained for “a female human.” Despite this change, man continued to carry its original sense of “a human” as well, resulting in an asymmetrical arrangement that many criticize as sexist.

Chris S, "etymology" is the study of the origin of words. "Entomology" is the study of insects. :)
8.1.2006 9:56am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Bah, Orin beat me by several minutes to pointing out the actual etymology of woman. I'll just add that in "wif-man," "man" indeed originally meant "person," and "wif" is cognate with the German "Weib" and has nothing to do with "with." (Just in case you're wondering, "with" is cognate with the modern German prefix "wider-", meaning "against.")

DJR is inverting the logical structure of the argument: Eugene's argument does not imply that words with inoffensive origins should be seen as inoffensive. Rather, the first step is (see my comment above): If (1) someone claims that a word is offensive because of an offensive etymology, and (2) that etymology turns out to be false, then the etymology is not a good reason to avoid the word. "Handicap" is one such word.

The second step is: Even if (1) the etymology really is offensive, but (2) the word is in fact used inoffensively, perhaps because (3) that etymology is unknown to almost everyone who uses the word, then the etymology still isn't a good reason to avoid the word. "Slav" (derived from "slave") is one such word.

On the other hand, if the actual usage of a word is offensive, for instance if it's used as a racial or ethnic slur, then that's a good reason to avoid the word, regardless of any concerns related to etymology, and even if its original derivation is totally innocent. DJR's examples of "yid" and "nip" seem to fit this bill.
8.1.2006 10:18am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Oops, I meant Oris the previous commenter, not Orin my co-blogger.
8.1.2006 10:19am
Nick P.:
"Wer" or "werman" meant "man" (hence "werewolf").

Which implies that a werewolf was specifically a male man-wolf. I wonder if it is related to berserk ("bear-shirt") which is also a male characteristic.

I'm reminded of a character in Egil's Saga who is named Kveldulf (evening wolf, dusk wolf). IIRC, his description suggests that he is a werewolf, but it is only mentioned in passing.
8.1.2006 10:51am
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Note: Not all people named "wulf" ("wolf") are wolves. We have a cat named Ethelwolf, who's named after the Saxon king Æthelwulf. The name means "noble wolf." Beowulf means "bear." So the epic of Beowulf is about a hero named "Bear." In Old English, "beowulf" literally meant "bee-wolf," on the theory that a bear is like a kind of wolf that goes after bees.
8.1.2006 11:05am
HLSbertarian (mail):
Sasha: I think you and DJR are talking past each other. As you're already pointed out, EV's point here is about a word being "offensive because of an offensive etymology" and the need for accuracy in making those claims. I think many find just as much offense in phrases like "tar baby" that have innocent origins but have at some point generated offensive uses.

Let's say we have two phrases, both currently in nonobscure usage, nearly always now used without animus. One phrase derives from an offensive usage (a demeaning term for a minority), one derives from an innocent short story but was widely adopted for a period of time as a demeaning term for the same minority.

Aside from EV's call for accuracy, do you feel the opponents of the first term have a stronger argument against its usage?

Personally, given the etymological hodgepodge that is English, I don't feel much sympathy for anyone offended by the history of a term no longer used pejoratively. I've also never been persuaded much by the arguments that continuing to use terms with tainted histories helps subconsciously sustain the historical animus.

However, I'd be interested to know if you see a difference in the merits of the claims against the two hypothetical terms.
8.1.2006 11:09am
Oris (mail) (www):
Nick P., Indeed you are right. I guess Medieval Europe was not an equal opportunity monster habitat.

The berserkers were Norse warriors who wore bear or wolf skins. The name doesn't have to do with having a hairy chest, if that's where you're getting the "male characteristic" from.
8.1.2006 11:10am
Leland (mail):
I have never understood the issue with the term handicapped, particularly in the concept that disabled is a better term. I guess I never heard the story of "cap in hand", because I always consider the term from a sporting concept, in which a person must succeed while suffering a disadvantage.

