Greg Patton, a communications professor at the University of California’s Marshall School of Business who is an “expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness,” according to his faculty bio, was explaining the common use of a Chinese filler word for “that,” comparing it to (regrettable American words such as “like,” “um,” “uh”…you know, filler. The Chinese word he spoke sounds similar to “an English language racial slur.” Of course, since any news source doing its job will burst into flame and its employees immediately dropped into Hell if it actually prints the word so we can know what has happened, I can only guess what the word the professor didn’t say sounded like. (See The Niggardly Principles)
Ah HA! finally found it. The Chinese word is “na ge,” pronounced “nah geh.”
(Can you believe it’s come to this??)
So because the professor used a word that sounded like that mystery Word That Can Not Be Told, though nobody thought he was really using that word, but some students just wanted to signal their virtue and cause him trouble, USC has placed Patton on leave while another instructor teaches the class.
Hold on to your head and read this statement from Marshall (Great, now I have to change my name out of shame.):
“Recently, a USC faculty member during class used a Chinese word that sounds similar to a racial slur in English. We acknowledge the historical, cultural and harmful impact of racist language..” Well, that’s a non sequitur! It isn’t racist language, is it? The Greek word for “good morning” and the Greek word for “squid” sound alike if you don’t know Greek. Is a Greek calling you a squid because you misunderstood him?
The statement went on to say that Professor Patton “agreed to take a short term pause while we are reviewing to better understand the situation and to take any appropriate next steps.” What’s there to understand? He did nothing wrong. What next steps?
Now, USC says, it is “offering supportive measures to any student, faculty, or staff member who requests assistance” and is committed to building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive.”
Except for professors, who must live in fear of cheap shot complaints like this one, and craven administrators who let students succeed with them.
I have no sympathy for Prof. Patton if he submits to this. He has an obligation to fight it, and, if necessary embarrass the school. If he just meekly slinks away to be “re-educated,” then he’s complicit in this frightening campaign of intimidation and censorship.
40 thoughts on “An Ethics Alarms Mash-up! The Great Stupid Meets The Niggardly Principle, And The Result Is…Ridiculous”
Is there a word processing program that churns out these craven grovels for administrators to publish? It probably also generates ready made apologies for the offenders to release.
I think college administrators are still trying to play rope-a-dope until this thing just sort of subsides. I think it’s a despicable strategy that won’t work.
What about all the professors saying “Niger?” Knee-zhair is a heck of a lot closer to nigger than nah geh. Off with their heads.
Patton actually used a different, but quite common, pronunciation of the Mandarin word 那个: nèigè, which sounds like “negga” and even “nigga” when said quickly. It’s completely understandable that someone unfamiliar with Mandarin would do a double-take (“Did I just hear ‘nigger’?), but in context it’s clear that he was using a common Chinese word.
I once gave a lecture on Foucault’s French translation of Kant’s Anthropology, which he submitted for his PHD in conjunction with his work, Madness and Civilization (this is all based on memory, so the details may be wrong).
With little (but not none) knowledge of French and German (and relying on English translations of all thing concerned, both Kant’s work, and Foucault’s translation of it), I prefaced my lecture with a disclaimer that I took no responsibility for my poor pronunciation of the words I would point to on the chalk board.
The Grad students laughed; half the undergrads probably wrote down the disclaimer, while the others zoned out, confident they had satisfied all conditions necessary for them to get their bonus credit.
“Understandable”? How is the response even remotely understandable? The professor was speaking either Mandarin or Cantonese, using a filler word.
Anyone who takes offense at a Chinese word that sounds like “nigger” or “nigga” is mindnumbingly incapable of coherent reasoning. Anyone supposedly offended by this supposed slight or insult needs to be run out of town on a rail, shunned and publicly humiliated. We have enough problems. We don’t need outrage looking for an offense.
If you’ve seen the video recording, Patton is speaking in English, and simply repeated the Mandarin word several times as an example of a filler word. He’s not otherwise speaking Mandarin. I think, then, that it’s understandable someone not familiar with Mandarin would do a double-take, especially if they weren’t for whatever reason paying full attention—the word sounds like one of the most offensive words in the English language, and for that reason it hits the ear like the sound of a gunshot. However, no reasonable person would raise a complaint, because a reasonable person would understand the context.