I have a brother-in-law who has lost one eye, and is almost completely blind in another. I would find it offensive for anyone to call him disabled, because that is absolutely not the case. He is very able, and has a productive career as an IT specialist for the FAA. He had to overcome a disadvantage that others did not, but he succeeded. He certainly wasn't disabled and therefore not capable of succeeding.
8.1.2006 11:15am
Houston Lawyer:
Until yesterday, I had never heard that Tar Baby was a slur. I was only familiar with Uncle Remus's use of the word. It's clear from the context in which the governor used that term that he intended the same meaning as Uncle Remus.

When a word has a clearly inoffensive meaning, a speaker shouldn't be damned for using the word correctly.

I still refer to Black people as Black, which is an improvement over Negro, but has the same meaning. I love to watch newscasters try to work in African American when describing a Black person who is clearly not American.

We seem to have the same argument over the meaning of the work squaw. Someone decided that the etymology of the word was bad and that is should be banned from usage. Not only that, all place names using the word had to be renamed. This despite the fact that almost everyone else recognized a nonoffensive meaning for the term.
8.1.2006 11:29am
Nick P.:
The name doesn't have to do with having a hairy chest, if that's where you're getting the "male characteristic" from.

No, I meant that berserks were warriors and, therefore, being berserk was a characteristic limited to men. Bad fantasy novels aside, there probably weren't many hot shieldmaidens out there.
8.1.2006 11:30am

I was responding to Eugene's posting of the cap-in-hand myth etymology as if it were somehow related to the "tar baby" question. That is, Eugene posts, "People are getting offended -- and then trying to use that offense to change others' speech -- based on sheer myth."

Eugene says the last few posts remind him of this. But they really are two different things. The origin of handicapped does nothing to advance the discussion about "tar baby" because "tar baby" is an actual slur. It's not like "niggardly" - a word that only sounds like a slur, and it's not a word that is argued to have a racist origin. It's one of many terms that racists actually employ to demean blacks.

The unstated implication of Eugene's post is that like "hanicapped," "tar baby" has an inoffensive origin and people should not therefore be offended at its use. I object to that. Of course, Eugene would predictably respond that he was just noting two somewhat similar questions about etymology and racism, and that he did not mean to imply that his conclusions about the word handicapped should apply to the phrase tar baby. To which I say that's BS. Eugene is the master at the expansive offensive implication, later backed down to the narrower, irrelevant, but arguably true statement.
8.1.2006 11:59am
HLSbertarian (mail):

Eugene specifically references "two incidents in 1993-94" involving the word "handicapped" - isn't it more likely that when he says "people are getting offended" he's talking specifically about that?

It's not like "niggardly" - a word that only sounds like a slur, and it's not a word that is argued to have a racist origin. It's one of many terms that racists actually employ to demean blacks.

Don't conflate "racist origin" and "racists actually employ." As has been pointed out, the non-racist meaning of "tar baby" which Gov. Romney was employing predates its racist use.

On that note, I really would like someone to answer my earlier question: Is there more merit to being offended by a term with a racist origin than there is to being offended by a term which had an offshoot racist use?
8.1.2006 12:19pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
All Eugene says the tar baby story reminded him of the handicapped story. You evidently agree that Eugene doesn't say the two cases are similar -- except insofar as one is reminiscent of the other -- but nonetheless you think Eugene's making a broader point by "unstated implication."

Now I can't speak for Eugene, but Eugene and I tend to think similarly on usage questions. So here are my two cents: The stories have different morals and illustrate different principles. Nonetheless, they're reminiscent of each other. If it were I and not Eugene posting about usage, I'd probably have said the same thing. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. It's your willingness to read a stream of consciousness as deliberate underhandedness that's more than a bit offensive.
8.1.2006 12:52pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
Well, DJR, at least Romney didn't describe it as a "sticky wicket," which everybody knows has a herstory of being a term that describes the horrible beatings right wing evangelicals inflict on Wiccan womyn using a large stick, an enterprise initially called "Stick the Evil Wiccan Tramp" but later shortened to Stick-E.-Wiccan-T., and later again shortened to simply sticky wicket.
8.1.2006 12:53pm
My post is specifically making a distinction between "racist origin" and "racists actually employ." I'm saying that it's irresponsible for someone in the public eye to use the latter. It may well be that Romney never heard of the racist usage, in which case the appropriate response would be, "Really? That's horrible. I honestly never heard that usage; it is quite offensive, and I did not intend any offense." If that's what he said (and I haven't been following too closely), then good for him.