That is my point. This is a tempest in a thimble.
Obviously his bio is full of puffery. How can he be an expert in communications if he can’t even stand up and defend himself in an educated manner.
I disagree. By agreeing to be complicit in this nonsense, he has very clearly and precisely communicated to all the world that he is a cowardly weenie who should never have been entrusted to teach young minds in the first place…
But he has, Jeff. He’s just falling in line. The battle has been lost. That horse has left the barn.
There is a leadership component to his bio. Weenies are by definition not leaders but your point is well taken.
Oh, he’s a leader. He and others like him are leading us all to hell in a handbasket by capitulating to this idiocy…
Well, since homonyms and near homonyms are now forbidden, I fear for the safety of anyone boarding a plane with lip balm.
It is homophobic to be afraid of homophones.
Certainly it is if you wear them in public.
He is a white male at a UNC school, he has every right to be concerned, he isn’t worried about being unfairly disciplined. He is worried about him and his family being utterly destroyed. If he pushes back it would only be a matter of time before he would be accused of sexual assault or canablism.
Cannibalism not canablism
Well, that does it: I can no longer be bothered by phony threats of Global Warming.
I won’t deny the science: There are now so many snowflakes in this country, we are one presidential term away from the next Ice Age.
I am going to steal that one.
I’m happy to see that reason magazine printed out both of the actual words instead of resorting to euphemisms. https://reason.com/2020/09/03/usc-greg-patton-chinese-word-offended-students/
This drives me crazy.
I have got to find out what CLINICAL Business Communications are. I’ve never before seen the word used in this connotation.
It is Newspeak to differentiate between Communications degrees awarded to people who were not on athletic scholarships.
I have to tell you, I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I read this! Thanks for the laugh.
BTW Where have you been. I missed your commentary.
Yeah, I was getting worried about DD.
Sorry, Chris. At age 75 I have run into some physical problems that make it difficult for me to type. I’ll try to do more.
I may have posted this before, but if so it’s worth re-posting. Canadian-Indian (or is it Indian-Canadian?) comic Russell Peters has an entertaining NSFW routine about encountering the use of this term at a KFC in Beijing:
Is it still okay to refer to an old, worn out horse as a nag, or are we parsing syllables now?
A bit of the devil’s advocate is needed here since some of these discussions can get a bit one-sided.
I’ve watched the video from the class a couple of times, and it sounds very much like he is saying nigga, nigga, nigga, nigga. He prefaced it with an explanation that it was Chinese.
I won’t defend the statement from the school except to say they had to issue one since this thing would almost certainly go public in short order.
They also have to treat student complaints seriously, so an inquiry was in order. Was a ‘pause’ in his teaching needed? Maybe not, but the inquiry had to be done before he taught another class to avoid an escalation.
The inquiry would include a look at his record for previous student complaints, especially of a racial nature. Then ask him, of all the languages you could have chosen, why this one? Why intentionally choose such a homophone? The answer to that question is key. He was teaching disfluencies, and there does not appear to be any particular reason for choosing Mandarin for his example.
As an aside, in my high school teaching career, I regularly used a movie (The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson) that included the word “nigger” in dialog several times (“fuck” once, too, for what that’s worth). Boys, Girls, Black, White, Hispanic, and more — they all knew the word, knew how it was used as a slur, and, if necessary, which seldom was the case, were told why it was important to have that in the movie dialog. Never got a complaint about it.
Mandarin has more speakers than any other language in the world, and is one of the most important languages for international business. That alone is sufficient reason to use Mandarin as an example. But per his CV:
“He has served as a key advisor to the Center for Asian-Pacific Leadership, a faculty member at the US–China Institute and a leader of MBA training programs in China and Korea.”
The complaining students are morons, and the school is completely in the wrong.
That’s the contextual info I would hope he’d use before repeating the phrase. I also would hope that he’d provide examples from other languages that might sound vulgar or profane or stupid if they were English words. And, he may well have done that. I doubt he was just having some fun with a sound-alike, but I don’t think we can rule that out with just the information we have.
There’s no reason to suppose in the first place that his use of nèige was anything other than appropriate. Watch the video. Does it look like a deliberate attempt to traumatize his students by using a word that sounds like “nigga”? Moreover, these are MBA students. They surely know the importance of Mandarin in international business—indeed, they claim to have spent time in China and taken Chinese language courses, which if true makes their complaint even more absurd.
Apologies, you seem to have already seen the video. Anyway, you can read more of what the students and the professor had to say about the affair in National Review. Something to note in particular about what the complaining students say: They claim the correct pronunciation of nèige is “much different” than the way Patton said it, while also claiming that it’s always identified as a “phonetic homonym and a racial [sic] derogatory term” in Chinese language courses. Can’t have it both ways, morons.
I think that the “innocent until proven guilty” standard, in some measure, is a good and necessary rule for life, and not just in criminal law. USC should not have taken any action whatsoever just because some whiners whined. Complaints should result in investigations, which should then result in action or inaction, with an explanation. Reacting to student complaints first (especially in an era of historically dumb students) is backwards. It rewards complaining and makes it possible for complainers to harm whatever innocent targets they choose.
If USC were competently run (and didn’t have useless diversity officers whose jobs are meaningless in the absence of racism) they would have told the students, “we’ll review the video,” and then told them, “we reviewed the video and will take no action, here’s why.”
Sometimes the devil’s advocate loses, and you have the better argument, Isaac. Look into it, but no action against the professor until that is done.
Given that China is the second largest economy on the planet it does stand to reason that advising students that it is probable that they may experience occurences from Chinese nationals during speeches, negotiations or other presentations is appropriate.
You do not enroll in a upper division business communications class in a business school to meet general ed requirements. There is a much more pronounced international focus in business schools. When I went we had lessons on international etiquette. Such lessons were critical in learning how to avoid faux pas that could booger a deal. The current climate, in my estimation, would require a faculty member to advise students not to get bent out of shape if they hear a Chinese colleague utter that word unconciously.
Imagine if the syllable “um” literally translated into Chinese as slant eyed gook. Would you want their professors advising Chinese students not to take umbrage upon hearing it?
My understanding was the professor was discussing a Chinese filler word for the word “that” which it is probable they will experience. I don’t think he chose to address the English word “that” so he could use thay Chinese word. If Chinese speakers did not use such a filler word there would have been no need to use it. Technically, the Chinese language and their linguistic habits/customs are the proximal reason for the explanation and not the specific word.
Lastly, the word is not a true homophone as it can only be associated with the word nigger if you use a black dialect which does not ordinarily trigger a response from other blacks.
“Nigger” is pronounced more or less like “nigga” in any American English dialect where R tends to be dropped, which is common in many parts of the South and in some parts of the Northeast; it’s not limited to black vernacular, though of course it’s used most frequently in black vernacular. Listen to the audio report here, which includes a recording of a white Bostonian saying to a black man, “Hey, nigger, walk on the sidewalk like you should.” Note the R is dropped, a distinctive feature of the Boston accent.
These “Vice Deans” including Ms. Sharoni Little are licking their chops over this. She can’t wait to give this white male professor–who knows so much more about communication than she will ever–his due. USC should stop pandering to this cancel culture. Can’t wait for their donors to get fed up.
While stationed overseas my son attended the local Italian school where he played and frolicked with his Italian mates. When we returned to the states we enrolled him in the local school. Soon after we received a phone call from the principal that we needed to have an urgent parent conference because they discovered he was using inappropriate language. My first question was what was the inappropriate word? We were told the “F-word!” My next question in what context was this “F-word” being used. He said in the playground when the boys are playing cowboys and Indians.(this was decades before political correctness of course). I asked was the word “fuoco.”. The principal said yes the “F-word.” I explained that “fuoco” was the Italian word for “fire” which the Italian boys use as the cultural equivalent of “BANG, BANG!”