As to your question, I don't have a strong view, but I think offense at the use of a term with an actual racist use is more justified than offense at a racist-origin-but-now-accepted use. Of course, I think it depends on the term. For instance, "indian giver" is pretty offensive, because the negative stereotype is embedded in the term itself, while "vandal" or other words that have long lost any racist connotation shouldn't cause offense.

I would like to take a quick look at the "offshoot" racist use of "tar baby." This link says it better than I could.
8.1.2006 12:56pm

My willingness is informed by experience. For an example, look to the series of slippery posts last fall regarding Eugene's view that the left supports the insurgency, in which Eugene eventually retreated to a list of approximately 1/2 dozen fringe characters who had made statements that (in many cases arguably) could be construed to support the insurgency.

If we were in evidence class, I would say this and other similar prior "bad acts" are probative of his motive, or of his practice of this kind of argument, or of absence of mistake.
8.1.2006 1:14pm
Frustrated Vandal:
My ethnic people still have a bad name. All we did was sack Rome, but who didn't sack anotehr culture's cities? We didn't wrap toilet paper around the Colosseum, and we didn't key anyone's chariots. Why the bad rap?
8.1.2006 1:25pm
Context has to count for something. If I say that "Casper the Friendly Ghost is my favorite spook", and someone takes offense, they are just bozos. Oops, now I offended clowns.
8.1.2006 1:39pm
Sigivald (mail):
DJR: Now that you've clarified ("it's wrong for a public figure to use a figure of speech racists have or do use, even if he uses it in a completely non-slurring context and in an established non-slur meaning"), the conversation has a chance of continuing forward.

And it continues forward with my assertion that your assertion is incorrect, and there's no good reason for a public figure to have to avoid such a figure of speech in such a context simply because racists have used it as a slur in other contexts.

Now we can have the discussion as to why you think what you think, and why I think the contrary. (I suspect, from context, that most of the commentators agree with me, but that's no logical argument in my favour. Of course, an argument like this isn't wholly or even mostly logical, so it might be in my favour anyway...)

I maintain two things: First, that an obviously non-insulting use of a term with a clear non-insulting history is not inherently wrong, regardless of it having been used by others as an insult at some point. Second, that people who are insulted by such clearly non-insulting contexts of words with an innocent use (even if there are other, insulting uses) should get over it, and their inappropriate sense of insult should not constrain the use of non-insulting language by the rest of society.

(And I'm doubly unsure that public figures should be required to be extra-double not-even-possibly-insulting even-out-of-context, but this goes back to my belief that people looking to be insulted as a source of free-floating greivance would do the entire polity a favour by stopping, and since they won't do that themselves, the best solution is to ignore them, rather than encouraging them by obeying their unreasonable whims.)

The problem then becomes how the collective we can decide which of these positions (yours, mine) is appropriate, given that the problem is not one of mere logic or empirical observation.
8.1.2006 1:53pm
James Lindgren (mail):

In golf, I am the one who has the handicap relative to Tiger Woods, and I am the one who gets handicap strokes as an accommodation. It is true that one could reverse the meaning of the word "handicap" and focus on the remedy rather than the level of skill and say that by giving me strokes, Woods is the one with the handicap, but that is not how it is viewed in golf.

I don't know horse racing, but there it may be as you characterize things (where in some races I believe that light riders must carry extra weight).

Actually, one of the great things about golf (unlike tennis and many other sports that can be played one-on-one) is that Tiger and I can play each other head to head, both trying our hardest to win, in a manner common to the game of golf, and because of handicap adjustments, we can have an equal chance to win the match.
8.1.2006 1:56pm
Funny, going to Mass on the reservation in the sixties, I learned that an Indian Giver was actually a reference to the Feds, whoo were always gviving something to the indians under treaty and then taking it back.

gyp / (one of the many terms that implies someone else cheats in deals, but usually not as offensive as the similar references to Jews and Welsh)

paddy and police equipment: Paddy-wagon, paddy-whacker, ...

And of course Bugs Bunny used to refer to folks as Maroons (or even ultra-maroons) which is now considered to be a content-free insult. Clearly, those who feal it is not ethnic never listened to the all-purpose exclamation fo the Maryolatrous Italian fresh off the boat crying Marone!
8.1.2006 3:16pm
The most direct analogy to a public figure using "tar baby" in public is a public figure saying "slippery slope" in public. "Tar baby" is a phrase everyone understands, but apparently someone used as a racial slur at some point (I, along with Governor Romney was honestly unaware of this until this putative "controversy").

Same with "slippery slope." (See Christopher Walken monologue in Pulp Fiction).

[Okay, maybe that was "greasy slope", but no one says "greasy slope", so I vote we all interpret "slippery slope" as a racial slur for a few hours, then people will forever be unable to make that argument in those unoriginal terms]
8.1.2006 3:59pm
Shelby (mail):
Has anyone yet pointed out that many people claiming feminist status have attacked the word "history" as meaning "his story" when in fact it derives from Greek for ... wait for it ... uterus?
8.1.2006 5:24pm
tsiroth (mail):
James: Mea Culpa. You are quite right that I had horse racing in mind, and maybe for that reason alone your usage seems entirely counterintuitive to me. I know very little about golf, and didn't realize the term is used differently.
8.1.2006 5:56pm
Dave in NYC:
Shelby: "history" is unrelated to "uterus."

"History" is ultimately derived from a Greek word, historia, itself derived from a verb meaning "to inquire." Hystera , meaning "womb," had a different root and was spelled differently. The first letter of hystera is an upsilon, that of historia an iota (the "h" is indicated by a diacritical mark).

Ironically, these particular feminists might have had a point, if they weren't being unserious or disingenuous with the "his-story" thing. The verb historein ("to inquire") was derived from a noun histor, meaning "wise man." So if they'd said "we don't want any more of your 'histor-y'," maybe they'd be on better ground. Of course, histor is masculine, but historia is feminine, so maybe these feminist historians would do better to claim the word rather than to attack it.
8.1.2006 6:55pm
This is why I still use the term Sodomite. Sure, it's offensive as all hell to a certain thin-skinned portion of the population, but its entymology goes back ages - and everyone knows exactly what is meant by it.

"Homosexual" just doesn't quite carry the historical gravitas of the subject matter in question. Wouldn't i be a "homosexual" if I masturbated alone?
8.1.2006 7:45pm
Shelby (mail):
Whee! Thanks, Dave in NYC. More (for those who care) on the etymology of "history" from obvious places I didn't check:
8.1.2006 8:18pm
John Rosenberg (mail) (www):
At one point in my checkered past, around 1979), I worked as a consultant for ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center ) on a revision of its Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors . One of the causes of the revision was to deal with the political correctness that had by then crept into the vocabulary -- firefighter for fireman; mail carrier for mailman; horse? for horseman; etc. -- and of course disabled for handicapped.

Anointing "disabled" as the new preferred term struck me then, as it does now, as one of the more wrongheaded changes. Relying on either the connotation or the literal definition of the two terms, or both, I asked, if you were driving alone on an isolated mountain road at night would you rather be in a car that was handicapped or disabled? And if you were the passenger in such a car, would you prefer the driver to be "blind" or "vision impaired"?

After a while I even developed something of a theory of these politically correct substitutions. With increasing velocity (think of the times involved in the changes from "colored" to "Negro" to "black" to "African-American"), terms for "disadvantaged" (another new term) groups quickly take on the aura of the group itself and have to be replaced with a new term, free of such negative connotations, but then the new term does the same thing, even faster (crippled to handicap to disabled, etc.).
8.2.2006 11:07am
How could we forget Vandals? Its a word that is desprately insensitive to germanic peoples who settles in northern italy...
8.3.2006 2:34pm